The 14 Best Herbs for Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the general population. Rather than suffering in silence, many individuals are looking to natural herbs for anxiety. This article …

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Written by: Daniel Powers, MS
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Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the general population.

Rather than suffering in silence, many individuals are looking to natural herbs for anxiety.

This article will look at the best herbs for anxiety, their uses, and safety.

the 12 best herbs for anxiety and depression

The Best Herbs for Anxiety

Below are the best herbs for anxiety and overall mood improvement.

1. Passionflower

Researchers are looking at passionflower as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines, a class of pharmaceutical drugs that are typically prescribed for anxiety. While benzodiazepines are impactful for anxiety, they come with a long list of side effects.

clinical trial compared passionflower and oxazepam (a benzodiazepine) in the treatment of GAD. The study showed that passionflower extract was comparable to oxazepam in the management of GAD with no significant difference in efficacy. However, the passionflower group showed an advantage with a lower incidence of impairment in job performance as compared to the oxazepam group.

Before surgery, many patients experience anxiety. Patients who received an oral dose of 500mg of passionflower ninety minutes before surgery in a clinical trial had significantly lower levels of anxiety.

Another clinical trial looked at the impact of passionflower on patients with anxiety leading up to a dental procedure. The researchers found that taking 20 drops of passionflower extract the night before surgery and 20 drops the morning of surgery (90-minutes prior) helped to reduce measured anxiety levels.

Another human clinical trial studied the anxiolytic impact of passionflower and midazolam (a benzodiazepine) on patients undergoing dental extraction. The results showed that the group given passionflower had an anxiety-reducing effect similar to midazolam, with fewer adverse events noted.

Summary:

Due to its relaxing effect, passionflower appears to be an effective herb for reducing GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). It also appears to be better tolerated than the standard pharmaceutical approach.

2. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that may have the ability to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. It grows native in parts of India, Africa, and the Middle East and the root is where most of its therapeutic properties lie.

Research shows that ashwagandha is one of the best adaptogens for anxiety and stress management.

clinical study demonstrated that Withania somnifera extract (ashwagandha) helped in the treatment of depression and anxiety symptoms for those with schizophrenia. Participants were given 1000mg/day for 12 weeks and significant improvement was shown in reported anxiety and depression scores.

In an 8-week clinical trial involving chronically stressed adults, ashwagandha was shown to reduce anxiety and cortisol levels. It’s thought that ashwagandha was able to do this by balancing the HPA axis’s hormone response.

A recent review showed that ashwagandha helps to alleviate depression and insomnia symptoms in humans and animals. This may be a result of regulation of the HPA axis and/or the effects of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Summary:

Initial human clinical trials show that ashwagandha appears to be helpful in treating mild depression and anxiety. More in-depth clinical trials are needed to corroborate these initial findings.

3. American Skullcap

Skullcap is commonly used in alternative medicine circles as a natural remedy for anxiety. While this aligns with skullcap’s traditional usage as a nervine, clinical research is just now starting to prove its anxiolytic benefits.

Researchers performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled study and found that taking two 100mg capsules of skullcap extract daily helped to reduce anxiety.

Since skullcap has been traditionally used to treat anxiety and various nervous conditions, researchers have recently analyzed the phytochemical compounds of skullcap to find their anxiolytic action.

An animal study looked at the anti-anxiety effects of skullcap. Findings revealed that the skullcap group showed reduced levels of anxious behavior. The active phytochemical compounds in skullcap: baicalin and baicalein, appeared to contribute to the anxiolytic effects.

The amino acid GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It has a relaxing effect on the central nervous system and promotes relaxation and sleep. It is thought that baicalin and baicalein, phytochemicals found in skullcap, might act to activate GABA within the brain, thus providing anxiolytic effects.

Additionally, the British Herbal Compendium recognizes the use of skullcap for anxiety, tension, or stress; headaches; migraine, panic attacks; restlessness; sleep disorders; premenstrual tension and period pain; and to assist withdrawal from benzodiazepines.

Summary:

A combination of human clinical trials and laboratory research shows that skullcap may be helpful for individuals with anxiety. Larger-scale human trials are needed to verify these initial promising findings.

4. Ginkgo

According to human clinical research, ginkgo may be one of the best herbs for reducing anxiety, stress, and depression.

In a study involving 80 participants with post-stroke depression, patients were given a treatment of either venlafaxine (a drug for depression and anxiety) or a combination of ginkgo and venlafaxine. The group treated with both ginkgo and venlafaxine experienced improved daily living and had significantly lower depression ratings than the group treated only with venlafaxine.

