If you or someone you love is one of the 40 million Americans plagued by anxiety, you know how debilitating anxiety disorders can be. Key to finding peace and emotional comfort is a holistic approach that rules out underlying medical issues, takes in to account the individual’s personal history and response to stress, and includes diet and lifestyle modifications. Within this holistic context, herbs for anxiety and stress related disorders offer safe, effective, and natural relief.
I’ve chosen these seven anxiety-relieving herbs because each one has special properties that may address an individual’s unique experience of anxiety. For some, anxiety goes hand in hand with depression. For others, excessive worry is punctuated by sudden and severe panic attacks. Other unwelcome companions of anxiety can include muscle tension and tension headaches, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, digestive discomfort, fatigue and poor sleep. In this short list of herbs to relieve anxiety you’ll find herbs that also help relieve these many anxiety-related symptoms.
7 Herbs for Anxiety
Lavender | Lavendula angustifolia
When it comes to relieving anxiety, Lavender is both gentle and effective. It is also helpful for nervous tension, irritability, and restlessness associated with stress. Lavender also helps ease symptoms of depression and promotes better sleep. Lavender is appropriate for all ages, from little children to the elderly, and even pregnant women. But don’t underestimate this lovely little flower. A study comparing a lavender preparation known as Silexan to the prescription drug Paxil showed that the lavender product was more effective than Paxil in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder and with fewer side effects. In another study involving pregnant women, participants showed significant improvements in stress, anxiety, and mild to moderate depression with the use of a topical lavender cream.
Lavender essential oil is one of the easiest ways to take advantage of the soothing properties. Consider a simple inhalation several times per day or topical application in an unscented lotion, salve, or carrier oil. Lavender flowers can also be prepared as a simple tea for an uplifting and calming drink.
Lemon Balm | Melissa officinalis
This citrus-scented plant in the mint family excels at alleviating anxiety, stress, irritability and stress-related heart palpitations. Lemon Balm’s ability to ease gas and bloating and calm the digestive system makes it an excellent choice for people who suffer from digestive problems when they are stressed or anxious. Lemon Balm may also be useful to moderate an over active thyroid, which can be an underlying cause of anxiety. Though generally safe, lemon balm should be avoided in hypothyroidism.
This herb for anxiety also makes a tasty, citrus-like tea. Lemon balm liquid extract or lemon balm in capsule are convenient alternatives for busy people.
Skullcap | Scutellaria lateriflora
Skullcap helps to calm the nervous system and restore a sense of emotional balance and perspective. It also helps to relax sore, tense or aching muscles and soothe tension headaches. It’s especially useful for people who become short-tempered and irritable when overwhelmed or stressed.
Dried skullcap can be used in tea, but a skullcap liquid extract made from the fresh plant is more effective.
Passion Flower | Passiflora incarnata
Passion flower is a stunning flower whose name seems to contradict its calming, sedative properties. It is especially useful to comfort a worried mind and quiet excessive mental chatter. Despite its sedative effect, passion flower may be used in the daytime during heightened anxiety or for people experiencing frequent panic attacks. Like skullcap, it is also an anti-spasmodic that helps ease muscle tension associated with stress or anxiety. Though generally safe, passion flower should not be combined with sedative medications or used in pregnancy.
Passion flower can be prepared as a tea or used as a liquid extract. For insomnia, it is often combined with more sedative herbs like hops and valerian.
California Poppy | Eschscholzia californica
This bright, sunny flower is calming to anxiety and can be used as a mild sedative for sleep disturbances associated with stress and nervous tension. California poppy also helps reduce the muscle tension and nerve pain suffered by many people with anxiety. California poppy should only be used with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner in pregnancy.
Ashwagandha | Withania somnifera
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is a shorthand way of describing an herb that helps the body adapt to and respond to stress more favorably. Unlike most other adaptogens that are stimulating, Ashwagandha calms the mind and relieves anxiety. It helps to nourish and rebuild a nervous system depleted by long-term stress or illness and reduces cortisol levels elevated by chronic stress. It promotes thyroid function and is beneficial for people with hypothyroidism, or a low functioning thyroid. When it comes to insomnia or restlessness, ashwagandha promotes more restful sleep. Though safe for children and the elderly, ashwagandha is generally avoided in pregnancy.
Ashwagandha can be prepared as a tea or the powder can be incorporated in smoothies or other soft foods. Ashwagandha liquid extract is also available, but capsules might be favored if you mind the herb’s somewhat earthy flavor.
Schisandra | Schisandra chinensis
Like ashwagandha, this tart, red berry is also an adaptogen that helps relieve anxiety. Schisandra is both calming and stimulating. It calms the mind at the same time as it enhances reflexes, work performance and mental clarity. This combination is especially effective for individuals seeking relief from anxiety who need a high level of mental clarity and focus. As an adaptogen, schisandra also helps strengthen an immune system depleted by chronic stress and is useful for stress-induced asthma. Schisandra should not be combined with barbiturates as it can increase their effects. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, adaptogenic remedies like schisandra are not taken during acute viral or bacterial infections typically associated with colds and flu.
Schisandra berries can be prepared as a tea, but should be allowed to simmer 20-40 minutes to extract their full potency. Schisandra can also be used in the form of a liquid extract.
I hope these herbs for anxiety relief bring you comfort and serenity. In choosing an herb or combination of them, consider when and where anxiety and stress show up for you and how your body is affected. If you have friends or family members suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, be sure to share this post with them – sometimes it’s easier to hear what our friends and family members have been telling us when we hear it from a third-party. Anxiety can be a deeply personal issue, but if you or a loved one has experienced success with natural approaches to anxiety relief, feel free to share about it in the comments below. Maybe you’ll inspire someone else to begin his or her path to a more stress-free lifestyle.
Peace and happiness,
Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Facts & Statistics, https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.
Lavender oil preparation Silexan is effective in generalized anxiety disorder–a randomized, double-blind comparison to placebo and paroxetine, Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Jun;17(6):859-69, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456909.
Effect of lavender cream with or without foot-bath on anxiety, stress and depression in pregnancy: a randomized placebo-controlled trial, J Caring Sci. 2015 Mar; 4(1): 63–73, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363653/.
Heart palpitation relief with Melissa officinalis leaf extract: double blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial of efficacy and safety, J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;164:378-384, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25680840.
Phytochemical and biological analysis of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora L.): a medicinal plant with anxiolytic properties, Phytomedicine. 2003 Nov;10(8):640-9, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14692724.
Plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, part 2: a review of clinical studies with supporting preclinical evidence, CNS Drugs. 2013 Apr;27(4):301-19, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23653088.
Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam, J Clin Pharm Ther. 2001 Oct;26(5):363-7, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11679026.
A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults, Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798.
Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, Winston, David, RH (AHG), 2007.
Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth, 2d Edition, Tilgner, Sharon, ND, 2009.
A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs, Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient, Boone, Kerry, 2003.