Herbs for anxiety are one of my favourite topics! I’m a naturopath and medical herbalist which means that I’ve trained for three years to learn all about herbs, and how they can be used medicinally, and also the interactions they have with different medications. This also means that when I say 5 herbs for anxiety, I’ve written about 8 herbs for anxiety, as I can’t choose between them!
So herbs come in all different forms. And they can be taken different ways.
You’ve got teas, which are great for hydration because they add that extra level of water content, they’re also great for relaxing, because they kind of force you to sit down and have a cup of tea, and it takes time. So that can be a great way to help you get into that rest and digest mode is by making yourself a cup of tea and making that regular habit. Herbal teas are a gentle way of getting herbs into your system because you do have to drink quite a bit of tea to get the same level of the molecules and nutrients that you do from other forms of herbal medicine. It’s also considered relatively safe to have herbal tea compared to some of the different other forms you can get, you still do have to be aware of any medications you’re on or states of health that you’re in, as to what they may interact with and what they’re doing in your body to ensure that you’re not going to make your symptoms worse.
You’ve got extracts. Extracts are an alcoholic extraction of a herb, you can do it with other solvents, but alcohol is normally the main one. Herbal extracts often have a very strong taste so they can be a little bit hard to get used to especially if you’re not used to better or pungent herbs or if you don’t use spices in your cooking, they can be a little bit more difficult to get used to in terms of the taste.
However, they are the more potent version of the different forms you can have, as they contain a lot of the properties from the herb. With extracts, you have to be very careful that you’re not taking them with medication, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Or if you have any certain heart conditions for liver or kidney conditions. Because of how they work, they can often make things worse if you’re not careful. So that’s why it’s always good to see a registered naturopathic medical herbalist or a registered herbalist to make sure that the extracts of herbs you’re getting are right for you, and they’re going to do what you want them to do.
You’ve got capsules. So these are normally for convenience and also for if you’re wanting to target different systems. So if you’re wanting to target your lower gastrointestinal system, you’re going to want to use capsules because they disintegrate in your stomach. And by the time they get down to your lower gastrointestinal tract, that’s when there are going to be the most potent and absorbable (depending on how they are manufactured). Quite often capsules come in either a dried herb form or an extract form. So once again, you do have to be very careful with taking any herbal supplements because they do interact with medication as well as interacting with different conditions as we have said previously.
When it comes to herbs for anxiety, my favorite or herb is actually one that is tailored just for you! So herbs have their own little personalities, they have their own mechanisms of actions, and they interact differently. Every person who has a herb will have a different experience, just like every person with anxiety has a different experience of anxiety.
I love passionflower, especially if you’re experiencing social anxiety. Passionflower can be good because it calms the mind, it reduces your stress levels and your anxiety levels but doesn’t dampen your mental state while allowing you to be alert same time. It is one of those herbs that you have to be careful with because if you have too much it can dampen your mental state so there is a balance with the dosage but your medical herbalist would be able to support you through them.
Another one that is a favorite is kava. So Kava has been used traditionally the centuries. It’s one of the herbs that have been in the news recently for causing liver problems, however, that was from the alcoholic extract. There’s quite a bit of conflicting research as to if you should use the alcoholic extract or not. And if you’re not with a medical herbalist who knows what they’re doing, it’s probably best to stay away from the alcoholic extract instead going for the water extract as that is the traditional way of extracting Kava. Kava is a carminative, which means that it calms your gut down. It’s also been shown to improve sleep quality and decrease anxiety, especially with tension and restlessness. So could be the type of herb that you could take when you want to go see your therapist to talk about what’s going on in your life because it’s going to help reduce your anxiety in the long run.
Gotu Kola is my go-to herb for skin and gut health. Your gastrointestinal tract and your brain are connected so if you have anxiety or anxiety symptoms, you’re really going to want to work on your gut and Gotu Kola is the herb as it’s anti-inflammatory. It also has a history of being used as an adaptogen. So that means it’s going to help your body modulates its stress response.
St. John’s Wort
St. Johns Wort is a fantastic herb mainly known for its anti-depressant effect. But is also a great anxiolytic, which means that it’s anti-anxiety. It is also anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and is an all-over amazing herb, especially if you’re not on any medication. St. John’s wort is implicated more if your anxiety symptoms started after having a viral infection, or if you put a lot of inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract. It’s also a herb that you have to be wary of if you’re on birth control. I’m not a huge fan of birth control. But if you are on birth control, it can reduce its effectiveness. Always make sure that with any medication, you’re checking the side effects and the interactions as St. John’s wort also interacts with a lot of other medications, not just the birth control pill.
Ginkgo is a beautiful herb, it’s a great neuroprotective herb, so it’s protecting all your nerves in your neurons from oxidative damage. So it’s highly antioxidant. And it’s also used for protecting the bladder and cleansing the blood.
Lemon balm is carminative so it’s very gentle on the gastrointestinal tract, it’s very soothing, it’s going to help you with any of those symptoms of bloating or digestive upset and it’s also a sedative, but not in the way like medication sedatives, you don’t get a dependence on most herbs for their sedative properties. So you can take it and then you can stop taking it without having to worry, your medical herbalist would know which herbs may need to be reduced slowly and will be able to support you through that.
Rosemary Essential Oil
A short-term fix is rosemary essential oil, I always recommend getting a good quality essential oil. especially in New Zealand as the regulations around the manufacturing of any herbal or wellness product is quite low. So you really do have to research who you’re getting your products from and make sure that they have a good manufacturing practice. Putting a little bit of Rosemary essential oil on your temples helps relax your mind. So if you’re going through a particularly stressful or anxious time, or you’re finding a lot of things that are triggering you, having a little bit of essential oil to help relax the mind might help.
Valerian is a herb that some people take it, and it’s makes them feel relaxed and have a good night’s sleep. And then other people will take it and they can’t go to sleep. It depends on who you are and how that herb interacts with your body. Valerian is a spasmolytic and carminative as well. So that’s really going to help calm your gastrointestinal tract to help to heal the intestinal layer.
Medications and Herbal Supplements
So now that we’ve talked about Passionflower, Kava, Gotu Kola, St. John’s Wort, Ginkgo, Lemon balm, Rosemary, and Valerian. You may have questions surrounding your medications and if they interact with the herbs you want to take.
You can do a supplement review with me through an acute consultation. This is where you book a half an hour online appointment. Send me a list of all your supplements and all your medications that you’re currently having and I check them for you. So I make sure that they’re not interacting, and they’re not going to harm you from all the information that you give me.
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