Increased heart rate, rushed breathing and an overwhelming feeling of dread are just a few of the symptoms that anxiety sufferers experience daily. If you can relate to this feeling, you are not alone.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 40 million Americans have some form of anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder are two of the most common diagnoses with both affecting some 13 million Americans.
Frequently, antidepressants and tranquilizers are offered as the only long-term solutions. With the heavy side effects and risk of dependency, it’s no wonder that two-thirds of anxiety sufferers don’t receive medical treatment.
Many others seek out natural alternatives that work more subtly in the brain and throughout the body.
Fortunately, there are many effective herbs that are used for anxiety. In conjunction with breathing and meditation exercises and lifestyle changes, such as reducing or eliminating caffeine and other triggers, using herbs for anxiety can have a positive effect on your health and well-being.
If you’re ready to explore these non-prescription remedies, let’s get going.
Hailing from India, ashwagandha is known as the ginseng of Ayurvedic medicine.
Both the root and the berries of Withania somnifera have many medicinal applications that are being explored by researchers.
So far, ashwagandha is considered an effective adaptogen that helps the body deal with everyday stressors.
One of the most significant studies on ashwagandha and anxiety was published in a 2012 edition of the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. This was a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study where patients with chronic stress were given 300 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract twice daily.
At the end of the 60-day study, patients had lower cortisol levels, felt more relaxed and were more stress resistant.
Other studies have compared the effects of Withania somnifera to benzodiazepines. In most cases, ashwagandha reduced anxiety levels by 56 percent. Suggested daily doses are between 300 and 500 milligrams.
Chamomile is a common folk remedy for soothing irritated skin, relaxing muscles and calming the nervous system.
Both German chamomile, Matricaria recutita, and Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, are used to treat anxiety.
Making a tea with 3 tablespoons of dried flowers is the easiest way to enjoy this relaxing remedy, but anxiety sufferers may also experiment with topical preparations, essential oils, tinctures and extracts.
After years of use in home medicine, researchers have finally uncovered meaningful evidence of chamomile’s antidepressant and anxiolytic powers.
A 2009 double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that chamomile helped reduce symptoms in participants who were suffering from both depression and anxiety.
These findings were mirrored in a similar study involving patients with generalized anxiety disorders. Chamomile extract is commonly administered in 220-milligram capsules.
The African shrub Griffonia simplicifolia is the most important commercial source of 5-hydroxytryptophan (HTP), an amino acid that the body turns into serotonin.
Seeds contain up to 20 percent 5-HTP by weight and are used to cure many ailments in African folk medicine.
Recently, Griffonia simplicifolia has been used as a mood booster and anxiety reliever.
The University of Maryland Medical Center cited several studies that compared 5-HTP to the SSRIs Prozac and Zoloft.
Like these drugs, 5-HTP increases serotonin levels within the brain, which can reduce anxiety, insomnia, depression and other neurological issues.
Although doses as high as 300 milligrams have been used in some studies, most professionals recommend taking 50 milligrams one to three times daily.
Piper methysticum, commonly known as kava kava, is a social and medicinal staple in the Pacific Islands.
People who take kava kava experience relaxation and an uplifted mood.
Recently, this herbal supplement has been examined for its anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties.
One meta-analysis of seven previous studies found that kava extract was significantly more effective than placebos and as effective as some benzodiazepines in managing anxiety.
There’s also evidence that kava affects the brain in the same way that Valium does.
Unfortunately, studies on kava kava have decreased due to safety concerns. It’s important to note the FDA and other international health agencies have issued warnings about the use of kava kava.
Multiple cases of liver damage have been reported. Because of potential issues, kava kava should not be taken continuously for more than three months or without a doctor’s supervision.
Previously, daily doses of 100 to 200 milligrams were recommended.
Scutellaria lateriflora is an elusive North American herb that has been used for anxiety and to relieve pain for centuries.
Although Chinese skullcap is used in herbal medicine, American skullcap is generally regarded as a superior anxiolytic herb. In large doses, skullcap is a powerful sedative that will literally put you to sleep.
In small doses, skullcap tinctures and extracts relieve headaches, nerve pain and anxiety without inducing drowsiness.
A small dose can last up to two hours.
