Anxiety and stress have become almost a part of our daily lives. Are there natural remedies, or herbs, to reduce anxiety and stress? In this post we shall try to answer this question, as well as some natural medicinal herbs that may help, that are backed by science as opposed to vague claims.
Do you recall the day you woke up feeling rested, refreshed, hopeful, ready to take on whatever life threw at you? Then there are days when you experience feeling down, overwhelmed, defeated, and overloaded. Any normal person would prefer the former feeling. Unfortunately, for too many of us, we are more familiar with the latter.
What if there are herbs that could give you a daily “lift”?
We shall also look at some popular herbs that are touted as stress and anxiety remedies but whose effects are largely anecdotal and not supported by clinical studies. And at least one herb you want to avoid as it may put your health and safety at risk.
Side note: Herbs featured here are not for clinically depressed or those on medication. Do not replace prescribed medication with herbs or any type of supplements without consulting a knowledgeable healthcare profession.
In a previous post, we looked at Proven Herbs to Reduce Anxiety. In this post we include stress as the two are closely related and often go together.
A Certain Level of Stress and Anxiety is Natural
Feeling stress and anxiety in challenging times is natural. It is a natural biological response to potential danger or threat. We need this for survival. It is how respond to it that matters.
Still, modern living has put us under constant stress and anxiety, such that our systems cannot efficiently handle. The pace of life seems to be ever-increasing, and so do the bills. And uncertainty is a constant companion. The result is an increase in stress-related illnesses and nervous system disorders.
These stress-related illness and nervous system disorders include insomnia, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and cardiovascular disease, to name but a few. Needless to say, no normal person wants any of these.
Herbs vs Modern Medicine
Modern medicine has done wonders for our health. It has reduced death and suffering, as well as helped manage certain psychosomatic illnesses and conditions. In fact, in some cases it is the best way to go. However, it has its downsides, two among them of them being side effects and the possibility of dependence.
Also, critics of modern medicine point out that it emphasizes cure instead of prevention. And this is not the harshest criticism. There are those who say that the pharmaceutical industry focuses on symptoms-management and not cure, as this is what creates lifetime customers for the industry. But that is another topic.
Now let us look at some herbal remedies for anxiety and stress.
An All-Round Approach Works Better
While you seek herbs for anxiety and stress, we also encourage you to seek other ways of relieving and (coping with) these. These include a healthy diet, exercise including yoga, breathing techniques, and meditation. Professional help is also greatly encouraged.
Beyond herbs, certain health supplements may also be helpful. For example, studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids to be effective in the treatment of depression in adults and children.
Medicinal Herbs for Anxiety and Stress
There are many excellent herbs, herbal formulas and combinations used for reducing anxiety and stress. Some have been shown to work through clinical studies while many others are only supported by anecdotal reports. Let us now look at some popular ones.
Ashwagandha: The King of Ayurvedic Herbs
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is one of the most revered herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. So much so that it is called the king of Ayurvedic herbs. It has been used for over 3000 years to relieve stress. Ashwagandha is categorized as an adaptogen, because of its stress-lowering effects. It has been found to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
In one randomized study, 64 participants with a history of chronic stress were put on either a capsule containing 300mg of Ashwagandha extract or a placebo. The 60-day study showed that participants on Ashwagandha had significantly lower stress as well as lower hormone cortisol levels compared to the placebo group.
No significant side effects were noted during the study.
Chamomile (Matricaria recuita) is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs known to mankind. There are two different chamomile plants, German chamomile, and Roman chamomile. Of the two, the German one is considered more potent and is more widely used for medicinal purposes.
Among myriad other uses, chamomile is used as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia. Research shows it may be effective for anxiety.
An 8-week randomized, blind placebo-controlled clinical study involving 57 participants with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) was conducted by researchers in Baltimore, MD. The results showed that 28 participants who received chamomile extract had significantly lower anxiety than 29 participants in the placebo group.
Chamomile combines well with passionflower (below) and teas with the combo can be found in stores online and offline.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a mild sedative herb from a climbing vine originally from Peru but has spread worldwide. Because of its sedative effects, its often used to treat sleep disorders, particularly insomnia.
Passionflower is said to have a calming effect. It is not surprising, therefore, that is has found use in a treatment of anxiety and stress and other emotional issues such as agitation and restlessness.
A study involving 36 participants found passionflower to be effective for the management of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The study found that passionflower is as effective as the drug oxazepam (Serax) for treating symptoms. Though the herb worked slower than the drug, it produced less impairment in job performance.
Passionflower is available in form of teas, tinctures, liquid extracts, and infusions. It is often combined with chamomile (above), as well as valerian.
Rhodiola Rosea, or simply Rhodiola, is an herb that grows in high-altitude and cold regions of the Northern Hemisphere. It is also known as golden root, rose root, and roseroot, among other names. Like Ashwagandha (above), Rhodiola is categorized as an adaptogen, because it has stress-lowering properties.
The herb has been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It may also help improve physical performance and brain function.
A study involving 10 participants aged between 34 and 55 with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of Rhodiola. Participants received 340 mg of Rhodiola for 10 weeks.
At the end of the 10-week period, participants of Rhodiola showed significant decreases in GAD symptoms.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has nothing to do with the lemon fruit that we all know. Lemon balm is perennial plant of the mint family, whose leaves are used to make medicine. Lemon balm is used for anxiety, stress, insomnia, and many other mental and physical conditions. It may also help improve cognitive function.
Lemon balm contains chemicals that have a sedative and calming effect. Needless to say, this can help relieve anxiety and stress.
A 2004 study found that taking a 600mg dose of lemon balm mitigated the effects of stress and increased calmness. Exactly how it works, however, is still not fully understood.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb native to Europe and Asia, but also grows – and has been naturalized – in North America. It is commonly used for sleep disorders, especially lack of sleep. Not surprising as anxiety and stress can lead to sleep disturbance.
Valerian is an herb said to have anti-anxiety properties that is used as a natural mild tranquilizer, sedative, and muscle relaxer.
Although valerian has been used for insomnia and anxiety, scientific evidence is mixed as to whether it is actually effective. We included it here because it is quite popular as an herb anxiety and stress.
Also known as kava kava, kava (Piper methysticum) is one of the most popular antianxiety herbs on the market. It is derived from a root in the pepper plant family that is native to the Western Pacific islands. It is consumed for its sedating effects throughout the Pacific ocean island cultures of Polynesia including Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia, and some parts of Micronesia. Like virtually all other natural sedatives, it is used to treat sleep disorders, especially insomnia.
Kava has been shown to have only mild effects on reducing anxiety. But it gets worse.
Extra caution should be exercised when using kava due to risk of toxicity. Kava-containing products have been associated with liver-related injuries—including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure. Due to its liver damaging side effect, kava is banned in Europe and Canada.
Mild effects on reducing anxiety and stress, plus risk of toxicity? This particular herb is best avoided.
 WebMD: VALERIAN
 Healing Anxiety and Depression by Daniel G. Amen, ?Lisa C. Routh – Page 164
 Wikipedia: Kava
 NIH: Kava