In early learning of herbalism, and I speak of todays western herbal practice here, as it is what I personally have practiced for over 20 years- we eventually learn from books and teachers about a grouping of herbs referred to as "nervines". There is a basic, but very incomplete, acceptance that these herbs as a group "calm and sedate". Their actions in materia media are described routinely as "hypnotic, sedating, calming". Magazine articles often present some of them in very bare bones ways....but then, those articles are often written by "people who write content" , and not by actual practicing clinical herbalists.
And yes, many of these different herbs do all that. And more. Some, such as valerian and catnip and skullcap, are also "antispasmodic"; some are also analgesic (pain relieving).
The deeper understanding comes about when we use herbs in a more exploratory and long term way. An Example of this - One uses California Poppy tincture to help calm the mind to more easily fall asleep. Then, one day, one uses California poppy tincture after breakfast, and finds their entire day is more focused and calm, but they don't "fall asleep " (although a deeply and chronically exhausted person might want to, and that would be a natural situation) . Another example - One uses Motherwort because they heard it was nervine, and what they experience is a release of held body patterns that in turn help them move better, walk more easily, and in turn, sleep better. In this case, Motherwort is not a drug " causing" sleep (like benadryl would) , it is an agent releasing the obstacles (pain, tension), that prevent natural sleep.
Going even deeper- nervine herbs, particularly in synergistic combinations and/or in alternating doses- MEND AND NOURISH A FRAYED nervous system. The actual system itself. This is huge. If you sprained your ankle, you would be waiting for muscles, skin and tissues to heal and regenerate. If we nourish our Nervous System- which reaches EVERYWHERE in the body, from head to toe- from organ to gland - then every single system has a chance to work better. We go on special food medicine programs to heal, and we can take a special course of nerve rejuvenating herbs to heal our nervous system- from trauma, addiction, stressful episodes, injuries, and more.
So we don't need a pathology in place to benefit from using nervine herbs. We have favored herbs and lends in our Apothecary that are excellent for that purpose. I find, in this current age , nervine herbs are essential for the foundation of healing other issues that seem unrelated (seem that way with allopathic thinking, which is not our way of thinking) - such as the digestive system or cerebral circulation or trauma healing. Example- many of our students who are given nervine herbs during the course of the program, for their experiential learning, report back that their constipation clears up, or their stomach works better, or their knee pain resolves- just by taking a formula they thought would "only" address anxiety and sleep. I hope this helps readers see the more holistic, inner ecology connections in using this beautiful class of herbs .
Lastly, nervine herbs , many of them, also have several other functions and outcomes and actions - they may offer constituents to regenerate tissue, to improve gall bladder function, to inprove digestive secretions, and more. One interesting example is in use of Wood Betony, or also Blue Vervain- two different "nervine" herbs which have strong bitters components. I find that when there is an affinity for the use of these herbs, along with a pleasing outcome, these same people ( I among them at times!) have also had ongoing problems with their digestive system, which in turn is enough to cause irritability, anxiety and stress. The doses of , say, Wood Betony can help clear some of this up, or become a clue to the clinical herbalist that more work and resolution is needed in this system, in other ways.
When our clients and Apothecary guests allow us to help guide them in choosing formulas, they will get the better choice for their goals , in forms that are ready to go where needed. Within our center and clinic, our work is respectful of client confidentiality at all times.