13 Calming Herbs for Stress and Anxiety Relief

By Val Silver

Calming herbs and relaxing teas for stress and anxiety relief are important natural remedies for holistic healing and well-being. They take the edge off the health damaging distress resulting from feeling nervous, stressed out, and overwhelmed. Herbs for stress help you face emotionally distressing situations with a bit more ease. They quiet accompanying body tension and upset. Relaxing nervine herbs are the perfect complement to stress reduction techniques.

relaxing herbs

What are Calming Herbs?

Herbs that help relieve stress and anxious feelings are called nervines because they nourish and strengthen the nervous system. Some act directly to restore tissue. Others have a more general effect. They help you relax or oxygenate your blood, which directly aids your nervous system. 

Calming herbs and relaxing teas have noticeable effects on in-the-moment distress and anxious feelings. They do not help your body adapt to long-term effects like tonic or adaptogenic herbs.

Some adaptogens work quickly, but most work over time for cumulative benefits. They may be taken daily for months at a time as tonics.  

Nervine herbs are generally taken as needed up to a few times a day for relieving stressful feelings.

Many nervines and adaptogenic herbs also have additional health benefits. They contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or properties that affect more than the nervous system.

Which Calming Herbs Are Best for You?

Herbs for anxiety and stress relief are commonly available in grocery and health food stores as single herbs or combination remedies. You can use them in a variety of ways based on your needs and interests. Feel free to experiment and see what works best for you.

Herbs act in different ways based on the compounds they contain and your constitution. Hot herbs may not be best if you are already worked up or tend to get heated. Cooling herbs may be what you need. Likewise, if stress gets you feeling down or you feel cold, warming herbs are best. Match your symptoms to an herb's actions for best results. 

Good herb books and herbal profiles found online provide this information. (Search the name of the herb plus herbal profile.) Always follow dosage instructions and safety precautions for best results. 

Look for blends and ready-made relaxing teas such as Tension Tamer by Celestial Seasonings or Kava Stress Relief by Yogi Teas (one of my favorites for nervousness in social settings). Many herbal stress remedies include a variety of herbs. 

You can also make your own brew from loose herbs. Slow down, focus, and enjoy the ritual of making your tea. The process is relaxing and centering in and of itself.

14 Relaxing Nervine Herbs

Reach for one or more of these nervine calming herbs before stressful situations and when youare experiencing its familiar symptoms.

Lemon Balm-Melissa Officinalis

calming herbs

Melissa is a mildly bitter cooling herb. If you (or someone you know) are angry or raging, let Melissa help you simmer down.

Lemon balm has a lovely taste and fresh, lemony aroma. If you are lucky enough to have this herb growing nearby, crush a fresh leaf in your hands and inhale deeply to soothe mind and body. Its pure volatile essential oil molecules will waft into your nose and work their magic. 

A tablespoon of dried lemon balm leaves make a delicious cup of relaxing tea. The tincture or tea soothes an acid stomach as well as nausea, bloating, heartburn and gas. It lifts your mood, eases stress-induced headaches, and relaxes the nervous system. It reduces feelings of overwhelm, mild depression, and feelings that you are not good enough or might fail. 

Combined with chamomile, this calming herb is good for 'tantrum-throwers'. Use this blend to  ease restlessness and over-excitability in children and adults.

With motherwort and/or hawthorn, it reduces stress induced palpitations and mildly elevated blood pressure.

Melissa tincture can be applied to the mouth to ward off oral herpes.  It shows promise as an anti-Alzheimer's herb.

Fresh Oat - Avena sativa

Avena is a good choice if you are stressed or stretched to the limit and feel emotionally frayed. It is also good for people who fly off the handle and need emotional grounding.

Oat tops help symptoms of stress such as mental fog, muscle pain and high blood pressure caused by tension. It soothes the gastro-intestinal tract. Fresh oats are helpful for controlling cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Oats takes the edge off caffeine, nicotine and morphine cravings. It has a mild anti-anxiety effect.

Avena sativa makes a lovely herbal infusion that is truly a food for the nerves.

This slow-acting calming herb builds benefits over several months. It is not directly relaxing to the body, but works by helping to restore and support healthy nerve function with regular use.  

Fresh oats can be combined with stronger herbs as needed. The tincture or extract must be made from fresh white milky tops.

Do not use Avena sativa if you have celiac disease.

Hops - Humulus Lupulus

Hops is a potent sedative and relaxant nervine that has been used to aid sleep and reduce libido even longer than it has been used to make beer. Nursing mothers who have trouble relaxing and "letting down" milk may find this herb helpful. 

If you have trouble relaxing for sleep, a dream pillow filled with hops, lavender and other soothing herbs may help you drift off. Hops is quite bitter, so you may not want to drink it as a tea, but you may not mind the tincture in warm water. 

Chamomile - Matricaria recutita

Chamomile has long been a beloved medicinal herb of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Today, it is a favorite the world over as a mild sedative and deep sleep aid.

My sister, a Type A personality who is always on the go, grinds her teeth furiously while sleeping. When she has a cup of chamomile tea before bed, she does not grind her teeth. 

Use chamomile alone or combined with Hops when you feel like you have a nervous stomach. This calming herbal remedy works by easing smooth muscle spasms in the stomach and intestines. It is also reduces inflammation and wards off bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Always cover your chamomile tea while brewing to keep the volatile essential oils from leaving with the steam. Or, if you prefer, breathe in the steam deeply for an aromatherapy treatment.

If you are allergic to ragweed or are pregnant, it is best to avoid chamomile.

relaxing tea

Kava kava - Piper methysticum

Kava has a long history of use as sacred plant in the Pacific Islands where it is enjoyed as a strong drink for its medicinal and social benefits.

