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a bunch of dried lavender on a table
a bunch of dried lavender on a table

Daily life brings inevitable stress. Unfortunately, chronically high stress levels can start to have serious effects on your gut health, immune system, and your overall well-being. Your body must adapt to a wide variety of stressors in order to keep you healthy and functioning.

Since it’s impossible to eliminate these stressors completely, finding healthy ways to manage and reduce stress is the name of the game. You might have heard that some herbs can help your body regulate and respond to stress.

But can herbal remedies actually aid in reducing stress? In this article, we’ll talk about the best herbs for stress relief and whether they could help you mitigate stress.

Which Herbs Are Best For Stress?

If you’re looking for ways to reduce stress-related symptoms that can arise from life’s stressors, you may have come across herbal remedies. Many different herbs have been touted to have calming effects and  chronic stress, including:

a list of herbs that may help with stress

In addition to these, another category of herbs considered adaptogens are thought to be powerful stress response modulators. Those may include rhodiola, ashwagandha, ginseng, holy basil, reishi, and others. In this article, we’ll talk about the list of non-adaptogenic herbs above. 

1) Lavender

lavender for stress relief

Lavender is a fragrant plant that includes more than 30 species. Some suggest that lavender essential oil may be a therapeutic agent for a variety of ailments, acting as a:

  • Mood stabilizer and anxiolytic 
  • Sedative
  • Pain reliever
  • Anticonvulsant
  • Neuroprotectant 

Most commonly, lavender is recommended for oral ingestion or aromatherapy. Two compounds in lavender, linalool and linalyl acetate, are taken up through the skin after topical application with massage and are thought to induce central nervous system depression.

From the scientific evidence that’s been gathered so far, it seems that the use of lavender may be considered as a part of stress management programs for certain people. For example, in several human clinical studies involving oral ingestion of lavender oil, researchers found:

  • The anxiolytic effect of lavender was superior to placebo in 221 patients suffering from anxiety disorder and improved symptoms such as restlessness and disturbed sleep.
  • Lavender reduced generalized anxiety comparable to a 0.5 mg/daily lorazepam dose. 
  • The effect of lavender aromatherapy on anxiety and depression in high risk postpartum women showed a significant improvement of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale after four consecutive weeks.

Special Considerations and Risks

At the recommended dose, lavender is considered to be well tolerated with few side effects. However, symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite have been linked to high doses of lavender (more than five grams per day).

As for drug interactions, taking lavender with other sedatives and hypnotics may have cumulative or synergistic effects. Lavender contains coumarin, which has the potential to enhance the action of anticoagulant drugs. Always seek medical advice from a trusted healthcare professional before beginning herbal therapy.

2) Passionflower

benefits of passionflower for stress

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is another plant made popular for its proposed stress-reducing effects. Traditional use of passionflower celebrated its sedative qualities.

Passionflower’s effects may have something to do with modulation of the GABA system as well as opioid receptors and the endocannabinoid system in the body.  In one meta-analysis, researchers examining various passionflower preparations in the form of drops, tablets, and syrup, found that passionflower supplements:

  • Have the potential to alleviate some neuropsychiatric symptoms
  • May reduce stress reactivity
  • May reduce insomnia
  • Had few documented side effects in the populations studied

It was also noted by the same authors that passionflower may have an anxiety-reducing effect on par with oxazepam or midazolam.

Special Considerations and Risks

According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 800 milligrams daily of a dried alcoholic extract of passionflower has been used with apparent safety in studies lasting up to eight weeks. However, some people may experience symptoms such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Uncoordinated movement (ataxia)

Taking passionflower in amounts of around three and a half grams or more over a 48-hour period may be unsafe. Not much is known about the safety of the topical application of passionflower.

As a result of its ability to induce uterine contractions, experts advise against its use in pregnant women. Since passionflower may alter your response to certain prescription medications, it’s always smart to check with your doctor before taking this supplement. 

3) Chamomile

benefits of chamomile for stress

With a widespread reputation for supporting a sense of calm, chamomile has a rich history of medicinal use. However, clinical trials investigating its use in stress reduction are limited and have largely taken place in vitro or in limited animal models. 

The two varieties most commonly assigned therapeutic effects are German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile L). The plant contains many bioactive compounds thought to be responsible for its effects, such as flavonoids, terpenoids, and coumarins.

Chamomile (often prepared as an herbal tea) has primarily been used in the treatment of:

  • Mild skin irritation or inflammation
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive conditions, including ulcers

So how might chamomile and its bioactive compounds contribute to stress reduction? Researchers believe that this may be due to a combination of factors, including the way chamomile bioactives:

  • Have neurokinin-1 receptor antagonist activity.
  • May help lower ACTH levels, which are often elevated in higher stress conditions.
  • May modulate other neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

Special Considerations and Risks

Regardless of these promising findings, high quality randomized controlled trials using chamomile in vivo are limited. Many of the chamomile bioactive compounds will be degraded rapidly in the living body and have low bioavailability. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, chamomile is probably safe when used in amounts commonly found in teas. Some longer-term studies for chamomile use of around 38 weeks report minimal adverse events. 

