Nervines are types of herbs intended to nourish and support the central nervous system. They’re reportedly designed to restore balance and restfulness in the body.

Herbalists classify a variety of herbs as nervines, including:

Some people use nervines as complementary medicine, combining them with existing medications. Others use them as an alternative to medications in treating symptoms such as anxiety or insomnia.

We’ll look at nervine tonics, including their purported benefits and potential side effects, and how to safely use them.

To understand nervine tonics, you’ll have to put aside the traditional pharmaceutical way of thinking.

That’s because nervine tonics may have no pharmaceutical equivalents. This means you can’t take a pill that will provide the same effects as a nervine tonic.

Instead, integrative medicine specialists believe that nervine tonics nourish the nervous system. Much like healthy food nourishes your body, helping you feel whole and energized, nervine tonics could help to restore a depleted, stressed, or anxious nervous system.

Nervines are in some ways similar to adaptogens, which are herbs often used to treat stress. However, adaptogens often affect hormones in the body and not necessarily the central nervous system.

Some people may use both nervines and adaptogens, including ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola, as natural methods to treat stress and anxiety.

The challenge with nervine tonics is that, although the herbs and plants used to create them have been around for centuries, there isn’t a lot of scientific research to support their benefits. Therefore, many of the benefits are reported and not researched ones.

Some examples of nervine tonics and their reported benefits include the following:

  • Chamomile. Chamomile is a medicinal herb that can help to reduce anxiety and promote sleep. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a few small studies have supported the use of German chamomile for anxiety and insomnia.
  • Milky oats. An integrative medicine practitioner prepares milky oats by gathering immature oats, putting them in water, and expressing the oats to make a tincture. Taking drops of milky oats each day may restore the nervous system, which may be especially helpful for those who find themselves constantly depleted of energy.
  • Skullcap. Skullcap is a dried form of the Scutellaria lateriflora weed. This weed acts to activate gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can reduce feelings of anxiety. You can drink skullcap as a tea, but it’s important to choose one that’s specifically made from the Scutellaria lateriflora plant from a reputable manufacturer, as there are many similar-sounding tonics.
  • St. John’s wort. Some integrative medicine practitioners recommend St. John’s wort as a treatment for mild depression. However, St. John’s wort negatively interacts with many prescription medications, which is why you must be careful about taking it. If you take other medications, talk to your doctor before taking St. John’s wort.
  • Valerian. Valerian is a root that people have used for hundreds of year for multiple reported effects. As a nervine, these include reducing anxiety, stress, and depression. Some people also believe that valerian can enhance sleep as well.

These are just some examples of nervines that an integrative medicine practitioner may recommend.

People often brew nervine tonics in a tea form and drink them to enjoy their effects. However, some people may make nervine tinctures, which are extracts that are more concentrated and may be consumed by the drop or drops.

Because most nervines aren’t thoroughly researched, they often don’t have across-the-board recommendations regarding dosages and frequency. Instead, you may need to read individual recommendations based on the tea or tincture you purchase.

You can purchase these teas and tinctures at many natural and health foods stores. Sometimes, you’ll find these preparations as a mixture of nervines, such as chamomile and valerian.

There are a variety of potential side effects from using nervine tonics. Most of these depend on the individual nervine.

For example, valerian can cause a number of potential side effects. These include:

  • upset stomach
  • problems sleeping
  • vivid dreams
  • dry mouth
  • morning drowsiness

St. John’s wort can also cause serious side effects because it increases the amount of a neurotransmitter called serotonin in the brain. If a person has a serotonin reaction in the brain, they may experience symptoms such as:

  • diarrhea
  • rapid heart rate
  • hallucinations
  • higher body temperature

Also, St. John’s wort may interfere with the effects of certain prescription medications, including the following:

  • antidepressants
  • birth control pills
  • digoxin
  • HIV treatment medications, including indinavir
  • oxycodone
  • warfarin, a blood thinner

If you’re interested in nervine tonics but aren’t sure where to start, talk to a healthcare provider. They can review the list of medications you’re currently taking to ensure they won’t negatively interact with nervine tonics (especially St. John’s wort).

A healthcare provider may also refer you to an integrative medicine specialist, who’s more likely to incorporate nervine tonics into a holistic, mind-body wellness approach.

Nervine tonics are herbs and plants that have effects on the nervous system. Some people use them to promote overall feelings of wellness while others use them to achieve specific goals, such as anxiety relief.

Although people have used nervine tonics for many years, there’s little research to support their effectiveness.

If you have a condition such as anxiety or depression that has the potential to be moderate to severe, it’s recommended that you talk to a doctor about more-researched medical treatments.