Heading to Burning Man? When you’re putting together your packing list, be sure to remember the herbs. While you may be bringing some for recreational purposes, there are quite a few that may make a difference in your ability to tolerate the hot sun, long days (and nights!), and anything else you put your body through while at the week-long festival in the Nevada desert.
“Outdoor festivals are wonderful opportunities for the gentle support of herbs,” say Lisa Akers, herbalist. Any time we’re changing routine, staying up later than normal, eating new foods or sleeping in a new environment, it’s easy to throw our systems off. And with the pricey entrance fees to Burning Man, you won’t want to squander a second of the festival.
Here’s how to keep your energy up and get a good night’s rest as well.
Herbs to Boost Energy
Let’s face it; most of us can use help here whether at a festival or not. But Burning Man makes it especially critical. The week-long event is filled with fun talks and events during the day as well as dancing and parties well into the wee hours. While center camp sells coffee, you may want to look to some herbal support to boost your energy levels. Akers recommends ashwagandha, an herb revered in Indian ayurvedic medicine. “Ashwagandha is a great herb to boost energy without depleting your reserves,” she says. “Herbs like ginseng or rhodiola are known energy boosters, but they deplete energy and resilience reserves, so you are more likely to crash afterwards. Ashwagandha can be taken as capsules, tinctures, or tea.”
Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, echoes the sentiment. “It’s easy to temporarily boost energy with sugar/caffeine as with a typical energy drink - but that energy boost is short-lived and almost always comes with a ‘crash’ a few hours later.” He suggests a gentler stimulant, such as the energy boost from matcha green tea, which can increase physical energy from its caffeine as well as catechins and theanine, chemical compounds found in the tea leaf. For stronger alertness, he says Guayusa may be of benefit; it’s an herb used by Amazon hunters to increase “connection with the universe.” Talbott also touts the benefits of New Zealand Pine Bark.
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Alfred Schofield, co-founder of VitalFit Nutrition, says a number of herbs can be key to staying sharp, grounded, and energized, especially when your body is out of its ordinary routine. He recommends medicinal mushrooms to start.
“Lionsmane is a mushroom used in Japanese and Chinese medicine for centuries and is said to give you ‘nerves of steel and the memory of lion,’” he says.
Cordyceps, another fungus, has been widely studied for its ability to boost energy.
Registered nurse Rebecca Lee has a different approach. She recommends just ensuring you’re getting enough vitamins, particular B-complex. “Vitamin B-complex helps the body efficiently break down the food we eat, and turns it into usable energy to use throughout the day,” she sayd. “Deficiency in Vitamin B causes mental fog, generalized weakness and tiredness, and cause mood changes.”
Herbs to Help Handle the Heat
Daytime temperatures at Burning Man can easily exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And with so many reasons to be out and about, you’ll want to be enjoying it all.
Staying hydrated should be your first go-to for managing the heat -- cucumber, melons, and citrus have lots of water content. But Akers says some herbs may help, too, “hibiscus and honeysuckle flower are wonderful cooling herbs.” She recommends make a sun tea with the two together or separately (let cold water infused with tea bags steep in the sun for a few hours) “and sip throughout the day to keep cool.”
You can also use herbs topically to cool yourself down. Akers says witch hazel extract “with a few drops of peppermint essential oil,” can make a good cooling mist spray - and helps with sunburns.
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Herbs to Help Sleep
Calming down in the evening can be a challenge with so much stimulation during the day, sleeping in a tent, and the round-the-clock music and noise. “One of my favorite herbs [for relaxation] is passionflower,” says Akers. “It makes a mild tea that calms your active mind and encourages sleep. Ashwagandha also supports sound sleep, so it serves a dual purpose. Take it in the morning for alertness that naturally ebbs into sleep at night. California poppy tea also helps to calm your active mind.”
Holy Basil (tulsi) a member of the mint family, has been used in traditional Indian medicine for more than 3,000 years. “Holy Basil is shown to relieve stress, replenish adrenals and reduce inflammation,” says Schofield.
Lee recommends a number of herbs to bring about relaxation and sleep including valerian root and lavender. Valerian, she says, “causes sedation by increasing levels of GABA in the brain. GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that regulates depressive and sedative brain signals and is critical for relaxation. Research has shown that valerian extract promotes the release of GABA from brain nerve endings and inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA.”
Compared with placebo, study participants who consumed 400 mg of valerian saw improved sleep quality and reduced time to fall asleep, particularly for subjects who claim to have chronic sleep issues.
Lavender may help both internally and topically; a folk remedy for insomnia, there’s research that supports its efficacy as well. “[L]ike valerian, lavender promotes relaxation by regulating GABA receptors and enhancing the inhibitory tone of the nervous system,” Lee says.
Lavender buds can be steeped in warm water to make a tea, but it can also be used as an aromatherapy tool. Lee points to one study where women with chronic insomnia inhaled lavender for 20 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks. The subjects reported greater sleep quality than the control group. Lavender’s calming effects may be beneficial in mitigating stress and anxiety as well--especially during the long queue of cars getting in and out of the festival.
*This article is not medical advice. Do not start or stop taking any dietary supplements without first consulting with your primary care physician.
Main photo by Steve Jurvetson