It is best that the following herbs for anxiety be taken as fluid extracts or as tablets.The taste of herbal extracts can be a little unusual – I remember the first herbal remedy I ever took tasted to me a bit like how I imagined compost might taste! But it’s just a taste that most people are unfamiliar with, not necessarily unpleasant and it doesn’t take long to get used to. Tinctures are similar to fluid extracts but are generally a weaker preparation.
You may prefer to take tablets or capsules to avoid any challenges to your taste buds!
These herbal remedies are available from your herbalist and some are available from health food shops or pharmacies. Always follow the recommended dosage and check with your doctor first if you are taking other medication.
Kava kava (piper methysticum)
The effectiveness of Kava in anxiety conditions has been proven in clinical studies. It appears from research that it may have a directly soothing effect on the amygdala (the main part of the brain involved in the fear response) and this makes it a particularly useful herb for anxiety problems. Given the long history of Kava usage in the Polynesian islands, where no harmful side effects have been reported, (beyond mainly some skin conditions in those who have taken at least ten times the recommended dose over a prolonged period of time) it is probably the number one herb to be thought of in helping to ease anxiety and panic.
Withania somnifera (also known as Ashwagandha)
This lovely herb is calming and nurturing to the mind and helps promote deep sleep. It is used in cases of weakness and exhaustion, and where there has been lack of sleep, overwork and nervous fatigue. It is a strengthening and rejuvenating tonic and is excellent for people with a sensitive, nervy constitution. Withania is held in the same high esteem in India as Ginseng is held in other parts of Asia and is a very valuable herb for anxiety.
St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum)
This herb is most commonly used for its antidepressant effects but can also be effective in relieving anxiety in the same way as pharmaceutical anti-depressants are often effective in this regard. Like these drugs, St. John’s Wort (botanical name Hypericum) usually needs to be taken for a few weeks before its effects are felt. This has become one of the most popular of all over the counter herbal products and so has particularly attracted adverse media attention on the occasions when it has been found to interact negatively with pharmaceutical drugs. If you are taking any other medication, including oral contraceptives, be sure to check with your health care professional before taking St. John’s Wort, as it can decrease their effectiveness.
Gotu Kola (centella asiatica)
This is considered one of the most important rejuvenative herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. It has a multitude of positive actions, calming the nerves, strengthening the immune system, balancing the adrenal glands and slowing aging to name but a few.
This is the best known of all the sedative herbs and was used extensively before the introduction of benzodiazepine drugs (such as Valium). It has been used for centuries to reduce nervousness, anxiety and insomnia. Its action has been found in various studies to be comparable to benzodiazepines for reducing insomnia but has none of the unpleasant after effects such as daytime grogginess and difficulty with concentration.
It tastes, quite frankly, fairly disgusting. For this reason only, I would recommend tablets rather than a fluid extract. It has been reported that, in some very rare cases, Valerian may have the effect of being stimulating rather than calming.
An excellent herb for helping to establish or restore healthy sleep patterns. It has been shown to decrease the amount of time taken to fall asleep and also to decrease the frequency of awakenings throughout the night. It also helps to reduce anxiety and restlessness.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri)
Long used Ayurvedically to relieve stress especially related to study or work as it has been shown to improve mental function, enhance memory and aid learning. It is helpful in reducing anxiety and depression.
Chamomile tea can be taken freely throughout the day as it has a gently soothing effect on the nerves, muscles and digestion. You may wish to add other teas to adjust the flavour to your taste. Any of the following are suitable and will assist in the calming effect:
Lemon balm, cardamom, lavender, liquorice, orange peel, cloves, bergamot.
This beautiful plant is one of the most useful of all herbs with an extensive list of actions. It is well known for its calming effects and can be taken as a tea made from the dried flowers (one or two teaspoons per cup of water) or in its stronger form as a fluid extract. The essential oil can be safely applied to the skin undiluted and it is soothing and relaxing to the nerves when rubbed on temples or if a few drops are added to bath water. It is also very helpful in improving sleep if used in an oil burner or if a few drops are applied to your pillow. Be sure to use True Lavender or English Lavender (lavendula officinalis, intermedia or angustifolia).
Another tonic herb that is useful in helping adaptation to stressful conditions. It increases stamina and endurance, strengthens the immune system, improves general health and sense of well-being. It helps to restore balance to adrenal function. This is a useful herb to take when under stress or when the more acute phase of anxiety states has passed. It may have a stimulating effect in some individuals who should reduce the dosage or stop taking the herb.
A good calming herb that is especially appropriate for those who are prone to anger and overheating and where there are muscular spasms and headaches. It allays fearfulness and promotes clarity. It is useful for an overactive mind and the type of anxiety or insomnia that comes from strong emotions or the stresses of high pressure jobs.
Another herb that is useful where strong emotions lead to sleeplessness and where there is mental and nervous irritability. It is especially helpful in cases where nervous stomach leads to diarrhoea.
This herb is helpful in cases of insomnia by promoting and improving the quality of sleep. It is stimulating to the appetite and helpful in liver disorders. It is particularly useful where there is restlessness associated with nervous tension headache and/or indigestion. Hops should not be used in cases of depression.