There have been a lot of big shifts in my life recently– a big move and the ending of a long-term relationship specifically. And during this time (for the past two months or so) I have been dealing with some pretty serious feelings of anxiety. Luckily, I can turn to natural herbal remedies to alleviate anxiety.
I’ve dealt with anxious feelings before, and have a slew of go-to remedies that tame the swell of anxious feelings when they creep in. Last month it hit me pretty hard: these anxious feelings manifested in multiple days dealing with shortness of breath, extremely restless mind, sleeplessness, and lack of appetite. And it wasn’t until a yoga class that it finally hit me: ‘oh, this must be what a panic attack feels like.’ This time I couldn’t manage these stronger emotions with my go-to solutions.
I immediately contacted an herbalist friend for some suggestions. I didn’t have time for a full treatment, but she suggested a handful of herbal tinctures that could help with the symptoms I was experiencing. And, thankfully, these plants didn’t disappoint.
After just one day of using the herbal tinctures I was able to sleep through the night, was able to truly catch my breath, and I felt an overall sense of clarity and balance. The anxiety has crept back in intermittently over the past few weeks, which means I’m using all my remedies and doing all the lifestyle stuff that helps too.
Other Ways to deal with Anxious Feelings
I have been spending time with friends, making phone calls late at night or early in the morning to those wonderful humans that comprise my support system. I started a meditation practice, and have been going strong for over a week. I’m using HeadSpace, and I’m really into it! One trick I learned from the guided meditations is to reimagine anxiety as something you’re experiencing, rather than something that you ARE. ‘I am feeling anxious’ is different than ‘I have anxiety.’ It’s a feeling, not a state of being. This can help distance yourself from the feeling/emotion and bring calm to the physical manifestations of the feelings.
Other lifestyle changes that have been helping include not been drinking alcohol (seems to exacerbate my anxious feelings), and to make sure to keep my caffeine intake really low (only one cup of green tea each day or less). Ensuring I eat a good amount of protein at night helps too, as does not eating chocolate before bed.
I’m also making sure to build in lots of relaxing time during the day with deep breathing, prayer, nature time, and little rituals. If none of these sound like they’d work for you, I’ve written before about some dietary changes that can help with anxiety, as well as some daily habits that can help with anxiety too.
But really, the herbs have been the star, and these days I don’t go anywhere without my tinctures. Below I’ve listed some of my favorite herbal remedies for anxiety, including what worked for me.
A gentle reminder that I am a blogger, not a doctor. Please always check with an herbalist, a naturopath, or doctor before starting anything new. Please also see counter-indications listed for each herb.
Natural Herbal Supplements to help Relieve Anxiety
A brief note about preparations: some of these herbs can be purchased as tinctures, which is an alcohol-based extraction. These are sold in small 1-2 ounce bottles (like in the Hawthorn image below). I take hawthorn, blue vervain, tulsi, and kava as tinctures. Some herbs, like chamomile, tulsi, and passionflower can be brewed as tea and enjoyed that way. And still others can be taken as supplement (dried herbs prepared in capsule form).
Blue vervain has a host of medicinal uses, and is helpful for both the respiratory and nervous system. Organic Facts explains that blue vervain can help, “stimulate the liver, soothe the nervous system, detoxify the body, reduce depression and stress, eliminate pain, lower inflammation, protect the immune system, and alleviate chest congestion.” It must be said that it’s one of the worst-tasting tinctures I’ve ever used (and I’ve tried a lot of gross stuff), but the results were so very wonderful. It’s exceptionally bitter, but that’s part of the reason it’s so good for our liver. Also, you get accustomed to the flavor! Herb Pharm is the brand I found at my local natural food store, and they recommend 1 full squeeze of the dropper bulb to 2 oz. of water or juice, 2 or 3 times per day between meals. Blue vervain can also be purchased loose and brewed as a tea. Do not use during pregnancy.