Additionally, participants in this study who took ginkgo and venlafaxine had higher levels of both BDNF and 5-HT, two compounds needed for brain health and mood, when compared to the venlafaxine group. Also, the ginkgo-venlafaxine group was found to need lower doses of venlafaxine and experienced fewer side effects.

In a clinical trial involving 81 study participants with major depression, researchers noted that patients given 120mg of ginkgo extract alongside electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) experienced improved cognitive function and less depression when compared to the participants treated only with ECT.

In a randomized, controlled trial involving 400 dementia patients with symptoms of mental health issues, it was found that treatment with 240mg of Ginkgo biloba extract led to reductions in anxiety, apathy, irritability, depression, and sleep disturbances in patients when compared to the control group.

One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 107 patients diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder or adjustment disorder with anxious mood investigated the effect of ginkgo on anxiety. It was found that the group treated with ginkgo experienced a decrease in anxiety, tension, and aggression when compared to the group treated with a placebo.

In a randomized, controlled study involving war refugees, participants were treated with psycho-education or a combination of ginkgo extract and psycho-education. Study participants who received treatment with ginkgo extract alongside psycho-education were found to experience less anxiety, stress, and fatigue when compared to the group treated only with psych-education.

Summary:

Human clinical research indicate that ginkgo may be useful in lowering levels of anxiety, depression, and stress in individuals.

5. Bacopa

While bacopa has been used to benefit cognitive function, this herb is also used to improve mood and decrease levels of anxiety and depression.

In a placebo-controlled trial with 48 elderly study participants, researchers found that patients treated with 300mg of bacopa extract daily over a 12-week period experienced less depression and anxiety when compared to the group taking a placebo.

In a clinical trial observing 100 individuals suffering from poor sleep found that participants treated with a bacopa extract experienced significantly better emotional well-being, mood, and general health when compared to the placebo. The bacopa extract, however, did not significantly improve sleep quality in study participants.

In one comparative clinical study involving patients with anhedonia (a lack of pleasure), participants were either given Citalopram (a common antidepressant), or a combination treatment of Citalopram and bacopa. It was noted that the group treated with the Citalopram-bacopa combination experienced greater improvements in levels of depression and anhedonia when compared to the group treated solely with Citalopram.

In a stress-induced animal model of depression, rats treated with bacopa extract displayed lower depression and stress levels, similar to the actions of antidepressant medications.

In an animal study involving mice exposed to chronic stress, researchers noted that supplementing with bacopaside, a constituent in bacopa, demonstrated an ability to lower levels of stress and depression. It was also found that the bacopaside extract helped lower cortisol, a stress hormone. Bacopaside extract was also found to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is a compound essential for brain function that is often reduced in depressed individuals.

Summary:

Clinical trials show that bacopa may work to improve mood and benefit both anxiety and depression levels.

6. Lemon Balm

Numerous studies show that lemon balm may help to reduce anxiety. This herb may also be helpful for increasing sleep quality.

An eight-week study showed that supplementing with lemon balm was beneficial for patients experiencing anxiety and sleeping issues. The study results showed improved sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep duration, as well as decreased levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Another clinical trial showed that drinking lemon balm tea twice per day helped to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality in hospitalized burn patients.

Lemon balm has been combined with a variety of other herbs in clinical trials to treat disturbed sleep, anxiety, and depression.

A clinical trial involving lemon balm and Persian lavender showed that this combination could help to improve depression and anxiety for insomniacs while decreasing the overall severity of insomnia.

Summary:

Clinical trials show that lemon balm may be an effective anxiolytic. It also appears that lemon balm may be helpful for those that have sleep problems.

7. Rhodiola

Rhodiola Rosea is a perennial plant that has been used as a medicine in Europe and Asia for thousands of years. This plant has an affinity for colder climates, hence the common name “arctic root.”

Rhodiola is one of the best adaptogens for anxiety.

In a clinical trial involving individuals with mild depression, participants were given rhodiola rhizome extract daily over a 6-week period. The study results showed that rhodiola extract was able to improve mood, restore energy, and reduce reported depression in participants. 

Further research has shown that rhodiola extract works to inhibit an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters in the brain. It’s theorized that this may lead to an antidepressant effect. 

A recent study concluded that rhodiola extract was able to balance cortisol levels. These effects support the reduction of stress-induced depression and other chronic stress symptoms. 