Side effects are uncommon and may include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Allergic reactions

Chamomile does interact with some drugs and medications, so be on the lookout and always talk with your doctor. Interactions between chamomile and cyclosporine and warfarin have been reported.

4) Kava 

benefits of kava for stress

Maybe you’ve heard about the popular kava bar trend in some areas, providing kava beverages in coffee house settings. Kava drinks are typically prepared from the root of Piper methysticum.

Kava is best known clinically for its anti-anxiety effect including its use in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Kavalactones are the primary bioactive compound thought to be responsible for the effects of kava—particularly its anti-anxiety effects.

The Cochrane Review concluded that kava is superior to placebo and recommended it as a treatment of anxiety symptoms in doses of 60 to 280 milligrams kavalactones per day. A number of other studies have suggested that kava may be an alternative to benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in some people. 

Kava supplements are advertised as being able to:

  • Relieve stress
  • Improve sleep and memory
  • Regulate mood and reduce anxiety

However, a more recent clinical trial of kava consumption observed no significant differences in anxiety reduction between kava consumption and placebo groups. A lack of standardized kava products is one potential reason for these conflicting findings. 

Special Considerations and Risks

Some concerns have arisen for kava and its impact on liver health and toxicity, with reports of serious liver damage in certain cases. Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, over 100 hepatotoxic cases were reported to be associated with kava exposure, with the majority of cases associated with its use in anxiety treatment.

Other side effects that may be associated with kava include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue 
  • Tremors
  • Restlessness

Due to a lack of quality control around the standardization of kava extracts, it can often be difficult to control the exact chemical composition and concentration of different sources. As with other herb supplements on this list, it’s important to talk with your doctor before considering kava as a supplement. 

5) Lemon Balm

benefits of lemon balm for stress

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb with records of its medicinal use dating back over 2000 years. Its dry leaves have been used in Mexican traditional medicine to treat gastrointestinal problems, mental disorders, diseases of the central nervous system, and cardiovascular problems.

The main bioactive compounds in lemon balm include eugenol, citral, caffeic acid derivatives, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and triterpene acids. Preliminary research suggests lemon balm may reduce some symptoms of anxiety, but high quality data in the area of stress and anxiety is quite limited. 

More research is needed to further understand the effects of this herb. 

Special Considerations and Risks

Minimal side effects have been reported with short term use of under 30 days, though dosage is still debated. Experts state that there isn’t yet enough information to know if lemon balm is safe to use in more than six months.

Lemon balm has been assigned Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) status in the United States with a maximum level of 0.5 percent in baked goods.

Some evidence suggests that this herb may be unsafe during pregnancy, lactation, in children, and in those with thyroid disorders or who are using sedatives. There isn't enough reliable information to know if lemon balm is safe to use for more than six months.

6) Neem

benefits of eem for stress

Widely used in Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Unani medicines across the globe, neem (Azadirachta indica) is offered as a remedy for ailments such as:

  • Skin conditions
  • Stomach and intestinal ulcers
  • Anxiety
  • Cancer
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

The main bioactive compound credited for neem’s therapeutic action is azadirachtin, though many other bioactives are present. Azadirachtin and other bioactives may exert a strong antioxidant effect that contributes to therapeutic benefit.

However, once again we see in vitro studies as the main avenue through which this action has been demonstrated. In the living body, it may not be so simple. Very limited human clinical studies have been conducted, especially related to stress

The majority of in vivo studies with neem have been on animal models. Far more human clinical trials are needed before determining whether or not neem is as beneficial as suggested. 

Special Considerations and Risks 

There is very limited data on the toxic levels of neem in humans. Several studies in children reported neem oil poisoning causing vomiting, hepatic toxicity, metabolic acidosis, and encephalopathy.

On the other hand, a study done in rats showed that azadirachtin did not show toxicity even at five grams per kilogram. Some animal studies have suggested a lethal dose of neem oil to be between 13 and 31 grams per kilogram of body weight. 

Some early primate studies report that neem may promote infertility at certain doses, but this topic needs further research. Since neem may interact with some medications, including anti-diabetic medications, it’s important to discuss the use of this herb with your doctor before taking it. 

Other Factors to Consider 

While many herbs and herbal supplements may provide therapeutic benefit for a variety of conditions, not all herbs have enough research to support their use in specific diseases. Keep in mind that stress can come from many different sources, including dietary imbalances, psychosocial factors, and other environmental triggers. 

Where stress levels and mental health are concerned, looking deeper to the root cause or causes is important. What are the root causes of stress in your life?

Getting to the core of your personal stressors and understanding how to reduce stress takes time, but is worth the investment when it comes to protecting your health and well-being. 

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Dr. Nicole Huffman, NMD

Reviewed by: Dr. Nicole Huffman, NMD

Dr. Nicole Huffman is a naturopathic medical doctor. Her passion is finding the root cause of her patient’s imbalances and/or in a state of disease, not just solving the symptom picture. She believes the body has the ability to heal itself given the correct personalized treatment plan and after restoring the basic determinants of health. She loves working with hormones, autoimmune, thyroid, fertility, and up-leveling health. Nicole has a podcast called "Coffee with the Docs" and an online membership where she empowers her audience on how to thrive.

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