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Herbs for Stress and Anxiety

By Karta Purkh Singh

Raise your hand if you are feeling a little stressed right now. That’s OK, it’s not unusual. Today’s world is awfully frantic and ill at ease. Many folks, maybe the majority, end up with anxiety that can be on the verge of disabling.

Stress plays havoc on our bodies and leads to a host of uncomfortable symptoms. But these gut clenching feelings are not the end of the story. Not when we can call upon effective herbal anti-stress herbs.

Feel Like a Trip to the South of France?

Just the sight of the lovely purple blossom of the lavender plant might curb stress all by itself. The essential oil certainly does. A group of super relaxed British scientists tested the effects of inhaling rosemary and lavender oils on mood and cognition on 148 healthy participants, and reported that lavender reduced memory and reaction time—interpretation, it was calming. Korean researchers, on the other hand, studied what happens when terminal hospice patients washed their hands with a lavender oil-containing essential oil mixture. The result? The lavender wash reduced pain and depression.

The Grandma Remedy

Grandma’s cup of chamomile tea is a time-honored remedy for inducing sleep, and, since it is a much milder herb than valerian, it is generally better for daytime relaxing, calming and soothing, than as a sleep aid. Chamomile is frequently taken as a tea because it is such a pleasant-tasting beverage.

It’s a good remedy to try first, but it is not a heavy hitter. Research shows that ingredients in chamomile bind to the same benzodiazepine brain receptors as drugs like Valium. Apigenin, one of the main flavonoids in chamomile, has been shown to have a clear anxiolytic (antianxiety) activity, without the sedation or muscle relaxing effects of comparable drugs. To this end, in 2009 American scientists conducted the first controlled clinical trial of chamomile extract for GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled efficacy and tolerability trial of chamomile extract found a significant reduction in depression and anxiety, and positive changes in all areas of anxiety, wellbeing and clinical overall severity.

A German Herb Tames Tension

Valerian is a popular European nervous system soother. It’s a fast acting, nontoxic alternative to prescription tranquilizers.

Germany includes it in many over-the-counter medicines, especially children’s preparations. One study reported that valerian greatly bumps up sedating brain neurotransmitters, while another scientific team discovered that a constituent in valerian binds to sedating GABA receptors in the brain. A 2010 meta-analysis of 18 randomized placebo-controlled trials of valerian for insomnia found that this traditional root is effective for reducing sleeplessness.

A typical dose is 1,000-3,000 mg, as necessary throughout the day. The same amount, taken as one dose at bedtime, often helps insomnia.

The Pizza Cure – Holy Basil

Holy basil leaf, a mainstay from Ayurveda, has strong anti-stress benefits, and it is a powerfully anti-inflammatory. This relative of pizza basil normalizes blood sugar and blood fats, both of which are negatively affected by stress. Scientists report that holy basil is an antioxidant with a high flavonoid content, so it helps to heal the damage from chronic stress. In animal studies, Indian researchers found notable antistress effects that balanced blood sugar and stress hormones and normalized the size of the stress fighting adrenal glands.

Traditionally, Asian people have enjoyed holy basil as a daily tea. It’s now common here as a delicious drink.

Adaptogen Herbs Tone Down the Worried Mind

Many anxious people have endocrine weaknesses, for which herbalists use adaptogens, remedies that normalize the stress response by modulating the release of hormones. Adaptogens are wide acting energy and hormone regulators. These nontoxic herbal remedies bring about a normalizing, balancing influence on the body and reduce the fight or flight stress response.

Take an Arctic Chill Pill

Arctic root is a potent energy balancer from the frozen European north. This effective remedy manages cortisol levels and bumps up cellular energy according to recent research. One double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study found that arctic root extract helped students’ mental fatigue during a stressful academic test. This herb stabilizes heart rate, decreases oxygen consumption, and balances blood pressure to boot. And a 2008 study found significant benefits in generalized anxiety disorder.

Arctic root seems to excel in acute stress, so look to it for challenging conditions of low stamina and consider that it often works well with other adaptogens. In 2010, Italian scientists gave athletes arctic root for 4 weeks and then tested their performance, reporting that the remedy reduced toxic wastes in the blood and reduced skeletal muscle damage.

Standardized extracts of 1% salidrosid and/or 40-50% phenylpropenoids are common. A good dose is 100 to 300 mg, one to three times per day.

A Stress Free Life

Stress free, you say? Easier said than done, you might think. But these herbs are a good start, so get out there and start relaxing. Even so, staying relaxed takes consistency and maybe even some resourcefulness, but you can do it. Stress be gone.

Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Yogaraj, DN-C, RH, is the president of the American Herbalists Guild. He mentored in Ayurveda with Yogi Bhajan for 32 years. The Healing Cures of Yogi Bhajan is his homage to Yogi Bhajan and the wealth of information he had the blessing to learn from his master.

Karta Purkh has presented over 150 times at professional conferences, has written over 3,000 articles on health topics and is the author or editor of 30 books on health, including his latest, The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. He is curriculum director and lead instructor in the Portland Community College Nutritional Therapy Program and heads the herbal education department of the Northwest Institute of Ayurveda. He lives in the Northwest with his wife and daughter. https://internationalintegrative.com/