Summary:

Clinical trials show that rhodiola appears to be helpful in cases of mild depression. It also appears that rhodiola has a stimulating, energizing effect on the body, which is beneficial for individuals struggling with anxiety.

8. Holy Basil

Holy basil, also known as “tulsi”, is a mainstay in Ayurvedic therapy and has emerged as one of the most popular herbs in contemporary herbalism. Native to India, holy basil is an adaptogen that has been noted for its health benefits, especially in regards to stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Researchers concluded that holy basil shows promising effects in helping reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. It was also noted that tulsi helped to reduce depression and stress levels in the study participants.

Further, another human clinical trial reported that holy basil helped to reduce symptoms such as forgetfulness, exhaustion, and sleep issues.

Summary:

Tulsi holy basil appears to be an effective herb for reducing anxiety levels. It seems to be especially helpful in cases of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

9. German Chamomile

Chamomile is another helpful herb for anxiety.

In a 12-week clinical trial, researchers found that chamomile significantly lowered moderate-to-severe generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms. Few side effects were reported which led the researchers to the conclusion that long-term use of chamomile appears to be safe. 

An 8-week trial showed that chamomile helped to reduce anxiety in the study participants, as measured by the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A). Researchers noted that this outcome was similar to the effectiveness of standard anxiolytic drugs.  

A 2009 study showed that Matricaria recutita may have an anxiety-reducing effect through its interaction with neurotransmitters in the brain. This study showed that chamomile reduced HAM-A scores in participants with mild anxiety.

Another clinical trial found that chamomile produced a significant reduction in HAM-D scores spanning patients with only depression, only anxiety, and those with both.

Chamomile contains apigenin, a flavonoid that has been shown to have an affinity for benzodiazepine receptors. This may be the mechanism of action for how chamomile works to reduce anxiety.

Summary:

Clinical research shows that chamomile may help to reduce mild anxiety and depression.

10. Lavender

Lavender has been shown to support those with anxiety.

In a clinical trial involving 93 individuals with high levels of anxiety and stress, subjects that underwent lavender aromatherapy treatment reported a decrease in anxiety levels.

A similar pilot study involving lavender aromatherapy found that it helped to reduce anxiety in postpartum women. In the study, the women underwent 15-minute long lavender aromatherapy sessions two times a week for 4 weeks.

Note: the essential oil used was a blend of both Lavandula angustifolia and rose otto oil. 

In a meta-analysis study spanning thousands of participants, 79% of individuals with anxiety had their levels reduced after lavender inhalation. In addition to the inhalation method, lavender extract supplements were shown to help diminish anxiety levels after 6 weeks. 

In a comparative trial that looked at lavender vs. lorazepam (a common anxiety drug), patients with GAD were given either 80mg/day of lavender extract or lorazepam for 10 weeks. Those treated with lavender showed a significant decrease in anxiety scores (HAMA), comparable to those that were given lorazepam.    

Another study compared a lavender extract supplement to lorazepam. The results demonstrated a similar decrease in HAMA scores for both the lavender supplement and lorazepam groups.

Summary:

Clinical research shows that lavender aromatherapy may help to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Oral intake of lavender extract may help to decrease anxiety.

11. Gotu Kola

Both clinical and lab-based studies indicate that gotu kola may be beneficial in reducing levels of anxiety and stress.

A clinical study involved 33 participants diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Participants treated with 500mg of gotu kola twice a day experienced significantly lower levels of depression, stress, and anxiety.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 40 study participants, those who were treated with 12g of gotu kola demonstrated a lower acoustic startle response, which is a test used to gauge anxiety levels by measuring the strength of muscle reflexes in response to a sudden sound. The decrease of the study participants’ acoustic startle response shows that gotu kola may work to reduce anxiety.

One animal study discovered that socially isolated rats treated with gotu kola led to reductions in levels of anxiety. Additionally, researchers noted an increase of antioxidant activity in the group treated with gotu kola when compared to the placebo group.

In another animal study where rats were exposed to stressful situations, it was found that the rats treated with a gotu kola extract demonstrated lower levels of stress, depression, cortisol, and anxiety when compared to the placebo group. These results were found to be similar to the effect of fluoxetine, a drug commonly used for anxiety and depression.

Summary:

Research indicates that gotu kola may work to decrease anxiety, stress, and depression, however, additional human studies are needed to verify these findings.

12. Blue Vervain

Blue vervain is a popular anxiolytic among clinical herbalists.

David Hoffman, AHG, a well-respected herbalist, classifies blue vervain as a gentle anxiolytic that can potentially be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression.

