Do you deal with anxiety each and every day? You’re far from alone. Anxiety – and anxiety disorders in general – is the most common mental illness in the US. And the number of people who live with anxiety is increasing each year, giving rise to more stress, more symptoms and more mental health challenges.
And even if you aren’t officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), anxiety is a perfectly normal human response to a variety of experiences. You might feel fear in the face of something new or feel a rapid rise in heart rate when you’re in a stressful situation. Anxiety can be fleeting or persistent, and it can affect anyone.
But there is good news: anxiety can be managed, with steps like lifestyle changes, psychotherapy and medication. And you can even use herbs to soothe anxiety and its symptoms. The following herbs have all shown that they might be able to relieve the symptoms and stress that accompany anxiety.
If you’ve ever turned to tea to soothe your stress and help you drift off to sleep, you probably tried a chamomile blend. This naturally calming flowering herb is commonly used to relieve stress and anxiety – and it’s one that may potentially help the severity of your symptoms. And chamomile comes in plenty of forms beyond tea, too.
For centuries, chamomile has been one of the most commonly-used ancient medicinal herbs. It’s been used to treat plenty of ailments, but it’s best regarded as a calming, sleep-inducing plant.
Chamomile, when sipped as a tea or taken as an extract (or even in tablet form), may help you reduce the severity of GAD symptoms. One study found that taking chamomile supplements significantly decreased anxiety symptoms. A different clinical trial demonstrated that while taking chamomile long-term didn’t necessarily reduce the odds of a GAD anxiety attack, participants taking the herb experienced less severe symptoms when they did relapse.
You can try chamomile in any form if you’re looking for anxiety symptom relief. Essential oils are a great choice, but you can also cook with this herb. Our Chamomile Gravlax with Potato Waldorf Salad is a great recipe to start with.
Here’s another powerhouse herb that’s known for its soothing, stress-relieving properties. Lavender is one of the most commonly chosen herbs when you’re looking for calm, either at night before you head to bed or during a stressful day. And lavender has long been used as a remedy for sleep-related ailments like insomnia and fatigue. However, it’s also been proven to have a potential positive effect on anxiety.
How does it work? A 2017 review points to two terpenes found in lavender – linalool and linalyl acetate – that can have a calming effect on the brain’s chemical receptors. The review also suggests that lavender may be an effective short-term anxiety treatment.
Additionally, a 2010 study showed that lavender helped reduce anxiety symptoms in individuals diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Another research study demonstrated that using lavender essential oil helped lessen test-taking anxiety in graduate students, giving this sweetly scented herb potential for those who aren’t diagnosed with GAD too.
There are a number of different ways to put lavender to use for anxiety. You can make a lavender tea from the plant’s leaves, or use lavender essential oil in a bath, on your skin or in a diffuser. You can also eat it, incorporating the herb into recipes like our Baked Brie with Lavender Honey.
Valerian root may not be an herb you’re intimately familiar with – unless you’ve had trouble sleeping, that is. This particular plant has been used for centuries as a sleep solution, often in the form of a cup of tea or tincture.
But while valerian root is most commonly turned to for insomnia and other sleep woes, it also has potential for anxiety. It’s thought that valerian root is able to modulate GABA, a brain neurotransmitter that can affect anxiety. The herb is reported to have a mild sedative effect, induce feelings of calm and reduce tension or stress. But more research is needed to prove just how beneficial and effective valerian root might be.
While you can’t really cook with valerian root, you can drink tea made from this herb. You can also find supplements in the form of tablets or capsules that are easy to take.
A key herb in the traditions of Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha has a pretty long history of being used for better health. Both an herb and an adaptogen, ashwagandha can help regulate hormones that affect your physical response to stress. So, when you’re facing anxiety triggers or stressful situations, ashwagandha just may be able to keep you calm.
A 2019 clinical trial demonstrated that individuals who took ashwagandha extract daily had lower cortisol (the stress hormone) and experienced better sleep. Those who took high doses – 600 milligrams instead of 250 milligrams – also saw significant reductions in their stress levels. Another research study tested 250 milligrams of ashwagandha on mild anxiety. Taking the herb helped produce a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms for some, but not all participants.
Want to give this ancient herb a try? You can take ashwagandha supplements in tablet or liquid form. You can also give the dried root itself a try.
Here’s an herb with its soothing nature right in its name. Lemon balm, a leafy relative of mint, holds the potential to calm anxiety and act as a literal balm for whatever’s stressing you out. It might not be an herb you stash in your spice rack, but it’s one with quite a potent impact.
Lemon balm dates all the way back to the Middle Ages. It’s been used for centuries as a natural way to combat both anxiety and stress – and it may even offer promise for a better night’s sleep. At its heart, lemon balm is a soothing herb. And research shows that it might even offer a sedative effect.
One study found that taking two doses of lemon balm, 300 and 600 milligrams, daily had a positive result on anxiety. The 600 milligram dose improved individuals’ moods, increased calmness and improved alertness. And another research study showed that lemon balm (in lozenge form) increased the alpha wave activity in the brain that’s connected to relaxation.
Lemon balm is available in a few different forms. You can drink lemon balm tea, practice aromatherapy with lemon balm essential oil or try a capsule- or tablet-based supplement.
The foods you eat and the supplements you use can play an important role in addressing anxiety through lifestyle changes. Learn more about working to alleviate anxiety or anxiety symptoms: