Some medications for anxiety relief can have uncomfortable side effects. So, at times, people with anxiety consider herbal remedies as alternatives. Examples include chamomile, valerian, and more.

Talking with a doctor before reducing or stopping prescription medication or starting an herbal supplement is important. Many medications derived from ingredients in herbs can be potent, cause side effects, and interact with other medications.

Here, we describe nine herbs and supplements that could help alleviate anxiety.

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Different herbs can affect the body in different ways.

For example, some ashwagandha can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood. Long-term exposure to high circulating cortisol levels can increase a person’s risk of developing anxiety.

Other herbs can aid relaxation by altering signal processing in the brain. For example, valerian root extracts may modulate gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors in the brain, which may promote relaxation and reduce anxious feelings. So, many claim that valerian root can also assist in treating sleep conditions such as insomnia.

Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is among a group of herbs called “adaptogens.”

Adaptogens affect systems and hormones that regulate a person’s stress response. Ashwagandha has a long history of use in traditional Indian, or Ayurvedic, medication.

A small 2019 study 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, 600 mg per day, or a placebo.

The participants who took ashwagandha showed less 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 stress reduction.

In another small 2019 study, 60 participants with mild anxiety received 240 mg of ashwagandha or a placebo for 60 days. Those taking the herb showed a significant reduction in some measures of anxiety but not in others.

People can take ashwagandha as a tablet or in liquid tincture form.

Chamomile is a flowering herb similar in appearance to a daisy. People can use two types of chamomile medicinally: Roman chamomile and German chamomile.

Some people use chamomile in the following forms to help relieve stress and anxiety:

  • tea
  • extract
  • tablet
  • skin cream

A small 2016 clinical trial investigated the efficacy and safety of chamomile as a long-term treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

All 93 participants received 1,500 mg of chamomile daily for 12 weeks. Some continued taking chamomile for 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. It may interact with certain drugs, including the blood thinner warfarin and the antirejection drug cyclosporine.

It is important for anyone taking any type of medication to check with their doctor before consuming chamomile teas or supplements.

Valerian, or Valeriana officinalis, is a plant native to Europe and Asia. For centuries, people have used the root to help treat sleep problems, anxiety, and depression.

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) states that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether valerian can alleviate anxiety or depression.

Studies suggest that valerian is generally safe. However, the NCCIH notes that there is no information on the long-term use or safety of valerian in the following groups:

  • pregnant people
  • parents who are nursing
  • children under 3 years old

Lavender is a flowering plant belonging to the mint family. Many people use lavender to help calm their nerves and alleviate anxiety.

People may use lavender to make teas or utilize it as an essential oil

Lavender essential oil (LEO) contains chemicals called terpenes. A 2017 review article suggested that two of these terpenes, linalool and linalyl acetate, may have a calming effect on chemical receptors in the brain.

The review suggested LEO may be an effective short-term treatment for anxiety disorders. However, studies on 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.

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.

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.

Kava may help reduce stress and anxious feelings. However, there are reported cases of products containing kava causing severe liver damage. People must always consult a medical professional before taking kava.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active ingredients of the cannabis plant.

A study from 2019 suggested that CBD may have a calming effect on the central nervous system.

The researchers concluded that CBD might be beneficial for people with anxiety-related disorders. However, clinical trials are necessary to confirm these results.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently approve the use of CBD, this natural chemical is widely available in the following forms:

  • tablet
  • liquid extract
  • vape liquid
  • topical cream

Other supplements that may help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety include:

Many herbs can interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications. Some can increase or reduce the effects of certain drugs, potentially causing serious health effects.

People taking medication must consult their doctor or pharmacist before starting herbal supplements.

They must 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 can 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 medication must consult their doctor before they begin taking herbal products.

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