When it comes to herbal anxiety relief, kava meets the challenge. It helps people feel at ease in social situations without compromising mental clarity. Standardized Kava extracts have shown promise in several studies as a treatment for anxiety disorders. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava)

Kava relieves pain and stiffness associated with body armoring with anxious feelings. It acts in the brain's amygdala where the stress response is initiated.

It helps cool hot flashes, eases joint pain, muscle tension and menstrual cramps.

You know you have the good stuff when it numbs your mouth a bit. Be sure to read the precautions and follow the directions when using Kava.

Yogi Teas makes excellent Kava Stress Relief tea. I always keep some on hand.

Scullcap - Scutellaria lateriflora

Scullcap is a helpful calming herb for nervous exhaustion and strengthening a depleted nervous system. This calming herb is a good choice if you are experiencing spasms. It helps relax a nervous stomach, controls tremors, restless legs and relieves diaphragm spasms.

If you clench or grind your teeth, scullcap may help. It has a mild anti-anxiety action. It is also an anti-inflammatory herb. It shows promise for controlling Parkinson's symptoms over time.

Only fresh or freeze-dried scullcap is useful. Be sure to purchase your scullcap from a reputable source because it may be mixed with other herbs. Other species may be substituted, which may or may not provide the same benefits.  

If you suffer from stress related insomnia, a tincture or tea of equal parts scullcap, hops and valerian or chamomile makes for a a mildly sedating nightcap. 

Wood Betony - Stachys officinalis

herbal stress relief

Wood betony, or Bishopswort is a gentle-acting, mildly calming herb often used in combination with other herbs as a liquid extract or tea.

This herb is known for easing head pain, neuralgia, hysteria, and insomnia. It relieves chronic muscle pain and headaches resulting from tension, stress and anxiety.

If your muscles stiffen up when you feel stressed, especially in your shoulders, neck and face, wood betony may be for you. It relieves pain and spasm in tired, sore, overworked muscles.

Passionflower - Passiflora incarnata

Passionflower is weak sedative that is stronger than most calming herbs. It can be helpful if you have insomnia because you lay in bed thinking the same anxious thoughts over and over and over.

Use passionflower for tension, back pain, nerve pain, headaches, and gastro-intestinal symptoms caused by stress.

California Poppy has similar uses but is stronger acting.

Valerian - Valeriana officinalis

Valerian is a strong acting sedative that also helps relieve gastro-intestinal symptoms caused by stress including IBS and diarrhea. Valerian doesn't taste good and has a strong odor like dirty socks. Don't let that deter you. Mix Valerian tincture or extract with catnip or chamomile if you internalize stress in your gut. 

Valerian has a good reputation as an insomnia herb. It has been approved by the German Commission E to support healthy sleep when combined with hops. 

Some people find Valerian stimulating rather than relaxing.

Motherwort - Leonurus cardiaca

calming herbal remedies

Motherwort is especially helpful to women who are irritable, anxious and emotionally volatile. This calming herbs grows wild in my area. My husband wanted to mow it down until I shared its reputation for easing menopausal rage. Needless to say, he didn't touch it.

Motherwort reduces hypertension and heart palpitations caused by anxiety.

Combine Motherwort with blue vervain for PMS, cramps, and anxious feelings. Combine with pulsatilla for herbal anxiety relief or constant worry and fear.

Motherwort has a strong, bitter taste. You may prefer using it as a tincture or extract. 

Linden flowers - Tilia spp.

If your upset leads to headaches and higher blood pressure, this may be the calming herb for you. Linden is a mild acting herb for general stress.

Linden mildly reduces anxious and/or depressed feelings, lowers blood pressure and eases headaches. It can help you sleep. Linden flowers are an excellent remedy for upset stomachs in both children and adults.

Europeans use Tilia for atherosclerosis and to improve blood flow to the brain.

Linden flowers make a delicious infusion. Steep a teaspoon or two in a cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Strain and drink.

Tea- Camellia Sinensis 

Camellia sinensis is a species of evergreen shrub. It contains a mind-relaxing L-theanine.  This amino acid lowers the stress hormone, corticosterone, while boosting brain calming GABA, serotonin and dopamine. By reducing anxiety, L-theanine improves attention span, reaction times, and a strong memory. It enhances alpha brain waves, the state of mind experienced during meditation, daydreaming, and being in the creative flow.  

For wakeful relaxation without feeling sedated, brew a strong cup or two of green tea. The caffeine in tea helps the L-theanine work even better to enhance cognitive performance while easing feelings of stress. 

Dragon Eye Fruit

Dragon eye fruit is also known as longan fruit. It is used in Traditional Chinese medicine to nourish the blood and strengthen the heart and spleen. It is calming for people who worry to much and wake a lot during sleep time. You can enjoy this sweet herb as a tea. Let it steep 5 minutes before drinking.

Source: mindbodygreen.com

Reishi (Ganoderma) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

Reishi mushroom is a nervine that eases insomnia. It is tonic to the cardio-vascular system.

Maitake mushrooms help protect and detoxify the liver and assist with hypo-immune conditions such as cancer, AIDS and chronic fatigue as well as hyper-immune conditions including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.

Dried reishi and maitake are available at some grocery stores and Asian markets. Add to soups, stews and other foods. Or make a decoction by brewing two teaspoons in 12 ounces of water for a few hours. For therapeutic use, mushrooms are sold in capsules.

Certain adaptogenic herbs such as Holy Basil and Schisandra have a calming effect as well as long-term health benefits against stress. Read about the adaptogens here. 

Need a source of high quality herbal products? Check out Mountain Rose Herbs.

Continue Reading: How to Use Stress-Relieving Herbs for best results

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