Try This: 11 Herbs for Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on December 11, 2017Written by Emily Cronkleton on December 11, 2017
herbs for anxiety

What you can do

There are several promising herbs that can be used to treat anxiety. Although they aren’t meant to replace your doctor-approved treatments, they may be helpful additions to your care plan.

You should always check with your health care provider before beginning any herbal treatment. They can discuss any potential side effects or drug interactions. These herbs are generally well tolerated, but it’s important to be aware of how they may affect you specifically.

Keep reading to learn how these herbs may help reduce feelings of anxiety and promote overall well-being.

1. Kava

Kava is a South Pacific plant used in traditional medicine. Its calming properties may be helpful in reducing anxiety and enhancing mood.

According to one 2016 study, kava may be effective in treating anxiety due to an active ingredient called kavain. It’s thought to affect mood receptors in the brain. More human studies are needed to understand the exact mechanism in which kava and kavain work to reduce anxiety.

How to use: Kava is most often studied as a tea kava tea, 30 drops of liquid tincture, or 70 to 200 milligrams of powdered kava capsules per day.

2. Passionflower

Passionflower has therapeutic properties that can help treat anxiety. According to one 2017 study, passionflower was effective in lowering anxiety levels in dental patients. Not only was the herb comparable to an anesthesia medication in terms of lessening anxiety, but it also didn’t interfere with memory formation.

A small 2001 study found that passionflower extract was effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder: 18 people took passionflower and 18 took the benzodiazepine oxazepam for four weeks. People who took passionflower had lower incidences of impairment of job performance than those who took oxazepam. Studies with larger sample sizes are needed.

How to use: Most studies examine long-term use of tea passionflower tea, 45 drops of passionflower liquid extract, or 260 milligrams of powdered capsules per day.

3. Valerian

Valerian root is a dietary supplement that’s used to treat anxiety. One small study found that valerian was as effective as diazepam at treating anxiety over a four-week period. It was also well-tolerated.

Valerian also shows potential in treating anxiety in bipolar disorder.

Although valerian is a promising prospect for treating anxiety, further research is needed. Scientists need to learn more about its efficacy, safety, and possible interactions. There can be significant concern with interactions.

How to use: In studies, 120 to 200 milligrams of valerian root capsules are used per day.

4. Chamomile

Chamomile is a mild sedative that can be used to calm nerves and reduce anxiety. According to a 2011 review, chamomile extract may have a positive effect on generalized anxiety disorder. It’s thought to inhibit mild to moderate anxiety.

Further research is needed to confirm and expand upon the anti-anxiety potential of chamomile. Chamomile as a tea has few side effects and is considered safe.

How to use: Tea from the dried flowers is the most common use, with clinical studies examining 400 to 1,600 milligrams of chamomile capsules per day.

5. Lavender

Lavender has therapeutic properties that can be useful in relieving anxiety. A 2013 review of research found that lavender has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety.

Researchers found that lavender had a positive effect on anxiety as well as on related symptoms like restlessness, disturbed sleep, and agitation. It was also shown to improve mood, general well-being, and quality of life.

Essential oils are inhaled, not ingested. Inhalation of lavender essential oil, in particular, was shown to reduce psychological distress and anxiety in dental patients. Further research is needed to determine if lavender can treat severe anxiety.

The essential oils can be applied to the skin if diluted in a carrier oil. Test your skin for reaction before applying liberally.

How to use: Use fresh lavender to make a tea. You can also diffuse lavender essential oil throughout the day.

6. Lemon balm

Lemon balm is an herb from the mint family that’s used to help relieve anxiety. It’s also known to improve cognitive performance and reduce stress.

According to one small 2011 study, people who took a lemon balm extract for 15 days showed significant improvements in anxiety and associated symptoms, such as insomnia. Lemon balm was well tolerated, and 19 of the 20 participants showed improvement.

Studies with larger sample sizes are needed.

How to use: Some studies recommend taking 300 to 600 milligrams of lemon balm extract 2 to 3 times per day or 60 drops of liquid tincture each day. You can also use dried lemon balm to make a tea. It’s easy to grow in the garden.

7. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic medicinal herb used to help ease stress and anxiety. It’s an adaptogen that helps manage the body’s response to stress.

One 2014 review found that ashwagandha was shown to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety. Researchers found that those given ashwagandha showed significant improvements in anxiety symptoms when compared to placebo and psychotherapy controls.

Although the results are promising, this review was limited by the shortage of studies that qualified for inclusion, as well as by possibly biased results. Larger studies in more clinical contexts are needed to confirm and expand upon these findings.