Unfortunately, there’s very little scientific evidence on the benefits of long-term consumption.
Today, skullcap is frequently combined with other calmative herbs.
Notable herbalists recommend small doses of three to five drops for temporary anxiety.
Larger doses of about 10 drops can be taken three or four times during a panic attack. Skullcap can also be made into a tea. Up to 2 grams may be taken daily in capsule form.
For anxiety sufferers, valerian root might be one of the most promising alternatives to prescription benzodiazepines.
Hippocrates first described its therapeutic benefits, and the Greek physician Galen mentioned it as a remedy for insomnia nearly 2,000 years ago.
Today, valerian is commonly used as a sleep aid, but it’s an excellent anxiolytic herb.
It’s generally recognized as safe by the FDA and is listed as a mild sedative in the German pharmacopeia.
In one of the most credible studies cited by the National Institutes of Health, a 600-milligram dose of valerian was found to be as effective as oxazepam.
Recently, a study in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal showed that valerenic acid reduces anxiety by interacting with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors.
For managing anxiety, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking 200 milligrams of valerian root extract three to four times daily.
Members of the genus Passiflora have been used as a sedative in many different cultures.
Recently, scientists have started to study how the flavinoids in passion flower leaves and seeds work within the body and the brain.
Several important studies have compared passion flower extract to benzodiazepines that are commonly prescribed to anxiety sufferers.
Sedative effects were noticed within 20 minutes after the initial dose.
One double-blind study found that passion flower extract was as effective as oxazepam although it took longer to work. Plus, passion flower had fewer side effects and didn’t produce the daytime drowsiness associated with benzodiazepines.
Furthermore, studies have shown that passion flower extract works synergistically with the GABA system to regulate anxiety responses.
Passion flower also alleviates irritability and depression.
Recommended doses are 1 teaspoon of dried leaves for tea, 10 to 20 drops of extract three times a day or up to 45 drops in a diluted tincture form. Passion flower also works well with lemon balm and other herbs.
Basil is known as the herb of kings. It’s been revered by people in many ancient cultures. In fact, the name basil comes from the Greek word basilikos, which means royal.
Even though basil is generally popular, one type is even more special.
Holy basil, also called tulsi or tulasi, is grown throughout India where it’s used in cooking and medicine. The leaves, stems and seeds have many beneficial properties.
Like some of the other herbs included on this list, tulsi is an adaptogen. It’s rich in antioxidants that are said to promote longevity and help the body resist stress.
Multiple studies completed in the last several years have found that holy basil was an effective anxiolytic in participants with generalized anxiety and mixed anxiety and depressive disorders (MADD).
The most common dose is 500 milligrams of basil extract taken twice daily.
Lemon balm is a beneficial herb that’s beloved by bees and people.
It’s a member of the mint family and has a pleasant yet delicate lemon-like scent, which makes it ideal for teas and aromatherapy.
Lemon balm was prized in ancient Greece and in Europe for its ability to lift the spirits and reduce stress. Many people still use it today on its own or in preparations that combine other herbs, such as chamomile and hops.
One 2004 placebo study gave participants differing doses of lemon balm extract and assessed their mood an hour later.
Not only did the participants have lower stress levels, but they were also more alert and solved math problems more quickly. For best results, take 300 milligrams of lemon balm extract three times daily.
You can also try aromatherapy or a soothing lemon balm tea made with 1 teaspoon of dried leaves.
The amino acid L-theanine is a unique anxiety reducer because it can sharpen the mind and calm the body at the same time.
Interestingly enough, it’s usually found in black and green teas, which also contain caffeine.
A 2009 study published in the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) Journal found that its anxiolytic effects were most pronounced when combined with midazolam, a type of benzodiazepine.
Several other studies have found that L-theanine supplements increased alpha brain wave activity, which is most noticeable when subjects are in an alert yet relaxed state.
If you find that the caffeine in black tea triggers anxiety and nervousness, try taking 50 milligrams of an L-theanine supplement daily.
Cultures around the world have found remedies for warding off stress and anxiety.
In Chinese medicine, schisandra berries, also called wu-wei-zi, are a widely used adaptogen that’s said to strengthen the immune system and provide greater resistance to stress.
