Ask an Herbalist:Insomnia, Depression, PTSD and beyond.

Joy Asks:



Insomnia, depression, PTSD and other anxiety issues




I suffer from the above maladies. I haven't had a full/good night's sleep in years. This is making my other issues worse. I was taking Xanax and klonopin but I don't want to be taking those poisons. I have tried passion flower, lemon balm, valerian, hops, melatonin, saffron tea, lavender, etc. Nothing seems to help. Would you be so kind as to advise me on what you think could help me? I look forward to your reply.

Thank you,




Hello Joy,

This is going to be a complex answer and there might be some stuff in here that you don't want to hear or aren't ready to hear. But I want you to know that I'm coming from a deep place of caring and that I too live with  severe complex PTSD and a ton of anxiety issues so really I'm going to share with you a bit of my experience and hope that you can find a healing here in my words.


So I see that you where taking benzodiazepine medications which you know is basically the norm in our society right now especially with anybody who has any anxiety issue. It's a Band-Aid medicine and it's become an epidemic.How long have you been off of it? Did you taper safely or did you go cold turkey or come off it in a matter of months which is the same thing as cold turkey?


I know you can't really answer those here quickly for me but I just have to put that out there that all of these things are issues. Here is a link to something called the Ashton manual it is how to safely taper off of benzodiazepine medications and explains some of the hell that you are likely going through. I used these medications for my PTSD for the better part of a decade and it took me 3 years of horrors I can't explain fully to slowly and safely taper off of this poison.


Unfortunately one of the side effects of many of this medication is insomnia, anxiety, and basically anything they've told you that it would help you with it actually causes especially in long term use.


If you haven’t been off for a long time and you started taking things like Passion flower, Lemon balm. Valerian, Hops, Melatonin on and on unfortunately those herbs being what I call reactive adaptogens  as well as nervines all stimulate the same area but the benzodiazepines calloused over. So basically while  your Gaba receptors are trying to heal the last thing you want to do is essentially pick the scab with herbs that create an uptick in stimulation of your GABA. I know a lot of herbalist will say “oh this isn't true this will help you this is a calming thing” but quite frankly they haven't gone through the hell of a true benzodiazepine withdrawal that last for years and this is such a new phenomenon in our society that herbalism is very far behind in understanding how to adapt practices to legit brain damage caused by a prescribed chemical.


So if you haven't been off of this medication for over a year I don't want you to touch anything like that at all. Basically if an herb can give you any type of Instant reaction I don't want you to touch it with a ten-foot pole. it's going to make all of these symptoms you've had from getting off of this medication even ones you didn't realize we're from getting off of it come back, they call these waves.


But there's still a lot that we can do and use to help ourselves become free from these anxieties as well as get a good night's sleep for once. There are a lot of adaptogens meaning herbs that help our bodies function at higher levels that don't give us instant reactions or stimulate anything in our brain necessarily. The first thing I want you to do is take a long hard look at your diet. Variety is key. If you are on some heroic strict guilt driven diet that says if you eat XYZ you're going to be punished for it. If you right now are a vegetarian or a vegan I want you to knock it the hell off. I want you to nourish your body deeply with grass-fed animal fats such as grass-fed butters, grass-fed ghee, grass-fed whole fat plain yogurt, grass fed whole milks, start making bone broth, grass-fed meat the fattier  the cut the better, cheese's of all kinds and beyond!


Why? Because our body desperately needs these fats to function and you can not I repeat can not replace these fats with plant-based fats they just aren't the same. There are even specific nutrients that we can not get from plants and you won't find health in a pill so taking pills to replace what we can't get from plants is just a waste of time. But even if you're not a vegetarian or vegan you honestly probably don't have enough of these healthy fats in your diet. and this brings us to building up Optimum levels of nutrition.


Now i’m not saying I want you to eat a ton of meat every day you can still have a mainly plant based diet and just add in these animal fats to what your cooking. However it is important when you eat vegetables that you cook them low and slow for a long time, see the thing is the cellular structure that makes up plants is very tough when it's raw so your body doesn't get much of the nutrients when you eat them in their raw state. So when we cook them for long periods of time it breaks down the tough cellular structure then the nutrients in the plant matter becomes more readily available to our body. Now meat is the opposite it is soft and easily digestible in raw form and toughens when we cook it. But clearly we can't just go around eating raw meat, well you could if you had like really fresh sources but since most of us don't have the ability to go out and butcher right here and now the best thing to do is to also cook your meat for a really long time. Such as using a slow cooker for all day stews or pot roast or just basically cook it until it falls off the bone/apart.


