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Herbs for Stress & Anxiety

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Five hours of sleep. Four cups of coffee. Three huge yawns. Two nervous breakdowns. One exhausted, stressed out & anxious person. Sound familiar?


Botanical medicine offers a unique approach to treating stress & anxiety. Many herbs act as nervine tonics which strengthen and nourish the nervous system. Others act as nervine relaxants which calm & sooth the nervous system. Lastly, there are herbs which act as nervine stimulants such as coffee (yes, it's a herb) which ramp you up, make you more alert and energized.

1. Gotu Kola (I.e. Centella asiatica)​​

"A leaf or two a day will keep old age away"- Indian proverb

This lovely leaf has nutrients, minerals, and allantoin which aids in building neurotransmitters & reduces inflammation.

So what is it good for?

  • Poor memory & cognition

  • Connective tissue injuries

  • Skin conditions

  • Wound healing

  • Anxiety & nervousness (nervine tonic)

Contraindications:

Pregnancy, lactation, liver disease, certain medications (always check with your doctor)!

May cause itching skin, upset stomach, or headaches.

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2. Oats (I.e. Avena Sativa)

"Nourishes the heart & calms the spirit"- Chinese medicine perspective

These little green pods called "milky oat seed tops" are rich in starch, triterpenoid saponins, and alkaloids.

What is it good for?

  • Soothing the digestive tract

  • Reduces blood pressure

  • Anxiety combined with exhaustion and depression (nervine tonic)

Contraindications (I.e. When not to use it)

Celiac disease or gluten sensitive individuals

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3. St. John’s wort (i.e. Hypericum perforatum)

A beautiful yellow flower that contains two well studied "ingredients" called hypericin & hyperforin. There has been quite the interest in extracting one component of this herb and synthetically prescribing it. However, there is a synergistic nature to this herb meaning the molecular components work better together than individually.

How does it work?

In short it acts in a similar manner to pharmaceutical anti-depressants... However, this herb also has a powerful anti-inflammatory action.

GREAT, BUT what does this have to do with anxiety and depression? Well recent research has shown that anxiety, depression, and dementia are correlated with chronic inflammation. Therefore, taking a holistic approach and treating the entire person (and any systemic inflammation) instead of just one section of the body is also an important consideration.

So what's it good for?

Mild to moderate depression, anxiety (nervine tonic), tension & stress headache or migraines, insomnia, nerve pain and fibromyalgia.

Contraindications

Severe depression, taking with other medications such as SSRI’s (anti-depressant), oral contraceptives ("The Pill"), HIV medications. May cause allergic reactions, cause restlessness and upset your digestive tract.

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4. Lavender (I.e. Lavendula officinalis)

One of the most popular and well known herbs because it smells amazing, grows locally, and is incredibly relaxing.

The flower contains volatile oils (linalool) which acts to reduce muscle tension & contains anti-oxidants. It relaxes the nervous system, reduces spams of the digestive tract, is calming to the skin, and kills microbes.

What is it good for?

  • Stress related headaches (nervine relevant)

  • Mental health: Anxiety, depression, and insomnia

  • Skin conditions

Contraindications:

Health professionals do not recommend excessive use during pregnancy & avoid internal use of essential oils

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5. Lemon Balm (I.e. Melissa officinalis)

These lemon smelling leaves have volatile oils, tannins, antioxidants which help with digestion, thyroid health, and viruses.

What is it good for?

  • Indigestion associated with anxiety and depression (nervine relaxant)

  • Hyperthyroidism (which has symptoms of anxiety, restless, sweating, heat & the feeling of your heart fluttering)

  • Herpes due to it's anti-viral properties

Contraindications:

Hypothyroidism & CNS depressing medications


Note: This blog post is for educational purposes. This is not medical advice. If you wish to use herbal medicine consult a healthcare provider or ND. Just because it's natural, does not mean it's safe. Herbs have possible interactions and contraindications.

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References:

Abbott, A. (2018). Depression: The radical theory linking it to inflammation. Nature, 557(7706), 633-635.


Hoffmann, D.F., 2003. Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.

Marciano, M., & Vizniak, N.A., N.D. Quick reference evidence informed botanical medicine: herbs, nutrition, hormones and medications. Canada: Professional Health Systems Inc.


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