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Off to School with Herbs

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Being a student is hard work. Exams make you
crazy, late-night paper-writing exhausts mind and body, and too
much studying leaves the brain blank. All that worry can make it
hard to get to sleep. And we haven’t even mentioned the sports and
social scenes.

To help them cope, many students reach for over-the-counter aids
or even prescription drugs. (Illegal substances? Out of the
question for our students.) But medicinal herbs often can do the
job and are gentler in their effects than either of the other
options.

A care package including some of the ideas suggested below can
provide just the touch of home and healing your stressed-out
scholar needs.

SETTLE SCHOLASTIC STRESS

Rattled nerves make it tough to concentrate and absorb
information. Tests and heavy course loads can rub nerves raw.
Time-tested remedies for the study-stressed include:

Chamomile. Make a tea (see “Herbal How-To’s” on Page 23) to
settle nerves and relieve stress headaches. Drink it daily when the
going gets rough. Afterward, put the warm teabags on your eyelids
to relieve eyestrain.

Lavender. “Balance” is the word for this old-time herb —
stimulating when you’re down, relaxing when you’re up. Great for
helping focus on a task. Sniff the dried flowers and leaves or put
a dab of essential oil on cloth or a cotton ball. Or make a room
spray (see “Herbal How-To’s” on Page 23) for the dorm or
apartment.

Lemon balm. Eat it fresh in salads and sauces, drink it as hot
or cold tea. Lemon balm calms nerves, helps tired brains and cheers
the spirit.

Fennel. Fennel seed tea has the same benefits as lemon balm, but
with a decidedly different flavor. It’s also said to be good for
the eyes. If you like fennel’s taste, chew the seed alone or add it
to bread recipes and sauces.

Sage. As tea, it’s a good pick-me-up after a tough day. It tones
the nervous system, boosts spirits and helps concentration. Great
with poultry and pork, too.

Yummy basil is good for nerves and is stimulating, too. (What’s
pizza without it?) Geranium essential oil banishes butterflies in
the stomach. Sniff a bit before going into exams. And dried
woodruff, smelling of freshly mown hay, is said to “make the heart
merry.”

BOOST THAT BRAIN

Plenty of herbs have been used over the centuries by folks
trying to build their brain power. Interestingly, some of the
oldest are proving themselves in studies today.

Rosemary. A branch of this prickly plant was traditionally
tucked behind a student’s ear. Now, rosemary has been found to aid
memory and lift the spirits by improving blood flow to the head.
Combine it with sage to make a brainy tea. Use it in a room spray
or scent bag “to comfort the heart and help a weak memory,” as
17th-century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper put it. Chew a few
pungent leaves, or season meats, pasta and pizza with it.

Mint. Eating mint would increase intelligence, according to the
ancient Romans. Modern research has shown that the scent of mint
may improve concentration. In Japan, some businesses circulate mint
oil in the air to heighten productivity. Smell the fresh leaves,
make a spray or have it as hot or iced tea.

Cardamom. This Indian spice nourishes the nerves and brain,
sharpening thoughts and lifting spirits. Crack the pods open and
crush the seeds for tea or add them to a scent bag with other
beneficial herbs. They’re also good in baked treats.

Oregano was a Roman brain tonic — another pizza herb with added
value. Soothing sage tea is thought to help memory, too. And if you
can find it, inhale the scent of petitgrain oil (from the leaves of
bitter orange) to heighten awareness.

Rosemary has been found to aid memory and lift the
spirits by improving blood flow to the head.

ACCELERATE ENERGY

Students who relieve stress and sharpen their brains may find an
increase in energy as well. If not, two common herbs can help.

Rosemary. Already a prime brain-booster, this herb also boasts
an invigorating scent. Treat your favorite student to an energizing
bath bag. Combine 1/2 cup rosemary and 1/2 cup ground almonds with
2 cups plain rolled oats. Stitch into a terry-cloth bag or knot in
a washcloth for several weeks of use.

Thyme. Add thyme’s energizing scent to room spray or to a
student scent bag. Also delicious in meats and sauces.

BRING ON THE ZZZZZZ’S

Frazzled folks are sometimes just too tired to sleep. Pills
often have unpleasant side effects, so try these herbal helpers
instead.

Anise. The seeds offer more than just a pretty scent — they’re
better than a lullaby for sleep. Chew the seed by itself or add to
hot milk. Get a double taste treat by combining 1 teaspoon anise
seed with 1 teaspoon tarragon for tea. Or put anise seed in a tiny
bag by your pillow to breathe in the scent.

Linden. This classy tree’s subtly fragrant flowers are
traditionally brewed into a tea for restlessness and headaches. You
don’t have to pick them yourself; look for packaged linden flower
tea in health-food stores or European groceries.

Wildflower sleep tea. Look to the fields for this tea blend: 1
tablespoon fresh red clover flowers with 1 tablespoon fresh
dandelion leaves.

Scented sleep mix. Combine 1 cup dried rose petals with 1/2 cup
dried mint and 1 or 2 fat pinches of ground cloves. Put in a small
bag or pillow and sniff yourself to sleep.

Our old friends lavender and chamomile help to bring sleep, the
former as a scent, the latter as tea. Dill seed tea, just before
you hit the hay, is said to give a good night’s rest. Lettuce, too,
is claimed to be mildly sedative. Wild lettuce has the biggest
punch.

Modern research has shown that the scent of mint may
improve concentration.

GIVE SOME GOOD LUCK

When you’re after an A (or B or C, depending on your
aspirations), a little luck doesn’t hurt. Many herbs, trees and
other plants have been associated with successful study over the
years.

Make your special student a good-luck pouch with these old-time
herbal symbols. Some are even good enough to eat!

Lavender is stimulating when you’re down, relaxing when
you’re up.

Walnut. This majestic tree symbolizes intellect and strategy —
useful attributes for students.

Hazel. A tree wrapped in legend, the hazel stands for wisdom and
knowledge. English country folk believed hazelnuts should be eaten
by scholars (as well as poets and lovers).

Olive. Olive trees are sacred to Athena, the Greek goddess of
wisdom. The leaves, which crowned heroes and athletes in ancient
Greece, signify triumph.

Thyme. Medieval ladies embroidered this modest plant as a symbol
of bravery on scarves for their knights.

Oak. Not surprisingly, the leaves of this sturdy tree stand for
courage. Greek kings wore a crown of golden oak leaves.

Honesty (lunaria, money plant). The silvery seedpods are
supposed to attract money — and what student doesn’t need that?


Mary Fran McQuade is a frequent contributor to The Herb
Companion. She lives, writes and gardens in Toronto, Canada, in a
century-old house near Lake Ontario.

Published on Aug 1, 2005

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