If you suffer from moderate to severe anxiety, the idea of trying an herbal remedy may be more appealing than prescribed medication.
While medication is the right route for some, the potential side effects can be off-putting. Thankfully, there is a variety of herbal remedies you can use which could help in relieving anxiety and getting you back in control.
Here are some different herbs you can try out today. They have all been proven to be at least potentially effective after clinical studies were conducted on thousands of people.
8 Best Herbs to Relieve Anxiety
1. St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort is an herb that’s been used for nerve disorders for over 2,000 years, and it grows wild in Asia, Europe, and America.
Numerous studies have shown that the herb has a beneficial impact on those suffering from mild anxiety and depression. However, it’s not exactly clear how. It’s believed St John’s Wort can lengthen the effects of serotonin. This is a chemical in the body that can cause mood imbalances if it’s in short supply.
Valerian is native to North America and Europe. This herb has been used for many years for treating anxiety, muscle tension, stress, and insomnia. It features valeranon and valerenic acid which help the body to relax into a calm and soothing state, allowing you to sleep better. You should not take valerian if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, it can cause drowsiness so you should not take it before driving.
Take a look at this informative video by Dr. Bob McCauley on Valerian for stress relief:
What is interesting to note is that researchers do not know exactly how valerian helps people dealing with anxiety and insomnia. The general consensus is that it might be because valerian increases GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) levels inside the human brain. This creates a calming effect. In fact, several very popular anxiety prescription drugs increase brain GABA levels, including Diazepam and Xanax.
The recommended dose to take for anxiety is up to 200 mg, 3 times daily, with the last dose being right before going to bed. If you have trouble sleeping, the dosage can be as high as 600 mg around 1 hour before sleep. You should never exceed the recommended dosage, especially during the day since valerian can stop you from staying awake.
Adaptogens are a group of herbs or mushrooms that are thought to have promising health benefits. They can be used in products that can help in relieving stress and anxiety.
Adaptogens are sold as powders, tinctures, and capsules. They can be sold as teas too, with a popular choice being this RISE Botanicals adaptogen drink. Some adaptogens are also known to boost immunity and overall health.
There are actually over 70 herbal plants that fall into this category, with many of them being traditionally used in Eastern medicine for hundreds of years. Those that were shown to be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety are:
- Ashwagandha – An evergreen shrub that can be found in the Middle East.
- Tulsi – Also known as holy basil and very popular in traditional medicine, including dealing with colds and scorpion bites.
- Ginseng – This is, most likely, the most known of all adaptogens. It helps with anxiety but can also boost your immune system.
- Rhodiola Rosea L. – Besides helping with anxiety, early research also shows potential cancer-fighting and anti0-aging effects.
- Astragalus – A very popular herb in Traditional Chinese medicine, although it is often used in a combination with other herbs.
Like valerian, passionflower is recognized for its sedative and calming actions. These are beneficial in helping to combat fatigue, anxiety, and sleep issues. Passionflower contains steroids, glycosides, and alkaloids, with the former being the main active ingredient.
Passionflower can also treat pain, menopausal symptoms, heart rhythm problems, and ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). Passionflower mustn’t be taken if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The herb can also be combined with hops or valerian.
Most of us are probably aware of the health benefits of lavender, especially for aiding sleep. However, some research suggests lavender is beneficial for easing stress and anxiety. Not only does lavender smell fantastic, but its scent alone can also help in reducing tension.
Lavender may soothe menstrual cramping, improve skin health, and improve mood disorders. Speak to a doctor before taking lavender if you’ve recently had surgery. This is because the herb can slow the nervous system and prolong recovery. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should speak to your doctor before taking lavender too.
Chamomile is very popular in tea form since it does not contain caffeine. At the same time, chamomile contains several beneficial compounds for the human body. Many of them help in promoting relaxation, which makes the herb very good for those suffering from anxiety.
A study conducted in 2017 investigated chamomile supplementation in people suffering from GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). The study lasted 2 months and in the end, it was shown that anxiety scores were significantly reduced and overall well-being was increased. This happened with the use of chamomile extract (1,500 mg per day).
If you travel to the Pacific Islands, there is a very good possibility you will be recommended to drink some kava. You might even see ceremonies involving the drink. That kava is actually made out of the roots of a herb with the same name. The anxiolytic herb includes several compounds, both non-sedating and sedating. They can help with several types of anxiety.
Kava was highly studied by the medical community. Several studies showed the efficiency the herb has when it comes to reducing symptoms of GAD. But, it is important to highlight that there were also some studies that showed no beneficial results. This practically means that kava might be good for you but we still do not know exactly how it should be used. Promising evidence appeared when the dosage used was 120 to 280 mg.
Alcohol consumption is not at all a good idea when you suffer from anxiety. However, hops, a herb commercially grown for beer production, can help. Similar to chamomile, hops include some compounds that have a sedating effect. So, they can aid you to manage your anxiety.
The only problem with hops is that it is very hard to find. Your only option is to use hops extract. If so, only consider a daily dose of 200 mg to relieve anxiety.
Other Nonclinical Options to Consider
Anxiety can be so serious that it requires clinical treatment. Even if this is not the case, making some lifestyle changes will help since they reduce stress. They can be combined with the use of herbs. Some options you can consider that are very effective at reducing everyday anxiety are:
- Relaxation Techniques – Options like medication and deep breathing reduce anxiety severity and symptoms.
- Exercising – Try to exercise for half an hour 5 times weekly. This produces highly beneficial hormones that will help alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms.
- Getting Enough Sleep – If you do not sleep as much as the body needs, anxiety gets worse.
- Making Diet Changes – When you consume foods like grains, vegetables, healthy fats, and fruits, you gain an intake of nutrients capable of supporting the health of your brain. This basically makes it easier for your brain to manage anxiety.
- Avoiding Harmful Substances – There are several substances that make your anxiety worse. They can also make your overall health worse. This is why doctors always recommend avoiding substances like nicotine and alcohol.
Final Thoughts & When to See a Doctor for Anxiety
Herbs and traditional medicine as a whole can be very effective in helping people manage their anxiety. But, this does not mean they always work. Your anxiety might be too much and you might need the help of a doctor. When should you visit the doctor to talk to them about your anxiety? Whenever the following symptoms become too hard to deal with and they negatively affect your life:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
All of these symptoms can cause a lot of distress and they can negatively affect your relationships at work, school, or home. When your life is disrupted, get help.
Cleveland Clinic: How Lavender Can Improve Your Health
Very Well Mind: The Health Benefits of Lavender Essential Oil‘
Healthline: The Calming Effects of Passionflower
Healthline: Everything You Need to Know About ADHD