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Top 12 Herbs Known to Relieve Anxiety
Anxiety: everyone has felt this from time to time, but what do you do when feelings of anxiety simply won’t go away? Anxiety is a general feeling of dread, worry, fear, or apprehension. If you feel on edge, restless, nervous, or impatient, then you have experienced anxiety. Chronic, ongoing anxiety can bring on fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, a feeling of tightness in the chest, bloating, insomnia, dry mouth, and indigestion.
Although most people experience periods of anxiety, for others anxiety is something they feel on a regular basis, sometimes daily. Anxiety can be caused by many life situations, such as a job interview, but it can also be caused by medical conditions or even medications. Some people turn to alcohol, recreational drugs, or prescription medications, however these do not always solve the problem.
If you experience more than your fair share of anxiety or anxiety attacks but are seeking alternative or more natural methods, then keep reading. There are numerous herbal remedies which are well-known for calming the nerves, lowering stress levels, and reducing the severity or the number of anxiety attacks. Herbal remedies are often recommended by practitioners of natural medicine. As with any medication, herbal or otherwise, you should always talk to your doctor first, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding, or if you are taking prescription medications. Although most herbs are completely safe, there have been reports of drug interactions.
Keep reading for the top 12 herbs that are proven to help reduce anxiety.
This plant, native to the Western Pacific, is sometimes referred to as kava-kava. It has a long history of use among the native Polynesian people. Kava (piper methysticum) has mild relaxing compounds and when used in higher doses, has an almost intoxicating effect. Kava is comparable to prescription medications in the benzodiazepine class for treating anxiety disorders, according to studies. However, unlike prescription sedatives, kava is known for its calming effect without the typical cognitive fuzziness or impairment.
Kava is generally extracted only from the root of the plant; the active compounds are also present in the leaves and stems of this plant. A double blind study done in 1996 treated 29 subjects who had been diagnosed as having a general anxiety disorder with a kava extract three times per day for a period of 4 weeks (100 mg doses given 3 times each day). When compared to the placebo group, those who took kava found that their anxiety symptoms were significantly reduced, and there were no adverse side effects reported or noted. In fact, adverse reactions to kava are rare, so you can take kava with confidence.
2. Ginkgo Biloba
Over the years there have been conflicting reports as to the effectiveness of this popular herb in fighting anxiety. There is plenty of research that shows that ginkgo biloba can greatly improve blood circulation to the brain, which often results in an improvement of moods and can lessen the effects of depression.
This herb has been widely used for centuries to treat a multitude of mental issues such as Alzheimer’s, depression, dementia, and Lyme disease. When testing the effectiveness of this herb, one study found that it did reduce a person’s stress and anxiety levels. By improving blood circulation to the brain, consumption of ginkgo biloba results in less confusion, clearer thinking, less depression, headaches, and feelings of anxiety. Ginkgo biloba is sold almost everywhere. You can buy it in capsule or tablet form, or even as a tea. Be sure to buy from a trusted brand that is known for high quality as some brands use ginkgo grow with pesticides.
How wonderful that something that smells so good can also greatly help with feelings of anxiety! Lavender (lavandula angustifolia) can promote a deep sense of relaxation, calmness, and even improve sleep. Lavender balances out hormones in the body and stimulates the immune system. This sweet smelling herb has been used literally for centuries to treat anxiety and feelings of restlessness. It contains 16 compounds that improve the mood, decrease anxiety levels, and offer a calming effect.
Aromatherapy is one of the best known therapies for depression, stress, and anxiety relief. When lavender essential oil is inhaled, these molecules enter the brain and interact with the portions of the brain that deal with emotions, the amygdala and the hippocampus. Lavender acts something like a sedative to these parts of the brain, relieving stress and anxiety. One study performed in 2007 showed that lavender could significantly reduce the stress hormone cortisol among men.
This herb is indigenous to parts of Asia and Europe and has been used for centuries to treat everything from nervousness, insomnia, and headaches, to heart palpitations and anxiety.
Clinical studies back up these claims and show that valerian root (valeriana officinalis) is effective for treating general anxiety disorders. Valerian was used by English soldiers during World War II to help lessen the stress from air raids. Chinese medicine and Ayurveda medicine also use valerian root to help with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
5. St. John’s Wort
This herb was first mentioned by Hippocrates, who stated that it was a powerful medicinal plant. St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) has been used for centuries to treat depression and anxiety. Modern research shows that it is a useful alternative, or complimentary treatment, for those with even severe depression. This herb has been used as a treatment for many types of ailments such as ADHD, OCD, and SAD. It’s also been said to reduce symptoms of menopause such as insomnia, headaches, fatigue, and especially moodiness and irritability.
St. John’s Wort can also be applied topically and is known for relieving muscle soreness, burns, insect bites, inflammation, and even nerve pain. Although side effects are uncommon, some people should take care before consuming this herb. If you are taking blood thinners, anti-coagulants, medications for HIV/AIDS (nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors), protease inhibitors, birth control pills, sedatives, antidepressants, pain medications such as Demerol or OxyContin, you should consult your doctor before you consume this herb.
This is what many people would call an “old fashioned” remedy that dates back to the Ancient Egyptians. This is perhaps the most well-known of all the calming herbs available today. Although it has a long use as a natural means of relieving stress and anxiety, only recently has it been tested and studied. Clinical trials show that chamomile (both matricaria recutita and chamaemelum nobile) can help to greatly reduce the symptoms of general anxiety disorder. Compared with a placebo group, those who took chamomile supplements found that their feelings of anxiety were greatly reduced, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
Chamomile has long been used as a sleeping aide and this belief is supported by results from in-vivo trials. One study performed in 2005 found that when chamomile was consumed regularly it had a soothing, calming effect that improved sleep.