Schisandra boosts energy levels and increases endurance while lessening depression, insomnia and fatigue.
This holistic herb works with the adrenal glands and organs to moderate hormones and increase overall resilience.
Schisandra is revered in Chinese medicine and is included in many important formulas.
One unique characteristic is that the berries are sweet, sour, acetic, bitter and salty. In fact, the name wu-wei-zi means seeds of five flavors.
Two recent studies found that schisandra extract interacted with the norepinephrine system and affected the transmission of chemicals within the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis.
The recommended daily dose in capsule form is between 500 milligrams and 1.5 grams. The berries can also be used in teas.
After kava kava, St. John’s wort is one of the most common remedies for treating depression among those seeking non-pharmaceutical medications.
As we know, many antidepressants also reduce anxiety. There is strong evidence that St. John’s wort is effective for treating mild to moderate anxiety.
However, there is not much data on its efficacy for managing anxiety.
In fact, a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine detailed concerns about patients who take St. John’s wort concurrently with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) since this combination can cause an adverse serotonin event.For this reason, St. John’s wort is best for those who aren’t taking SSRIs.
In many cases, St. John’s wort can reduce symptoms of depression while promoting restful sleep.
St. John’s wort is available is capsules, tinctures and teas. The active ingredient is hypericin. It can take three to four weeks to notice improvement.
To reduce side effects, dosages should be reduced before they are stopped completely.
Licorice is undoubtedly one of the most pleasant root-based remedies for anxiety.
Ashwagandha is named for its musky horse-like odor, and valerian is said to smell like gym socks.
Licorice root, on the other hand, has a pleasant smell and sweet anise-like taste that makes it ideal for teas and decoctions.
Plants in the genus Glycyrrhiza have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
There’s significant anecdotal evidence that licorice root calms the nervous system and supports the adrenal glands.
In fact, one component is nearly ideal to adrenocortical hormones that the body produces.
In small doses, licorice root can calm and energize the body and help the nervous system cope with stress. For long-term use, experts recommend daily doses of 150 to 300 milligrams.
Flaxseed is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids. These long-chain fats are critical for brain health, but most Americans aren’t consuming enough of them.
Flaxseed oil is particularly rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a specific type of omega-3 that can be converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the body.
Scientists have long believed that omega-3 deficiencies play a role in many neurological conditions, including anxiety and Alzheimer’s.
The May 2015 issue of the Biochimica et Biophysica Acta journal includes a groundbreaking study that examines the relationship between essential fatty acids and elevated levels of trace metals, specifically free zinc, which can damage brain cells.
Many anxiety sufferers have shared first-hand experiences about their own successes incorporating flaxseed oil into their diets and making other lifestyle changes.
One tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains 1.6 grams of ALA, which can be converted into 700 milligrams of EPA and DHA according to Harvard Medical School.
Fruit from the hop plant is an important flavoring agent and beer-making ingredient. It could also be a promising anxiolytic herb.
Volatile oils and bitter resins found in hops, Humulus lupulus, have strong sedative properties. New studies show that hops could be the reason why beer is such an effective sedative and calmative agent.
Research published in Public Library of Science (PLoS) One investigated the properties of non-alcoholic beer in a group of women nurses. The 14-day study found that consuming one non-alcoholic beer with dinner improved the nurses’ sleep patterns.
When examining the reason behind the sedative action of hops, researchers found that certain bitter resins increased levels of GABA, which inhibit neurotransmitters that trigger anxiety, nervousness, irritability and restlessness.
Consuming non-alcoholic beer is one way to manage anxiety. Hops supplements also contain vitamins and minerals that might work together to calm the body and the mind.
Gingko supplements have long been touted for their ability to stimulate the brain and prevent memory loss, but they might also be useful for anxiety.
New research shows that certain gingko extracts relieved symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorders.
One study published in Phytomedicine explored the relationship between psychological stress and memory loss.
Scientists believe that flavonoids and terpenoids found in gingko extract reduce corticosterone levels, which could lessen anxiety and improve stress-related memory problems.
Gingko is available in capsules, tinctures and extracts. A typical dose is between 120 and 240 milligrams per day.
Ginkgo should never be taken along with SSRIs, such as Lexapro and Zoloft.
