10 Herbs for anxiety, stress and depression
Thousands of people in South Africa use herbs for anxiety, stress and depression.
Steering clear from stress is almost impossible in today’s high-pressure society. Before resorting to prescription drugs, you may want to give natural remedies a try. If you’re feeling anxious, trying the below herbs may help calm you down.
Remember, home remedies may help ease anxiety, stress and depression, but they don’t replace professional help.
Increased anxiety may require therapy or prescription medication. Talk to your doctor about your concerns.
- Chamomile – If you have a jittery moment, a cup of chamomile tea might help calm you down. Some compounds in chamomile (Matricaria recutita) bind to the same brain receptors as drugs like Valium. The health benefits of chamomile are endless. This herb will help relax muscles, calm nerves, reduce anxiety and help with insomnia. It also improves digestion and decreases headaches. The most popular way to consume chamomile is in tea form.
- Ashwagandha – Ashwagandha has a long history of use in traditional Indian, or Ayurvedic, medicine. The medicinal herb appears to help lower levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by your adrenal glands in response to stress. Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb with multiple health benefits. It can reduce anxiety and stress, help fight depression, boost fertility and testosterone in men, and even boost brain function. Supplementing with ashwagandha may be an easy and effective way to improve your health and quality of life.
- Lemon Balm – Named after the Greek word for “honey bee,” lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), has been used at least since the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, and help with sleep. In one study of healthy volunteers, those who took standardized lemon balm extracts (600 mg) were more calm and alert than those who took a placebo. While it’s generally safe, be aware that some studies have found that taking too much can actually make you more anxious. So follow directions and start with the smallest dose. Lemon balm is sold as a tea, capsule, and tincture. It’s often combined with other calming herbs such as hops, chamomile, and valerian.
- Hops – Yes, it’s in beer, but you won’t get the tranquilizing benefits of the bitter herb hops (Humulus lupulus) from a brew. The sedative compound in hops is a volatile oil, so you get it in extracts and tinctures—and as aromatherapy in hops pillows. Hops is often used as a sedative, to promote sleep, often with another herb, valerian.
- Valerian Root – Some herbal supplements reduce anxiety without making you sleepy (such as L-theanine), while others are sedatives. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is squarely in the second category. It is a sleep aid, for insomnia. Valerian is often combined with other sedative herbs such as hops, chamomile, and lemon balm.
- Passionflower – In spite of the name, this herb won’t help you in love. It’s a sedative; the German government has approved it for nervous restlessness. Some studies find that it can reduce symptoms of anxiety as effectively as prescription drugs. It’s often used for insomnia. Like other sedatives, it can cause sleepiness and drowsiness, so don’t take it—or valerian, hops, kava, lemon balm, or other sedative herbs—when you are also taking a prescription sedative. Be careful about using more than one sedative herb at a time, and don’t take passionflower for longer than one month at a time.
- Skullcap – It’s thought that American skullcap positively impacts mood and reduces anxiety by stimulating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps calm nerves. Notably, this plant was used in traditional medicine practices as a sedative and treatment for conditions like insomnia and anxiety.
- Lavender – The intoxicating (but safe) aroma of lavender (Lavandula hybrida) may be an “emotional” anti-inflammatory. In one study, Greek dental patients were less anxious if the waiting room was scented with lavender oil. In a Florida study, students who inhaled lavender oil scent before an exam has less anxiety—although some students said it made their minds “fuzzy” during the test. In one German study, a specially formulated lavender pill (not available in the U.S.) was shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as effectively as lorazepam (brand name: Ativan), an anti-anxiety medication in the same class as Valium.
- Oatstraw – Oat Straw (Avena sativa) – Not only can this herb effectively treat anxiety, it is also used to treat migraines, shingles, fatigue, and even epilepsy. This herb can be especially helpful in calming the nerves of those who are detoxing from drug or alcohol addiction, and can even help curb nicotine cravings.
- Cannabidiol – CBD is the abbreviation for cannabidiol, one of the many cannabinoids, or chemical compounds, found in dagga and hemp. You’re probably already familiar with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is another compound found in the cannabis plant and its main psychoactive component. A 2014 animal study found that CBD’s effect on these receptors in the brain produced both antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. A more recent 2018 review of existing studies concluded that CBD has anti-stress effects, which may reduce depression related to stress.
Feeling a bit on edge? Bitters can help with that.
Crafting bitters from calming herbs and flowers can be an easy (and delicious) way to naturally destress. This soothing bitters is made from three natural remedies that have shown promise to produce a calming effect.
Lavender is one of the most popular anti-anxiety herbs, and we’ll be combining it with valerian root and passionflower to make one serious, stress-fighting triple threat.
While these herbs are generally safe and well-tolerated, it’s important to do your research and to never combine them with other GABA-promoting drugs such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines.
30g dried lavender
30g dried valerian root
2 tsp. dried passionflower
1 tsp. dried orange peel
1/2 tsp. dried ginger
200ml of alcohol (recommended: Vodka or Gin)
- Combine all of the ingredients in a mason jar and pour alcohol on top.
- Seal tightly and store the bitters in a cool, dark place.
- Let the bitters infuse until the desired strength is reached, about 2 to 4 weeks. Shake the jars regularly (about once per day).
- When ready, strain the bitters through a muslin cheesecloth or coffee filter. Store the strained bitters in an airtight container at room temperature.
To use: Mix a few drops of this anxiety-fighting bitters into cold or hot tea, sparkling water, or take as a tincture before bed or during moments of increased stress and anxiety. If you want to add a sweet taste to the bitters, we recommend using pure vanilla bean, as sugar is shown to worsen anxiety symptoms!
A few other pointers to help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.
- Stay Active
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Stop smoking
- Ditch caffeine
- Get some sleep
- Eat a healthy diet
- Practice deep breathing
- Try aromatherapy
Note: Don’t take sedative herbs if you are taking a prescription tranquilizer or sedative, and let your doctor know any supplements you are taking.