Herbal Remedies for ADHD

Written by Colleen M. Story | Published on October 9, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on October 9, 2013

Making Choices in ADHD Treatment

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states that prescriptions for methylphenidate (Ritalin) have increased by 500 percent since 1990. Many attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) patients benefit from the medication. Others, however, struggle with side effects like dizziness, difficulty sleeping, and digestive issues. Some fail to find adequate relief.

Treatment choices are difficult when facing a diagnosis of ADHD. Are there other options?

Alternative Treatments

There are alternative treatments for ADHD. However, there is little scientific evidence showing their effectiveness. Special diets advocate eliminating sugary foods, artificial food colorings, and additives, while adding more sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Yoga and meditation may be helpful, as well as neurofeedback training.

What about herbal supplements? Might they help improve symptoms?

Herbal Teas

A 1998 study found that children with ADHD had more problems falling asleep, sleeping soundly, and getting going in the morning. Researchers suggested adjunct therapies might be beneficial.

Herbal teas that contain chamomile, spearmint, lemon grass, and other herbs and flowers are generally considered to be safe options for children and adults who want to relax. They are often recommended as a way to encourage rest and sleep. These teas may be best used before bedtime.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba has long been recommended for improving memory and increasing mental sharpness. Studies on the use of ginkgo in ADHD are mixed.

A 2001 study, for instance, found that participants with ADHD taking a combination herbal product with ginkgo experienced improvements. After four weeks, 44 percent of participants improved in social behavior and 74 percent improved in hyperactivity.

Another study from 2010 found slightly different results. Participants took either a dose of ginkgo or methylphenidate (Ritalin) for six weeks. Both groups experienced improvements, but Ritalin was more effective. Still, this study also showed potential benefits from ginkgo.


Brahmi, also known as water hyssop, is a marsh plant that grows wild in India. The herb, made from the leaves and stems of the plant, has long been used for improving mental function and memory. Studies on humans are mixed, but some have been positive. Today, the herb is often recommended as an alternative treatment for ADHD.

2002 study found that adults taking brahmi showed improvements in their ability to retain new information. A 2008 study also found benefits. Participants taking a brahmi extract showed significantly improved performance in working memory and visual information processing.

Gotu Kola

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) grows naturally in Asia, South Africa, and the South Pacific. It’s high in nutrients that are needed for healthy brain function, including vitamin B1, B2, and B6.

Gotu kola may benefit those with ADHD. It helps enhance mental clarity and reduce anxiety levels. A 2002 study showed that gotu kola helped reduce anxiety in participants. A 1992 study found that the herb might be a brain booster.

Green Oats

Simply put, green oats are unripe oats. The product, also known as “wild oat extract,” comes from the crop before it matures. Green oats are sold under the name Avena sativa. They have long been thought to help calm nerves and treat stress and anxiety.

Early studies show that green oat extract may boost attention and concentration. A 2011 studyfound that people taking the extract made fewer errors on a test measuring the ability to remain on task. A second 2011 study also found that people taking Avena sativa showed improvement in cognitive performance.


Ginseng, an herbal remedy from China, has a reputation for stimulating brain function and increasing energy. The “red ginseng” variety also has some potential to calm symptoms of ADHD.

A 2011 study looked at 18 participants between six and 14 years old who were diagnosed with ADHD. Researchers gave 1,000 mg to each one for eight weeks. They reported improvements in anxiety, personality, and social functioning.

Pine Bark (Pycnogenol)

Pycnogenol is a plant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree. In a 2006 study, researchers gave 61 children with ADHD either 1 mg of pycnogenol or a placebo once a day for four weeks. Results showed that the pycnogenol reduced hyperactivity and improved attention and concentration. The placebo showed no benefits.

A second 2006 study found that the extract helped normalize antioxidant levels in children with ADHD. Another study published in 2007 showed that pycnogenol lowered stress hormones by 26.2 percent. It also decreased neurostimulant dopamine by nearly 11 percent in people with ADHD.

Combinations May Work Better

Some studies have indicated that combining some of these herbs may produce better results than using one alone. A small study in Canada studied children with ADHD who took both American ginseng and Ginkgo biloba twice a day for four weeks. The participants experienced improvements in social problems, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

There are not many completed studies of the efficacy of herbal ADHD remedies. Your best bet may be to check with your doctor, an herbal specialist, or naturopath for more information.