Although many people consume chamomile with no problems, it might cause an allergic reaction for a few. If you are sensitive to ragweed, take extra care and try very small amounts of tea to see how well you tolerate this calming herb.
Most people think of ginseng as something that gives energy and is not often thought of for the relief of anxiety. The ginsenosides in Panax ginseng are known for stimulating blood circulation in the brain, which often results in lowered stress levels and feelings of anxiety and depression. Several scientific research studies show that ginseng provides benefits for the relief of anxiety.
Ginseng is perhaps best known for its adaptogenic compounds that improve physical resistance in the body from wear and tear that are caused by physical and/or emotional stress. One study performed in 1982 asked nurses to switch from day shift to the night shift. Some of the nurses were given ginseng, while the others were not. This study showed that the nurses who were given ginseng were much more easily able to maintain their emotional balance. Those who did not take ginseng were much more moody. Although ginseng is another root that is well tolerated by almost everyone, there are a few exceptions. If you are taking any type of prescription medication, consult your doctor before consuming ginseng.
8. Lemon Balm
Although this is generally used in combination with other types of calming herbs, such as lavender and chamomile, lemon balm has powerful anti-anxiety compounds all by itself. In one study, published in 2004, subjects who consumed a single dose of lemon balm extract (either 300 mg or 600 mg) and then were measured for mood changes after one hour found that those who received the higher dosage had lower stress levels, but improved alertness and a sense of calm. Even the lower dose was able to help subjects perform simple tasks with more clarity and less feelings of stress or anxiety.
If you wish to try lemon balm in aromatherapy, try 300 to 50 mg of dried lemon balm 3 times per day. Or you can drink lemon balm tea three or four times per day. If you prefer essential oils, use about 60 drops per day in your favorite tea or drink.
9. Holy Basil
Sometimes called Tulsi (The Incomparable One), holy basil is related to mint and has been used for centuries in India and Asia to improve mental, physical, and even spiritual health. Holy basil is an adaptogen, which helps the body deal with emotional and physical changes and stress. Many people who consume holy basil on a regular basis say that it helps them feel calm and relaxed. The name alone refers to its incredible ability to reduce stress, relieve feelings of anxiety, and encourage longevity.
Studies show that this herb does contain unique substances that reduce stress hormones in the body. This can lead to improved memory, mental clarity, and feelings of serenity. Holy basil also has powerful antioxidants which can help prevent the onset of age-related mental problems such as dementia. Holy basil is a cousin to sweet basil. Hindus believe that this plant is the sacred incarnation of divinity. With its anti-fungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory compounds, combined with its ability to reduce stress levels, you should give holy basil a try. It’s readily available in almost all health food stores or local ethnic food stores.
10. Passion Flower
This plant has been used by Native American tribes for centuries as a treatment for seizures, insomnia, as well as anxiety. It’s also gotten quite a bit of attention from scientists in the past few years. In fact, studies show that this plant has the potential to be used as a successful treatment for anxiety in place of many pharmaceutical drugs. The active component in passion flower increases the GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) in the brain, which helps persons to feel a great sense of peace and calmness. A 2001 study showed that passion flower was just as effective as the pharmaceutical drug Serax (oxazepan) for general anxiety issues. Many herbal teas or tinctures that are often marketed as having “calming” or “anti-anxiety” compounds contain passion flower extracts.
Although passion flower (passiflora incarnata) is thought to be safe and non-toxic to most people, some report minor to moderate side effects. If you are pregnant, breast feeding, or plan to become pregnant, you should avoid this herb. If you are taking other types of anti-anxiety medications, talk to your doctor before you use passion flower. There have been reports of drug interactions with passion flower and some pharmaceuticals so if you are taking any type of prescription medication, consult your physician before you start using this herb.
Are you thinking beer? Well, it’s true that hops have been traditionally used to make beer, and still are, however, they are also a popular and long used herb for the treatment of insomnia, nervousness, tension, and feelings of restlessness or anxiety. Native to Britain, the sedative compounds of hops were first discovered by gardeners who would often fall asleep in the fields when picking this herb. Hops works best, however, when combined with other anti-anxiety herbs such as valerian, chamomile or passion flower.
SEE ALSO: 10 Easy All Natural Remedies for Anxiety
Scientists have also studied hops for its possibility as an anti-anxiety substance. One double blind study conducted recently showed that hops were much more effective than a placebo. In this study, hops were combined in a tea with valerian root. Hops is well tolerated by almost everyone, but if you have sensitivity to cannabis you should consider trying another herbal remedy, as some people have reported allergic reactions.
Although catnip drives cats a bit crazy, it has the opposite effect on humans. Catnip is related to the mint family and it has powerful compounds that help with anxiety and other issues such as nervousness or feelings of restlessness. Even for those with severe anxiety, catnip can offer effective relief. This favorite herb of cats can reduce stress, improve the appetite, stop headaches, eliminate insomnia, and ease muscle tension from nervousness.
Catnip has been around for centuries. It stimulates the nervous system, making cats entertaining, but treats the physiological imbalances in humans which sometimes result in depression and feelings of anxiety. Catnip is a nerve tonic that is unmatched at relieving tension. It stimulates the brain while relaxing the nerves. Some believe that catnip works by rejuvenating the nerve impulses. No matter which is true, catnip tea can work wonders for relieving tension and nervous anxiety. Make a cup of tea for yourself and give a catnip filled mouse toy to your cat. This should please both of you.
“University of Minnesota Libraries: The Transfer of Knowledge. Hops-”Humulus lupulus””. Lib.umn.edu. 2008-05-13.
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Kobak KA, Taylor LVH, Warner G, Futterer R. St. John’s wort versus placebo in social phobia: Results from a placebo-controlled pilot study. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2005; 25(1): 51-58.