What Herbs Help With Anxiety?

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Plant calming herbs that reduce anxiety and stress

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Last week, I gathered some lemon verbena, dried the leaves, and steeped in a tea. This “nervine herb” has an immediately relaxing quality. Many of modern society’s drugs have come from Mother Nature, so let’s come back down to earth! Here are 5 naturally-calming herbs that reduce stress!

We are living in uncertain times that can cause even the calmest person to experience some anxiety. So many of our tried-and-true drugs are from nature’s medicine cabinet—aspirin, morphine, penicillin, and even Sudafed, and more.  Let’s go directly to the source of many of our health remedies. Herbs! 

Calming herbs like lemon balm, catnip, and tulsi basil are even called “nervine herbs” because they act upon the nervous system to produce a mildly relaxing effect, reducing stress with their pleasing flavors and aromas. Not only will you love the herbs, but so will the pollinators! They love the blossoms of herbs. 

Note: Before consuming any herbs, consult your doctor just to be on the safe side!

lemon-balm-787626_1920_full_width.jpgPhoto: Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

1. Lemon Balm

Even the name is soothing! Brushing the leaves of lemon balm releases a minty, calming fragrance. The Greeks and Romans used lemon balm to flavor drinks and foods but also as a medicinal plant. The Arabs used it for depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness as well as to strengthen the memory and mind. 

Modern studies show that lemon balm does indeed improve secondary memory and the ability to learn so herbalists will recommend the herb for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHG).

Used fresh or dried, the tangy leaves make a relaxing tea. Since lemon balm has a mildly sedative quality, it’s good for calming the mind before bed. Just pour 1 cup of boiling water over 5 to 6 fresh leaves or 1 teaspoon dried leaf. Steep for 5 to 7 minutes. Strain. Add honey and/or mint if desired. Drink several times a day.

Crushed leaves can be added to cold water for a refreshing lemony drink. Another positive benefit of lemon balm is that it seems to deter insects when you crush a handful of leaves on our skin.

A perennial, lemon balm grows 1 to 2 feet tall in sun to part shade, needs good soil, and is easy to grow from seed. It is in the mint family, so plant it in an bottomless bucket or enclosed bed to keep it from running all over your garden. Harvest the top third of the plant before it flowers and hang to dry.

Enjoy our homemade video as an ode to lemon balm!

2. Chamomile

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) has little apple scented, daisy-like flowers. Chamomile is probably the most common European herb in herbal medicine today. During the Middle Ages, chamomile was a staple of monastery gardens and used to ease digestion and tension as well as aide sleep.

In modern herbal treatments, chamomile is used to soothe a nervous stomach as well as ease depression and anxiety. A major ingredient in Sleepytime tea, it is good for insomnia.

Make a relaxing tea with real chamomile. Use the flowers fresh or dried for tea. Just pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of herbs. Steep for 5 to 7 minutes. The longer it steeps, the more powerful its calming effects. 

Or, fill a sachet or a clean cotton sock to add to your drawer. Chamomile not only eases anxiety but it relaxes muscle tension and soothes irritated or inflamed skin; add to your bath for a relaxing soak. 

Another annual that is easy to grow from seed, it can grow up to 2 feet tall and likes full sun. Pick and dry the blossoms when they are fully open. Read more about chamomile tea and how to grow this plant.

chamomile-4233152_1920_full_width.jpgPhoto: Chamomile

3. Lavender

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is another herb with a fragrant scent. Research has confirmed that this lovely purple-flowered herb produces slight calming, soothing, and sedative effects when its scent is inhaled.

Since ancient times, people have filled with pillows with lavender flowers to help them fall asleep. In modern science, evidence indicates that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, improve concentration, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders. 

Make a lavender tea to help with insomnia, restlessness, and nervous stomach irritations. Boil 8 oz. of water. Place 4 tsp. of fresh lavender buds into a tea ball or sachet. Place the tea ball and water into a teacup. Let steep for 10 minutes.

A perennial native to the Mediterranean, it can be challenging to grow lavender in some regions. It likes dry alkaline soil of poor to average fertility - not too rich or wet. Harvest stalks before the buds open and hang to dry. See the complete Growing Guide to Lavender to plant this calming beauty!

lavender-1117275_1920_1_full_width.jpgPhoto: Lavender

4. Catnip

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) may drive your cat wild but when it comes to humans, a tea made from its dried or fresh leaves is actually quite calming.

It’s a strong-smelling, minty herb with white flowers. Both the dried leaves and the flowers can be used to calm the nerves and soothe the digestive system. Catnip contains nepetalactone which is a natural herbal sedative. For many folks, catnip tea induces a mild drowsiness.

Drink as a tea 2 to 3 times per day to enjoy the benefits. As catnip can make some people drowsy, it may not be best in the morning. Pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 teaspoons of dried catnip leaves or flowers. Steep 10 to 15 minutes. Add lemon juice to best enjoy catnip’s minty, citrusy flavor. Honey is optional.

A perennial that is easy to grow from seed, catnip grows to be about 3 feet tall, likes full sun, and does well even in poor dry soil. It is most potent used fresh but to save some for the winter, harvest the top third of the plant before it blooms and hang to dry. Let a few branches blossom for the bees. They love it too!

cat-829681_1920_full_width.jpgPhoto: Catnip

5. Holy Basil

Tulsi or Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) is not the sweet basil you enjoy on pizzas. It has a bold, peppery basil-like flavor.

Known as the “Queen of Herbs,” Holy Basil has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to counteract the effects of stress on body and mind. It’s been shown to have antidepressant and antianxiety properties similar to antidepressant drugs. Studies have shown that it can help people feel more social and less anxious.

I was given a bagful of dried leaves last fall and have found that the fruity tasting tea is good for calming my overactive mind before bedtime. This summer I’ll be growing my own to replenish my stash!

To make Holy Basil or Tulsi Tea, you can use fresh or dry leaves. Pour boiling water over ½ to 1 teaspoon of tea leaves per cup of water. Steep 5 to 7 minutes. The longer you brew, the stronger the flavor and more beneficial compounds.  You buy Tulsi dry leaves or Tulsi powder at speciality shops. For the powder, use about 1/3 of powder per cup of boiling water.

As a warm-weather annual, Tulsi or Holy Basil is as easy to grow from seed as any other type of basil. It does well in full sun to part shade, growing up to 2 feet tall in rich moist soil. It can be grown in a container to bring inside for winter. It is also considered a good luck plant!

holy_basil_full_width.jpgPhoto: These are the holy basil plants I’ll be growing this summer.

More Healing Plants

Enjoy learning about more plants that have the power to heal!

Cultivate inner peace by growing some serenity in your garden.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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