Hospital Caregiver

In Part I of this series I began the discussion about using of herbs to care for the caregiver. As a reminder, many herbs support your body-mind complex to assist in stressful times. They can increase immunity, help sleep, calm the mind and emotions, and treat issues such as anxiety, depression and disturbed Shen, all of which can easily arise during stressful caretaking situations.


As a reminder, Shen reflects the entire physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of the body. It includes the capacity to think and act coherently and appropriately, the personality’s magnetic force or charisma, enthusiasm, innate vitality, and the joy to live life. It is distinguished by the sparkle in the eyes, an overall vivaciousness, and a will to live. As well, it’s the dynamic verve that enables us to surmount obstacles and make things happen.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Shen is “’housed” in the Heart, so physical heart issues can affect one’s Shen and vice versa. There are no disharmonies of Shen in and of itself, yet because of its connection with the Heart, Deficient Heart Qi or Blood can weaken Shen. This appears as a lack of joy or enthusiasm in life, dull eyes, dislike of talking, muddled thinking, forgetfulness, insomnia, lack of vitality, depression, unhappiness, confused speech, or excessive dreaming. Extreme Shen disharmony results in irrational behavior, incoherent speech, hysteria, delirium, inappropriate responses to people or the environment, violent madness, or unconsciousness.

Herbs that nourish the Heart Blood also nourish Shen. However, the true remedy for Shen problems is addressing emotional and spiritual issues through counseling, prayer, affirmation, meditation, play, changing jobs, taking holidays, and whatever else is needed to nourish the Spirit and Heart.


Disrupted sleep can lead to Shen disorders. To treat chronic insomnia or sleep issues, most herbs must be taken during the day as well as at night and for several days before they’ll work. Stronger sedative herbs, however, should only be taken a couple of hours before and right at bedtime and avoided for daytime use; they are not for short naps but for longer, restful sleep. Others are simple relaxants and may be used during the day to ease the effects of stress.

When to use each herbal category

For quick and easy reference, I’ve created a chart of herbs in specific categories so you can easily choose which is best for your needs. Here are the symptoms and treatment of each category:

Anxiety: Symptoms includepalpitations, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, insomnia, tremors, twitches, and muscle spasms. Other symptoms may accompany these such as digestive upset, frequent urination, diarrhea, headaches and fatigue.

Hysteria: This is a state of mental disorder characterized by emotional excitability, emotional outbreaks, disturbances of sensory and motor functions, and intense agitation, anxiety, or excitement.

Calmatives: These nourish the heart and calm the spirit (Shen). They are useful for nervous disorders, stress, relaxation, and simple sleep problems. They are better for weaker individuals and less acute conditions.

Nervines & Sedatives: Nervines nourish the nervous system, calming the nerves and relieving muscle spasms, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, emotional instability, pain, cramps, spasm, tremors and epilepsy. Sedatives are stronger than calmatives. They are used to alleviate nervousness, palpitations, insomnia, and irritability.

Strong sedatives: Generally minerals, these herbs have tranquilizing effects that weigh down and calm the mind to treat palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, Shen disorder, nervousness, irritability, fright and hysteria. They are typically used for more short-term acute conditions, as over time they can injure the digestion.

Regulate heart: These herbs regulate the heart function and should be used in appropriate doses.

Increase immunity: Herbs that increase immunity tend to be adaptogens that enhance endurance, energy and strength so the body handles stress better.

Herbs for the Caregiver







ANXIETY Kava kava Warm Pungent, bitter Liver, Kidney Spasm, insomnia, anxiety
Lemon balm Cool  Sour, slightly pungent  Lungs, Liver  Nervousness, hysteria, anxiety, insomnia, melancholy, depression, gas, cramps
Passion flower Cool  Bitter  Heart, Liver  Anxiety, nervous tension, hysteria, insomnia 
California poppy Cool  Bitter  Liver, Heart  Nervous tension, anxiety, insomnia 
CALMATIVES Zizyphus seeds (suan zao ren – very safe for the weak and elderly)  Neutral Sweet, sour Heart, Spleen, Liver, Gallbladder Insomnia, irritability, palpitations, anxiety, spontaneous sweating, nervous exhaustion
Mimosa flower & bark (Albizzia – he huan pi; “the happiness tree”)   Neutral Sweet Lung, heart, Kidney Insomnia, bad temper, insomnia, depression, irritability, poor memory caused by emotional constraint
Biota (Thuja, cedar tree seed – bai zi ren)  Neutral Sweet Heart, Liver, Kidney, Large Intestine Nervousness, anxiety, palpitations, insomnia; especially with anemia/Blood deficiency
Polygonum stem (ye jiao teng)  Neutral Sweet, slightly bitter Heart, Liver Calms the Shen; insomnia, irritability, dream-disturbed sleep especially due to weakness
Chamomile Cool-neutral Bitter,

Slightly pungent

Liver, Stomach, Lungs Nervousness, headache, stomach upset, anxiety, cramps, spasms 
Lavender Cool Bitter,