More study is also needed to better understand interactions with medications and other side effects. The long-term consequences of use aren’t known. Discontinue use if you experience vomiting or diarrhea.

How to use: Most studies examine doses of 300 to 500 milligrams of ashwagandha extract per day.

8. L-theanine

L-theanine is a nonprotein amino acid found in tea plants. Its calming properties make it useful in treating anxiety and promoting relaxation.

According to one 2017 study on rats, l-theanine has anti-anxiety effects. This may be because of changes in neurotransmitter and amino acid levels in the brain.

A 2017 review found that drinking green tea has a positive effect on reducing anxiety. This may be due to the caffeine and l-theanine content. However, taking either substance alone has less of an impact. This suggests it may be best to consume tea instead of taking l-theanine as a supplement.

Further research is needed to understand exactly how l-theanine works on the brain and which form is most beneficial in treating anxiety.

How to use: Drink several cups of white, green, or black tea. Studies examine therapeutic doses of 200 milligrams of l-theanine in supplement form.

9. Brahmi

Brahmi is an Ayurvedic herbal sedative that’s often used to treat anxiety. Brahmi releases a brain cell protein called Hsp70, which may help protect you from stress.

According to a 2008 study, adults over age 65 who took 200 milligrams of dried Brahmi extract for 12 weeks experienced less anxiety than those who took a placebo. It was also shown to enhance cognitive performance and alleviate depression.

Some people experienced an upset stomach, but it was generally well tolerated. Larger studies are needed to expand upon these findings.

How to use: This study examined 200 milligrams of Brahmi extract tablets per day.

10. Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a leaf extract that’s traditionally used to enhance cognitive functioning and treat mental health conditions, including anxiety.

A 2013 review found one study that demonstrated ginkgo’s ability to reduce anxiety. People who took 240 to 480 milligrams per day for four weeks experienced a significantly reduced anxiety level. The high-dose group saw more significant improvements.

Ginkgo biloba was found to be safe and well tolerated in all participants.

Researchers believe that it may be especially useful in treating older adults who have anxiety related to cognitive decline. Further research is needed to expand upon these findings.

How to use: This study examined the effects of 240 to 480 milligrams of ginkgo biloba capsules per day. You can also drink it as a tea.

11. Gotu kola

Gotu kola is an herb used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine. It’s said to have a positive effect on brain function and is used to help treat anxiety.

One 2000 study investigated the anti-anxiety effect of gotu kola. People who took gotu kola extract were less affected by the peak acoustic startle response amplitude. This suggests that gotu kola has anti-anxiety potential.

This herb can interact with many medications, and there are concerns about liver damage. Don’t take this if you are on any blood thinners or have a history of liver disease or inflammation.

It’s also possible to be very allergic to gotu kola, so it is not recommended for those who have numerous allergies.

Further research is needed to investigate its therapeutic effectiveness in treating anxiety.

How to use: Most studies examine the use of 500 milligrams of gotu kola extract, twice daily. It’s safe to take for up to 14 days at a time. You can take 2,000 milligrams per day in times of acute anxiety.

Possible side effects and risks

Herbal supplements have the potential to cause side effects and may interact with certain medications. Some herbs may cause drowsiness. Always talk to your health care provider before taking any new supplement.

You shouldn’t use herbal supplements if you’re:

  • pregnant
  • breastfeeding
  • having scheduled surgery in the next two weeks
  • taking sleep aids, antidepressants, or other sedatives
  • planning to drink alcohol

You should always do a skin patch test before using any supplement topically. To do this:

  1. Apply the liquid or cream to the inside of your forearm.
  2. Wait 24 hours to see if any adverse reaction occurs.
  3. If you experience any irritation, apply olive oil or aloe vera gel to the area. Then wash it with soap and water.
  4. If you don’t experience any irritation within 24 hours, it should be safe to do a full application.

Herbs aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so it’s important to purchase from a trusted manufacturer. Find a reputable brand and buy organic when possible.

Always follow the manufacturer’s directions. Dosages may vary between brands.

Work with your health care provider to ensure you minimize interactions and side effects.

The bottom line

Although the research on herbs for anxiety is promising, you should check with your health care provider before adding any herbal supplement to your routine. Discuss potential risks, side-effects, and interactions.

Also discuss the outcomes you’d like to achieve to manage your health. There may be other lifestyle changes that you can make to benefit your health.

Carefully monitor the effect of any new herbal supplement. Discontinue use and see your health care provider if you experience any adverse reactions or if your anxiety becomes more severe.

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