Traditionally, bergamot has been used in perfumery and as a flavoring in Earl Grey tea. However, it’s currently being studied for its possible health benefits.
Two recent studies completed in 2011 and 2015 have confirmed that bergamot reduces anxiety quickly and effectively.
The first study found that bergamot essential oil, which is extracted from citrus fruits, increases GABA levels, reduces corticosterone stress hormones and regulates activity in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis when used alone or in combination with diazepam.
A second study completed in Germany found that inhaling bergamot essential oil produced positive psychological and physiological effects in just 15 minutes. The group of female participants had lower salivary cortisol levels and fewer negative feelings at the end of the short study.
Eucalyptus essential oil has traditionally been used to manage respiratory congestion, but it is also useful for reducing pain, swelling, inflammation and possibly anxiety.
Several recent studies have used eucalyptus to manage pain and anxiety in cancer and joint-replacement patients.
In 2011, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a study investigating the anxiety-reducing properties of 1,8-cineole, an important component of eucalyptus essential oil.
Researchers found that inhaling eucalyptus oil before a surgical procedure greatly reduced anxiety levels.
The chemical α-pinene, which is also found in eucalyptus essential oil, may play a role in its anxiolytic effects as well.
In addition to its use in aromatherapy, eucalyptus can be added to massage oils to relieve anxiety and promote relaxation.
Filipendula, also called meadowsweet, is an exceedingly common wildflower that has some exciting medicinal properties.
This member of the rose family has aromatic foliage and delicately scented flowers that were used in mead and in herbal beers and wines in the days of Chaucer.
Meadowsweet was also prized by the Druids, but it really became popular when scientists discovered that the plant contains a form of salicylic acid that’s similar to aspirin.
Over the years, meadowsweet has been used to treat a tremendous variety of ailments. Today, it’s being researched as a treatment for cancer and for its anxiolytic properties.
One preliminary study from Russia found that meadowsweet was more effective at managing anxiety than valerian extract.
To control anxiety, experts suggest making a tea from 2 tablespoons of dried leaves or taking three 500-milligram capsules daily.
Lavender has enjoyed perennial popularity for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had many creative uses for it.
It was prized during the Middle Ages and is being studied by scientists today.
There’s no doubt that lavender flowers and essential oils have a pleasant, calming scent, but that’s not their only benefit. In the past decade, a number of studies have investigated the efficacy of oral preparations.
One study that examined lavender oil capsules in patients with generalized anxiety disorders appeared in a 2013 edition of the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice.
In just two weeks, patients with mild to moderate anxiety reduced their symptoms considerably. There were no withdrawal symptoms, and the capsules were generally well tolerated.
Other studies have used double-blind techniques to compare lavender oil to lorazepam and other benzodiazepines that are traditionally prescribed.
The recommended daily dose is approximately 80 to 100 milligrams. Aromatherapy can also be beneficial.
The benefits of cherimoya for controlling anxiety have been explored in several recent studies that appeared in CNS Drugs and the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Researchers found that alkaloids in the leaves and aerial portions of Annona cherimolia and other species in the genus had antidepressant-like effects.
These alkaloids interacted with serotonin receptors, modulated dopamine transmission and improved the turnover rates of both neurotransmitters.
There’s also evidence that cherimoya alkaloids help regulate GABA, a chemical that blocks anxiety-producing nerve signals.
This tropical fruit tree is also known as custard apple, soursop and graviola.
Powdered leaves can be brewed into a calmative tea that can be taken up to three times per day.
The recommended dosage is 1 teaspoon of powder for every 6 ounces of water.
Many of these treatments offer hope to anxiety sufferers who have been searching for a natural alternative to traditional prescriptions.
As you can see, many of these herbal supplements function like benzodiazepines by raising GABA levels, which are responsible for inhibiting feelings of anxiety.
Others are similar to SSRIs that increase the amount of feel-good neurotransmitters available in the brain.
You may also want to consider adaptogens like ashwagandha that support the adrenal and nervous systems and help the body resist stress.
Although these supplements have worked well for some people, it’s important to research possible side effects and drug interactions.
Always talk to your doctor before stopping a prescribed medication and before taking any supplements.