Was this article helpful? Yes No

Thank you.

Your message has been sent.

We're sorry, an error occurred.

We are unable to collect your feedback at this time. However, your feedback is important to us. Please try again later.

Show Sources

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Alternative medicine. (2013, March 5). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/adhd/DS00275/DSECTION=alternative-medicine
  • Berry, N.M. et al. (2011, July). Acute effects of an Avena sativa herb extract on responses to the Stroop Color-Word test. J Altern Complement Med., 17(7) (2011): 635-637. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21711204
  • Bradwein, J. et al. (2000). A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) on acoustic startle response in healthy subjects. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 20(6), 680-684. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11106141
  • Day, H.D. & Abamyr, S.B (1998). Parent reports of sleep disturbances in stimulant-medicated children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. J Clin Psychol. 54(5), 701-716. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9696120
  • Dimpfel, W. et al. (2011). Ingested oat herb extract (Avena sativa) changes EEG spectral frequencies in healthy subjects. J Altern Complement Med. 17(5), 427-434. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21563962
  • Dvoráková, M. et al. (2006). The effect of polyphenolic extract from pine bark, Pycnogenol on the level of glutathione in children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Redox Rep. 11(4), 163-172. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16984739
  • Dvoráková, M. et al. (2007). Urinary catecholamines in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Modulation by a polyphenolic extract from pine bark (pycnogenol). Nutritional Neuroscience, 10(3-4), 151-157. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18019397
  • Haislip, G.R. (1996). DEA Report: ADD/ADHD Statement of Drug Enforcement Administration – At the conclusion of the Conference on Stimulant Use in the Treatment of ADHD. Optometrists Network. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.add-adhd.org/textonly/ritalin.html
  • Lee, S.H. et al. (2011, June). Clinical Effects of Korean Red Ginseng on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children: An Observational Study. J Ginseng Res. 35(2), 226-234. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3659525/
  • Lyon, M.R. et al. (2001, May). Effect of the herbal extract combination Panax quinquefolium and Ginkgo biloba on attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a pilot study. J Psychiatry Neurosci., 26(3), 221-228. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1408291/
  • Methylphenidate. (2012, November 20). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a682188.html
  • Nalini, K. et al. (1992). Effect of Centella asiatica fresh leaf aqueous extract on learning and memory and biogenic amine turnover in albino rats. Fitoterapia, 63(3), 231-238. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://eprints.manipal.edu/2579/
  • Roodenrys, S. et al. (2002, August). Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology, 27(2), 279-281. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12093601
  • Salehi, B, et al. (2010, February 1). Ginkgo biloba for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: a double blind, randomized controlled trial. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, 34(1), 76-80. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19815048
  • Stough, C. et al. (2008). Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytother Res. 22(12), 1629-1634. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18683852
  • The use of alternative therapies in treating children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (2002, December). Pediatrics & Child Health, 7(10), 710-718. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2796535/
  • Trewbaticka, J. et al. (2006). Treatment of ADHD with French maritime pine bark extract, Pycnogenol. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 15(6), 329-335. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16699814

Read This Next

The Best ADHD iPhone & Android Apps of the Year
The Best ADHD iPhone & Android Apps of the Year
If you're dealing with ADHD, there's help right on your smartphone. These 14 apps have everything from reminders and to-do lists, to concentration techniques.
The Best ADHD Health Blogs of the Year
The Best ADHD Health Blogs of the Year
Managing ADHD or parenting a child with the condition can be overwhelming, confusing, and challenging. Thankfully, these 12 blogs help show readers the way.
Best ADHD Videos of 2013
Best ADHD Videos of 2013
Use these top 10 ADHD videos of 2013 starring comedians, penguin, and cheetahs to learn more about the disorder and how you can get help.
Cooking Up Relief: Turmeric and Other Anti-Inflammatory Spices
Cooking Up Relief: Turmeric and Other Anti-Inflammatory Spices
Certain herbs and spices are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Learn about the power of turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, cayenne, cloves, and more.
5 Food Items to Avoid with ADHD
5 Food Items to Avoid with ADHD
Although researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes ADHD, some studies suggest links to certain foods and additives like chemicals, preservatives, and sugar.