People with anxiety sometime consider herbal remedies as an alternative to prescription drugs. This may be because some medications, for example, beta-blockers or benzodiazepines, can have unwanted side effects.
It is important to talk to a doctor before reducing or stopping prescription medication or starting an herbal supplement. Some herbs can cause side effects or interact with other medications.
Here, we describe 9 herbs and supplements that could help to alleviate anxiety.
Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is among a group of herbs called ‘adaptogens’.
Adaptogens affect systems and hormones in the body that regulate a person’s stress response.
Ashwagandha has a long history of use in traditional Indian, or Ayurvedic, medicine.
A small 2019 clinical trial investigated the efficacy of ashwagandha for stress and anxiety.
The 8-week study involved 58 participants with perceived stress. Each participant randomly received one of three treatments: Ashwagandha extract at doses of either 250 milligrams (mg) per day or 600 mg per day, or a placebo.
The participants who took ashwagandha showed less of the stress hormone cortisol than those in the placebo group. They also experienced improved sleep quality.
Participants who took 600 mg of ashwagandha reported significantly reduced stress levels. However, participants who took the lower dose of ashwagandha did not report a reduction in stress.
In another 2019 study, 60 participants with mild anxiety received 250 mg of ashwagandha or placebo for 60 days. Those taking the herb showed a significant reduction in some measures of anxiety but not others.
People can take ashwagandha as a tablet or in liquid tincture form.
Chamomile is a flowering herb similar in appearance to a daisy. There are two types of chamomile that people can use medicinally: Roman chamomile and German chamomile.
Some people use chamomile in the following forms to help relieve stress and anxiety:
- skin cream
All 93 participants received 1,500 mg of chamomile daily for 12 weeks. Some then continued taking chamomile for the next 26 weeks, while the remainder switched to a placebo.
Researchers observed that those participants who continued taking chamomile were no less likely to experience a relapse of GAD symptoms than those switching to placebo. However, when relapse did occur, the symptoms were less severe.
Some people may experience allergic reactions to chamomile, particularly if they experience reactions to the following plants:
Anyone taking any type of medication should check with their doctor before consuming chamomile teas or supplements.
Valerian or Valeriana officinalis is a plant native to Europe and Asia. For many centuries, people have used the root to help treat sleep problems, anxiety, and depression.
Valerian root is available in the following forms:
To date, there have only been a few high quality studies on the effects of valerian. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) state that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether valerian can alleviate anxiety or depression.
Studies suggest that valerian is generally safe. However, the NCCIH note that there is no information on the long-term use or safety of valerian in the following groups:
- pregnant women
- nursing mothers
- children under 3 years of age
People should also be aware that valerian may have a sleep inducing effect. Taking the herb with alcohol or sedatives will add to this effect and could be dangerous.
Lavender is a flowering plant belonging to the mint family. Many people use lavender to help calm the nerves and alleviate anxiety.
People may use lavender in the following ways:
- making tea from the leaves
- using the oil in aromatherapy
- mixing the essential oil into a base oil for massage
- adding the oil or flowers to baths
Lavender essential oil (LEO) contains chemicals called terpenes. A 2017 review article suggests that two of these terpenes called linalool and linalyl acetate may have a calming effect on chemical receptors in the brain.
The review suggests LEO may be an effective short-term treatment for anxiety disorders. However, studies of the long-term effects of LEO are lacking.
Galphimia glauca is a plant species native to Mexico. People traditionally used it as a tranquilizer to reduce anxiety.
A 2012 clinical trial investigated the efficacy of G. glauca as a treatment for GAD. Participants received either G. glauca or the prescription antianxiety medication lorazepam for 12 weeks. Researchers continued to monitor the participants for a further 3 weeks to test for withdrawal symptoms.
Results showed that participants who received a daily dose of 0.175 mg of G. glauca showed a greater reduction in GAD symptoms compared with those who took lorazepam. Both treatments were safe.
According to a 2018 review, the evidence for G. glauca as a treatment for anxiety is promising. However, medical companies have not exploited its potential due to a lack of available plant material.
Passionflower or Passiflora is a family of plants with around 550 different species. Some studies show that a particular species, P. incarnata, may be effective in treating restlessness, nervousness, and anxiety.
According to an older 2010 review of complementary treatments, some evidence suggests that the antianxiety effects of P. incarnata are comparable to those of benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are a class of drug that doctors may prescribe to treat anxiety.
People can take P. incarnata in tablet form or as a liquid tincture.
Kava kava, or simply kava, is a shrub that is native to the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Its scientific name is Piper methysticum.
In the Pacific Islands, people use kava in a ceremonial beverage intended to relieve stress and alter mood.
A 2013 placebo-controlled trial investigated the efficacy of kava as a treatment for GAD. The 6-week study involved 75 participants. Each person received one of three treatments: Kava extract at doses of either 120 mg or 240 mg per day, or a placebo.
Participants taking kava showed a significant reduction in anxiety compared with those who received the placebo, suggesting kava may be a moderately effective short-term treatment for GAD.
The study also found kava to be safe.
In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised that taking supplements containing kava could result in severe liver injury. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) have since indicated that the link between kava and liver toxicity is unclear, saying that scientists need to re-evaluate the data.
People can buy kava as a supplement online or in health food stores.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active ingredients of the cannabis plant.
Research from 2019 suggests that CBD may have a calming effect on the central nervous system.
Although the FDA do not currently approve the use of CBD, this natural chemical is widely available in the following forms:
- liquid extract
- vape liquid
- topical cream
The study above investigated whether CBD could help to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Researchers retrospectively analyzed data from 103 adults taking CBD as an additional therapy for anxiety and sleep disorders.
Of the 72 adults they included in the final sample, 57 experienced a decrease in their anxiety scores within the first month of taking CBD. These scores remained low for the 3-month study period.
The researchers concluded that CBD may be beneficial for people with anxiety-related disorders. However, clinical trials are necessary to confirm these results.
Other supplements that may help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety include:
- A combination of the amino acids L-lysine and L-arginine: These amino acids may influence brain neurotransmitters that are involved in stress and anxiety.
- Magnesium: Taking magnesium in combination with herbs such as kava and St John’s Wort may help to alleviate anxiety.
- Essential fatty acids: These may reduce stress in females who are premenstrual, pregnant, or menopausal.
- High dose sustained-release vitamin C: Females who take this supplement may experience reduced anxiety and a less drastic increase in blood pressure in response to stress.
Many herbs can interact with over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications. Some can increase or reduce the effects of certain drugs, potentially causing serious health effects.
People taking any kind of medication should consult their doctor or pharmacist before beginning herbal supplements.
They should also be aware that herbal remedies can take longer to start working than prescription medications.
If a person needs more advice about an herbal product, they should consult a qualified herbalist about brand, strength, and quantity.
The FDA does not monitor herbal remedies, so there are potential safety concerns for herbs that have mislabeling or contamination with heavy metals.
People have been using herbs for thousands of years to treat many health conditions. Scientific studies indicate that certain herbs may help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
As with prescription medications, some herbal products can cause side effects. Herbal products may also take longer to begin working. People must consider these factors when weighing up the pros and cons of a particular treatment.
There can be serious interactions between certain herbs and medications. A person who is taking any kind of medication should consult their doctor before they begin taking herbal products.