Slightly pungent

Lung, Liver Insomnia
NERVINES & SEDATIVES Skullcap Cool Bitter Liver Nervousness, irritability, insomnia from Heat, worry, exhaustion
Valerian Warm Bitter, pungent Liver, Heart Cramps, spasms, insomnia, nervous conditions from Cold
Hops Cool Bitter Heart, Liver Anxiety, nervous tension, hysteria, insomnia
Rauwolfia Cool Bitter Liver, Heart Hypertension, stress, worry,
STRONG SEDATIVES Dragon bone (long gu)  Neutral Sweet, astrin-gent Heart, Liver, Kidney Insomnia, epilepsy, night sweats, spontaneous perspiration, irritability, dizziness, short temper
Oyster shell (mu li)  Slightly cold Salty, Astrin-gent Liver, Kidney Restless Shen, palpitations, insomnia, vertigo, dizziness, convulsion, spasm, epilepsy, spontaneous perspiration, night sweats
Pearl (zhen zhu – use finely granulated powder)  Cold Sweet, salty Heart, Liver Epilepsy, convulsions, hypertension, excessive anger with blurred vision
Amber (hu po – use crushed resin)  Neutral Sweet Heart, Liver, Urinary Bladder Epilepsy, insomnia, anxiety, forgetfulness, palpitations, seizures from disturbed Shen, coronary heart disease
HYSTERIA Black haw Cool Bitter Liver Nervous complaints, convulsions, hysteria, spasms
REGULATE HEART Night blooming cereus Warm Bitter Heart, Kidney Palpitations, anxiety, tachycardia, angina, carditis, pericarditis, arrhythmia, valvular disease, all cardiopulmonary diseases, mental derangement
Hawthorn Warm Sour, sweet Heart, Stomach, Liver, Spleen Cardiotonic, arrhythmia, heart failure, heart diseases, digestive ailments, angina, hypertension
Arjuna Cool Astrin-gent, pungent Heart, Kidney Heart diseases, angina,

Tachycardia, arrhythmias; poor cardiac muscle and pumping function

INCREASE IMMUNITY Astragalus Slightly warm Sweet Lungs, Spleen Boosts immunity, building resistance to colds, flu
Eleuthero Neutral Sweet, pungent Kidneys, adrenals, Spleen Increases energy, vitality, endurance
Reishi Slightly warm Sweet, slightly bitter Lungs, Heart, Spleen Liver, Kidney Calms the spirit, increases energy, immunity and endurance; anti-stress



  • There are several herbal formulas available that combine California poppy, hops and passionflower often with valerian or skullcap. Use for sleep, stress and nervousness.
  • Planetary Formulas Stress Free: I’ve seen people take up to 20 tablets of this a day without putting them to sleep but handling their stress beautifully. It contains zizyphus (suan zao ren), skullcap, hops, wood betony, valerian, American ginseng (xi yang shen), hawthorn, ginger, licorice, chamomile, black cohosh and eleuthero.
  • Planetary Formulas Calm Child: Contrary to its name, this formula is also great for adults. Containing chamomile, jujube dates, hawthorn, catnip, lemon balm, longan pepper, licorice, amla, magnesium, calcium and gotu kola, it aids sleep and reduces stress, hyperactivity, and nervousness.


The following may be found as patent medicines in pill form from Mayway online, either in the Plum Flower of Min Shan brands:

  • An Mien Pian: This is especially good for anxiety, disturbed Shen, insomnia, restlessness, palpitations, vivid dreaming, depression and panic attacks particularly from Heat. As well, it transforms Phlegm and relieves food stagnation, which can often cause heart symptoms such as pain and stuffiness in the chest. Use caution with anemia, Yin and/or Blood Deficiency. This formula contains zizyphus (suan zao ren), polygala (yuan zhi), poria (fu ling), gardenia fruit (zhi zi), massa fermenta (shen qu), and licorice (gan cao).
  • Calm Spirit Teapills: This formula that contains polygonum stem (ye jiao ten), triticum (wheat – fu xiao mai), jujube dates (da zao), poria (fu ling), lilium (lily bulb – bai he), licorice (gan cao) and albizzia (he huan pi) treats disturbed Shen due to deficiency and excessive worrying. I’ve found it to be especially effective in manic/hysterical disorders as well as a gentle sedative.
  • Suan Zao Ren Wan: Containing zizyphus (suan zao ren), ligusticum (chuan xiong), poria (fu ling), anemarrhena (zhi mu), and licorice (gan cao), it treats restlessness, insomnia, palpitations, night sweats, anxiety and vivid dreaming.
  • An Shen Bu Xin Wan: A stronger calm spirit sedative formula, it contains mother-of-pearl (margarite – zhan zhu mu), polygonum stem (ye jiao ten), ligustrum (nu zhen zi), salvia (dan shen), eclipta (han lian cao), cuscuta (tu su zi), albizzia (he huan pi), rehmannia (di huang), schisandra (wu wei zi), and acorus (she chang pu). This formula calms Shen, settles the heart and treats insomnia, vivid dreaming palpitations, dizziness or restlessness with anxiety, possible chest pain or oppression, mania, nightmares and hallucinations. Use caution with poor digestion.

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