Feeling tired? Get your energy from plants

I'm always incredibly tired. It seems like no matter how much sleep I get, I just want to sleep more. I can't seem to feel energized. I have a high iron count but I wondered if there was some kind of plant medicine that provides energy?

Absolutely, alleviating persistent fatigue and enhancing energy and vitality is an area where plant medicine really excels.

Many people experience fatigue and lack of energy without any apparent cause.

If investigations with your GP have not revealed an underlying condition as the source of your fatigue, it can help to review the path that has led you to where you are today.

  • When was the last time you can remember feeling energised?
  • Has the fatigue come about following a period of personal stress or intense work-related commitments?
  • Did the onset coincide with a viral or bacterial infection and you've not felt like your normal self since?
  • Is the fatigue worse after meals and do particular foods or drinks send you into a slumber?
  • is your sleep deep and uninterrupted?

The answers to these questions provide a great way to begin understanding what may be driving your fatigue. This is crucial to finding a permanent solution.

Consistently feeling tired upon waking can be a sign of insufficient or lack of restorative sleep. Since you indicate you are sleeping, perhaps it is the quality of your sleep that may be compromised.

Science tells us that we usually pass through five stages of sleep and regularly accessing the deeper, more restorative phases of sleep is necessary for optimal daily functioning. Food and medicines such as alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, antidepressants and decongestants can affect the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain and make it more difficult to access the deeper sleep phases required for true rest.

Give yourself the best chance at optimal sleep by omitting caffeine and alcohol for an extended period of time (more than just a few days I'm afraid!), and establish good sleep hygiene such as going to bed the same time each night; turning off electronic devices at least an hour before bed, and engaging in a relaxing activity to help wind down. Plant medicines such as valerian, hops, passionflower, lemonbalm and woodruff taken as a restorative tea before bed can help to induce essential regeneration and rest at night, thus assisting with optimal energy come morning. Make sure you choose a medicinal tea that is certified organic as this is the best quality.

Extended periods of stress, grief, or excessive workload can also contribute to unrelenting fatigue. Usually in this case the nervous system has been overwhelmed (the modern term is hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction), and the body has been unable to re-establish equilibrium. We may feel completely wired and unable to relax or sleep restoratively, or on the other side of the spectrum, experience deep fatigue.

To further complicate matters, we often reach for stimulants like coffee and sugar for the quick burst of energy they provide, only to come crashing down a short time later once the adrenalin they induce wears off. This can worsen the problem of burnout over time. In the midst of fatigue, getting through a day without caffeine can seem unimaginable, but if going without isn't an option, a good first step is to switch to a quality green tea. Green tea is a refreshing energy giving plant that contains the vitalising substance theobromine and smaller amounts of mildly stimulating caffeine. It provides a sustained release of energy over a longer time period and supports cognitive function. It combines well with other energy giving plants such as Rosemary and Spearmint. Again, medicinal quality is essential in order to have the desired therapeutic effect.

An excellent second step in restoring energy after periods of stress is to enlist help from a wonderful class of herbs known as adaptogens. As the name suggests, these plants help the body to adapt in times of stress and promote normal physiologic function. They have been shown to increase energy, endurance and stamina and use is associated with improved quality of life after serious illness. Plants in this category include Withania, Siberian ginseng, Rhodiola and Schisandra.

Many of the plants that assist with convalescence after a period of stress also come to the rescue when fatigue lingers on well after an infection, such as with Glandular Fever caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Adaptogens can combine well with immune enhancing and antiviral plants such as Echinacea and St John's Wort in this instance. The deeply regenerating action of these medicinal herbs makes them suitable as an ongoing treatment for people who have caught an infection and found their energy levels have not returned to previous levels. St John's Wort can be safely taken on a daily basis as a medicinal tea, or you may wish to enlist the help of a registered medical herbalist who can safely formulate a tincture to address your individual needs.

As you can see, the roads to persistent fatigue can be many and varied. Know however, that in almost all cases, low energy levels can be improved with simple lifestyle changes and supportive plant medicine. The key is identifying and pulling the right levers.

Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

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