My herbalist specifically recommended hawthorn for ‘heart hurt,’ which was definitely what I needed. I chose Gaia brand Hawthorn Supreme tincture. Gaia explains that all the cultures that have traditionally used hawthorn used is as a ‘tonic for the heart.’ For heart health, the compounds in hawthorn “work together to reinforce the heart’s pumping capacity, support coronary blood flow, and provide antioxidant protection to the heart.” Do not take hawthorn with the heart drug dioxin.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Also known as Holy Basil, tulsi is another wonderful herb for general wellness. It’s considered a full-body tonic and works as an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens are a class of herbs that work as “metabolic regulators which increase the ability of an organism to adapt to environmental factors and to avoid damage from such factors.” Other adaptogenic herbs include ashwaganda, maca, and ginseng. But tulsi is a lovely herb to have around: you can drink as a daily tea (it tastes great hot or iced), and it can also be taken in capsule form or as a tincture. Mountain Rose Herbs explains that tulsi “helps restore vitality and promotes overall health and a softened reaction to stress.” Do not use during pregnancy.
Passionflower is the wildly beautiful flower of the passionfruit, and is a gentle yet effective sleep aid. You can find passionflower in tea form by many different brands, or you can buy it dried to make your own teas. Mountain Rose Herbs explains that passionflower is a “stunning plant [that] is helpful for relieving general tension, occasional nerve pain, nervous restlessness, and helps support restful sleep” and “is gentle yet profound.”
Chamomile is a small flower in the daisy family, and it’s a well-known nervine (meaning that it’s good for the nervous system) for relaxation and sleep. Drinking chamomile tea or taking a tincture blend can help bring a sense of calm to your day. And as a bonus, chamomile is lovely and sweet-tasting. The sweet flavor and smell of chamomile makes it great to sip as a tea or use for aromatherapy. Check out Herbal Academy for recipes for tea and aromatherapeutic room spray. Do not take if you are allergic to ragweed or daisies, or if you are pregnant.
Rescue Remedy is a Bach flower essence, and it’s a remedy I’ve relied on for years. Rescue Remedy comes in a few varieties (for kids, for sleep, even for pets!), but I like the regular option. This is my go-to remedy for nights when my mind won’t stop chattering – whether before bed or during a rare late-night wakeup. They claim it can help with acute and general stress, by helping us relax, get focused, and get the needed calmness we crave. A flower essence is different than other herbal preparations like tea or tinctures: flower essences are made with spring water that has been infused with wild flowers, either by sun-steeping or boiling. Grape-based brandy is then added as a preservative. Alcohol-free versions are also available.
Kava Kava (or Kava)
Kava (also known as ‘awa in Hawaiian, pronounced āva) is a traditional Polynesian drink. The beverage is made from the roots of the plant and drinking it gives you a mildly buzzed feeling, and helps to deeply relax both the body and mind (and makes your tongue super numb). Traditionally it’s steeped in water and kneaded to release the constituents known as kavalactones. It’s a muddy brown drink that is traditionally drunk out of coconut shell bowls. If you’re not in Polynesia or Hawaii for the fresh stuff, you can buy kava tincture or supplements. I find it’s quite useful for whole-body relaxation, although the earthy flavor can be a turn off for some people. Yogi Tea makes a very mild Kava Stress Relief tea that features the natural sweetness of licorice to cut the bite of the kava. Be sure to find a brand that uses only the root parts, and be cautious if you have liver issues; never mix kava with alcohol.
The power of plants is real, people!
These are just a few of the herbs that can help with anxiety, and are really just the ones that have worked best for me. As always, seek the guidance of an clinical herbalist, licensed acupuncturist or naturopathic doctor.
For expert guidance and custom formulas using western herbs, you can specifically seek out a registered clinical herbalist. You can search for a registered herbalist at American Herbalist Guild. If there are no herbalists in your area, inquire with your local naturopath about custom herbal formulations. For Chinese herbs you can consult an acupuncturist or doctor of Oriental/Traditional Chinese medicine.
These professionals can help you choose herbs that can address all or most of your issues, including deep-seated emotional traumas, physical pains, and other health complaints. The benefit of working with experts is that sometimes they can pinpoint just a few plants covering all concerns and combine them into one formula for you. This makes for ease of use and compliance and can lead to quicker recovery or remedy of the issue.
Once you meet with a healer and do some research to find which herbs are best for you, you can find tinctures and herbs at most natural food stores. Be cautious and start slow with any new herbs and understand that most natural food store employees are not trained in herbalism. Herbs are not dangerous when used in the right context and conditions. Be aware that self treating or going off the advice of a grocery employee may not result in substantial results. Experiment with what might work best for you. May you be well!