Herbal Help for Anxiety
by Christie Smith
As someone who has dealt with anxiety in the past, I was very interested in learning how herbs could be used to help alleviate anxiety. Anxiety is something nearly everyone experiences at one point or another in their lives to some degree, but it can become a serious problem for many and can interfere with quality of life. Allopathic medicine has many options available to help treat anxiety, and while these treatments can be essential for many patients and definitely have their place in the treatment of anxiety, I found they did not work well for me and produced side effects that affected my quality of life. That’s when I began researching lifestyle changes and herbal remedies to treat my anxiety, and I’m happy to report that these changes and remedies have proven very effective for me. I wanted to find a way to treat my anxiety that involved supporting my nervous system and preventing anxiety attacks rather than using pharmaceuticals to suppress my body’s reaction, and my anxiety was at a manageable enough level to allow me to explore my options.
One of the first steps to dealing with anxiety is examining lifestyle changes that may be helpful. Adequate sleep and exercise are very important for mental health. Diet plays a huge role, and I noticed immediate improvements in my anxiety levels when our whole family began following the Feingold Diet many years ago and cut artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives out of our diet. Reducing consumption of caffeine and alcohol while ensuring adequate intake of calcium, balanced B vitamins, and magnesium as part of a whole foods diet helps reduce anxiety as well. It’s also recommended to reduce stress levels by making time to slow down, participating in activities you enjoy, and spending time in nature. These changes serve as a foundation for mental well-being and set the stage for lower anxiety levels.
I’d like to focus on two types of herbs I have found helpful for anxiety: Nervine tonics and nervine relaxants. Nervine tonics strengthen and support the normal functioning of our nervous system, while nervine relaxants have a soothing effect to ease anxiety and tension. Nervine tonics are frequently high in B vitamins, calcium, and magnesium and include dandelion greens, nettle, oats, skullcap, and wood betony. Nervine relaxants include catnip, chamomile, hops, lavender, lemon balm, passionflower, skullcap, St. John’s Wort, and valerian. These are just a few of the herbs that have a beneficial effect on the nervous system, and there is some overlap between the categories.
These herbs can be prepared in a variety of ways including infusions, decoctions, tinctures, and baths. I’ve found that what works best for me is to drink a strong infusion daily and to use teas and tinctures as needed when my stress and anxiety levels rise. I adjust my daily infusion based on my needs at the time, but I always include at least one nervine tonic.
To make a daily infusion to support the nervous system, place the following herbs in a quart jar and fill with boiling water. Cover and let the herbs steep at least four hours before straining. Sweeten if desired, then store in the refrigerator and drink throughout the day, two cups per day.
~ 1 Tbsp dried nettle leaf ~ 1 Tbsp dried dandelion leaf
~ 1 Tbsp dried oatstraw ~ 1 Tbsp dried peppermint
Tinctures can be purchased or made at home using fresh or dried herbs. I make a fresh lemon balm tincture by harvesting the leaves, chopping them roughly, filling a quart jar loosely with the fresh herb, and covering with 100 proof vodka. I let this sit for at least six weeks, shaking regularly, before straining and bottling in dropper bottles. Since I don’t have access to fresh skullcap or motherwort in my garden, I used dried herbs for those tinctures. I fill a pint jar 1/3 to 1/2 full with the dried herb, then follow the same procedure as with the lemon balm. Dried herbs will expand more than fresh herbs, and you want to make sure the herbs remain covered completely by the vodka. To use the tincture, I place 1-3 droppers of tincture in a bit of water or tea. The lemon balm has a very pleasant taste, but the skullcap and motherwort are definitely better taken with water or tea. For anxiety with an upset stomach, lemon balm works quickly and effectively. When the anxiety is accompanied by palpitations, I turn to motherwort. Skullcap is especially effective for anxiety that is accompanied by a headache.
1. The Feingold Association www.feingold.org
2. Hoffmann, David. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
3. Gladstar, Rosemary. (2001, 2008). Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
Christie Smith is a work-at-home, homeschooling mom. She lives in central NC with her husband, two wonderful kids, two cats, two dogs, a guinea pig, and nine chickens. She became interested in homeopathy and herbalism after experiencing adverse reactions to vaccines and medications and is currently a Heart of Herbs student in the Certified Herbalist Program. Photo was sent from Christie Smith and property of her.
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