The thing is most of our diets today in the food we eat in general are so lacking in nutrition that we have this sad ability as a country to be overweight while still suffering from malnutrition. And that comes from unhealthy fats and vegetables that are ripened in a warehouse versus on the plant for the sake of shipping. So I would really really love for you to look into stinging nettle infusions drinking at least two cups a day, oat straw infusion and that's about the only reactive nervine that I would feel comfortable using while coming off of benzodiazepines or having not been off of them for a year, I would then also look into making kelp infusions and don't  worry these are so easy to make here is a link to a video showing you how and here is a link to an article talking about how amazing they are for building Optimum Nutrition. Basically it's a long brewed tea where the water pulls all of the nutrition out of the plant matter and when you drink it it's instantly available to your body.


Nettle infusion is one of the few tools that basically gave me my life back from PTSD, it's really going to nourish our overworked adrenal glands. As well as give us true energy versus stimulation energy that you get from things such as caffeine and sugar. Not to mention it has more nutrition than almost any damn plant on this Earth including blue algae and you can buy it bulk for cheap! It is also amazing for helping with insomnia. Work infusions into your daily routine for a few months and it will be life changing.


The thing is when we are nutritionally deficient our entire body suffers so I guess what I'm trying to get across here is that we can't treat our body like a car to where we're like what I want to fix is insomnia so I feel better so I can deal with my anxiety. We have to heal ourselves as a whole and when everything comes together like that and we're nursing our entire body everything kind of just falls into place.


But clearly I'm going to say to you if you drink coffee, if you eat copious amounts of sugar, if you smoke cigarettes if you are using any type of stimulant knock it off. I know it's hard because we get stuck with these things we get stuck in these addictions and the false codependent comforts they give but we really have to more often than not rip everything apart in our life to get to a place of healing.


The next thing I'm going to talk about that really helped me with my anxiety is allowing myself to get angry as fuck! Stop saying sorry, stop feeling bad, stop feeling like I'm broken, stop saying yes to shit that I don't want to do! Allowing myself to say this is not okay with me, I don't want to go do that, I don't want to be here for you, I don't want to be responsible for your emotional well-being, I need to put myself first, I need to call out bullshit and pain no matter how long ago it happened all of this absolutely liberated me! Then something amazing happened, I found myself in a place where when I did say yes to things I genuinely meant it and my anxiety slowly started to melt away, true healing began after a lifetime of suffering. I mean if I told you that three years ago I couldn't even leave my house to go to the grocery store or talk to another human being would you believe me?


I know you wrote to me specifically about being able to sleep but the odds are good that your inability to sleep is related to anxiety issues, anger issues, a bunch of unresolved shit that just keeps your mind/body going a million miles an hour even if you don't realize it. I mean in all honesty how often do you think yourself I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight and get worried about it? That in itself is anxiety.


One thing that really helped me on top of all of this stuff was using hemp based CBD oil, I order mine from here. I'm not a sponsor or anything, they don't pay me to talk about this company this is just one that I have found that I really like. For me staying away from THC is very important as it tends to trigger anxiety for most folks with PTSD no matter the strain. Basically we want the CBD without the high of the THC and using their hemp oil drops is one of the things that gave me my life back. It does take a little while to build up in your body and you will have to mess around with a dosing to see what works for you but it's worth it. I went from having such severe anxiety attacks that I would spend literally days in the bathroom shitting myself from factual terror about going to I don't know a two hour barbecue at just my parents house with two other people to going live on Instagram with thousands of people. I just wanted to give you the examples to let you know like how extreme I was and how when I started using some of these tools and focusing on Optimum Nutrition and letting myself just fucking rage about the shit that's happened to me and the things that are really affecting me or have affected me in life I slept really well at night.


This is probably coming off way more ranty than I usually do and that is probably because I'm using a talk to text program so I'm able to just dump my brain onto this page. I do really hope though that you find a few helpful hints in here and some stuff to consider.


I know in the beginning I said that some of this could be hard to hear or that you may not be ready to hear it and I think the important thing to understand right now is that while I'm answering you specifically I'm also answering a lot of other people at once so I kind of have to like cover all the stuff that comes into my head about who could be doing what and I don't mean to make you feel like I'm assuming that you have or haven’t done these things and I don't want you to feel guilt about any of this even if you did know some stuff is better avoided. Mainly I hope you find a bit of help here in my words.


Kindest regards,

April Graham

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