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10 Natural Herbs for Stress and Anxiety

By Vincent Pedre M.D.
June 24, 2010
File under: Natural Alternatives, Natural Remedies


Healing Herbs have been used for hundreds of years. The ancients had an intuitive understanding of the therapeutic power abundant in herbs. Natural herbal remedies can be as effective as traditional medications without the negative and often significant side-effects.

Over millennia, knowledge of the medicinal properties of herbs has evolved from the herbalist’s keen observation of how plants interact with our bodies.

Stress is an accepted fact of modern life. It is a response to events perceived to be threatening or destabilizing. Talk to your neighbors, friends or colleagues and you will find that these days almost everyone is stressed.

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and it is not unusual to feel anxious when dealing with a problem or making important decisions.

It is when our internal psychological response to external stressors gets out of hand that it can interfere with our ability to cope. This may lead to a range of responses, including insomnia, racing thoughts, palpitations, panic attacks, “butterflies” in the stomach, loss of appetite, exhaustion or feelings of doom. These symptoms often cause such distress that it interferes with our ability to function.

Our internal response to external stress often creates many of the problems we face. There is power in understanding where the feelings come from, but at times this knowledge is not enough to calm an overactive nervous system.

In many cases, stress and its attendant negative effects can be alleviated with the use of healing herbs just as well as any traditional medication and without untoward side-effects.

Each of us experiences stress in different ways and depending on how it affects us, there are herbs that can help counter these effects.

  • Valerian root extract or tincture is used for muscle tightness, insomnia, and anxiety. A few drops in your herbal tea in the evening can act as “nature’s Valium.”
  • Kava plants are native to the South Pacific islands and used by islanders for centuries to calm the mind and body.  It helps promote relaxation without clouding  judgment and alleviates stress, anxiety and muscle tension.
  • Passionflower is another herb with sedative activity and was used by the Aztecs of Mexico for insomnia and nervousness.
  • Combine passionflower with valerian and lemon balm for their synergistic effect in treating tension, restlessness and irritability.
  • Hops is another sedative herb, which is traditionally combined with chamomile, passionflower and valerian to relieve insomnia.
  • Chamomile or Peppermint can alleviate stress that causes a weak or nervous digestive system.  Dried chamomile flower pods are very potent in calming a nervous stomach and have been used for generations to help babies with colic or the discomfort of teething.  Prepare in hot water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes, drain and  sweeten with honey. (Never give honey to a child under 12 months old, as it could result in infant botulism – a serious and potentially deadly, illness.)
  • Peppermint, prepared as tea or inhaled as an essential oil has a cooling effect on an overheated nervous system.  Dab a small amount of peppermint essential oil under your nose or in each nostril and inhale slowly, taking deep breaths.  Or enjoy the aroma of a cup of peppermint tea.  Its effects are uplifting as well as calming.

Other herbs, which are known as adaptogens, help the body respond to the effects of stress with greater vitality.

  • Ginseng has been used in China as a tonic for aging and strengthening the Qi, (chee) or life force.
  • Ashwagandha, an herb used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, can help counter the exhaustion resulting from prolonged anxiety or stress, and can improve how a person responds to stressors.  
  • Rhodiola root extract is another adaptogen with proven effectiveness in treating stress-related fatigue.

Whatever your malady, there are natural ways to treat it.  However, always consult with a physician or naturopath for added guidance regarding where to get the highest quality, organic herbs for your condition and proper dosage instructions.

Vincent Pedre, M.D. is an integrative, Holistic General Practitioner and Board-Certified Internist in private practice in New York City.

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Comments (28) Email Link
  1. molly
    June 26, 2010 9am UTC

    Thanks for this information. With so many people suffering from some form of anxiety its important that we know about alternatives to prescription medications.

  2. Delilah
    June 27, 2010 7pm UTC

    Great piece!

  3. Steven
    June 30, 2010 7am UTC

    Are there specific ways to take these herbs, or is it basically just go to the store and buy them they way they are sold?

  4. Dr. Vincent Pedre
    June 30, 2010 9am UTC

    Steven, this is where working with a naturopath or physician versed in herbs is important. Yes, many of these herbs are available over-the-counter as tinctures, capsules or extracts, but not all sources are going to be the best. You can always go to, for an independent review of products available at your pharmacy or local health food store. For dosing, you may want the guidance of a healthcare provider. There are also many books available on herbs and how to take them. Some herbs interact with medications, so if you are on any medications, make sure to ask your doctor before taking any herbs.

  5. Christine
    July 17, 2010 1pm UTC

    May I suggest adding Motherwort to the list, am an herbalist and own an herbal store, find that Motherwort is one of the best herbs for anxiety and works very quickly, especially in tincture form. Great to see a MD and fellow NYer writing about herbs.

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    When it comes to conventional medications, it’s important to understand the risks before taking them and how they might negatively affect your body. Have you ever worried about stomach bleeding when taking Ibuprofen or liver damage with Tylenol? Do you wish there was a gentler way?
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