Dr. Aviva Romm, another noted herbalist, combines blue vervain with motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and stinging nettle (Urtica diocia) for general anxiety and irritability.

An animal study compared diazepam, a common anti-anxiety drug, and vervain extract. The researchers noted that the blue vervain had an anxiety-reducing effect similar to diazepam.

Summary:

Traditional herbal medicine indicates that blue vervain may be helpful for anxiety and depression, especially when combined with other herbs. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these claims.

13. Hops

Research indicates that hops can be an effective herb for anxiety.

A study on young adults with mild anxiety, depression, and stress, supplementing with a hops extract reduced symptoms over a 4-week period. Researchers noted significant decreases in depression and anxiety metrics in the study participants taking hops.

An animal study using an isolate made from hops found that it reduced depression-like behavior in mice. Researchers theorized that this may be due to hop’s impact on neurotransmitters and inflammation in the brain. 

Hops has been traditionally used throughout the world for its anxiolytic properties. The British Herbal Compendium notes that hops is a spasmolytic which may reduce anxiety symptoms.

Summary:

Limited clinical research, as well as various herbal authorities, suggest that hops has the ability to support mental health. More significant research is needed to confirm these effects.

14. Kanna

Research indicates that kanna may be an effective herb for reducing anxiety.

A placebo-controlled study looked at the effects of Zembrin®, a standardized extract made from kanna, on anxiety and cognitive function. Researchers studied 16 healthy participants and analyzed their amygdala, which is the part of the brain that regulates anxiety and fear. The results of Zembrin® supplementation showed a reduction in amygdala reactivity to fear, thus showing potential anti-anxiety actions of Zembrin®.

Another clinical trial investigated the anxiolytic properties of Zembrin®. The results showed that the anxiety levels of the participants supplementing with Zembrin® were significantly lowered.

A clinical trial looked at the impact of kanna extract on stress hormones. The study used a 1mg dose of kanna extract standardized to contain mesembrine. Findings suggest that the kanna extract improved stress hormone regulation, including glucocorticoid production, which are steroid hormones produced in the adrenal glands.

Summary:

Research shows that kanna may help to reduce anxiety and stress levels. Additional large-scale human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s response to stress. While it’s a natural response, there may be a concern when anxiety is constant, and feelings of fear, worry, nervousness, or irritability start to impede everyday life.

Researchers note that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common form of anxiety with over 12% of people suffering each year.

Research indicates that anxiety can lead to lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical conditions, including:

  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • GI problems
  • Social isolation
  • Issues functioning at work/school
  • Impaired quality of life
  • Suicide potential

Various clinical trials show that using herbs can help to reduce anxiety and improve overall mood and wellbeing.

While herbs are not as effective as pharmaceutical drugs for anxiety, they tend to be more of a gentle alternative and tend to have fewer side effects.

How Do Herbs Help Anxiety?

Herbs can work to support mental health via a few different mechanisms.

Below are the primary ways that herbs can help to benefit anxiety.

  • Anxiolytic – this category of herbs works to reduce anxiety. This calming mental effect can be very beneficial for anxiety, especially for those that struggle with excessive worry.
  • Nervine – herbs that support the nervous system and have a mild calming action. These herbs may be very helpful for relieving muscle tension, ruminating thoughts, and restless sleep.
  • Trophorestorative – nourishing herbs that usually have an affinity for different systems within the body. They may help to bring systems into balance and restore function. These can be especially nourishing to the nervous system.
  • Sedative – these types of herbs work to reduce brain activity. These herbs work by increasing GABA, a chief inhibitory neurotransmitter that signals the body to prepare to wind down. These are helpful for increasing sleep quality at night.
  • Relaxants – these herbs help to relax the muscles in the body. This effect helps to reduce tension and promote relaxation and a sense of calm.

We’ll list the best-in-class anxiety herbs for each of these actions below.

Conclusion:

The stress-reducing benefits of these herbs are well-documented and they appear to be a safe alternative for those who suffer from anxiety.

There is evidence in traditional medicine that shows the effectiveness of these herbs, and new clinical research is coming out every day supporting the usage of natural herbs for anxiety.

If you’ve been looking to add natural remedies into your diet that may help with reducing anxiety, consider trying these herbs!

As always, make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a new supplement.

British Herbal Medicine Association. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. 4th ed. Exeter, UK: British Herbal Medicine Association; 1996.
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About Daniel Powers, MS

Daniel has a master's degree in herbal science from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. He has a passion for herbal medicine and how it can be used to support everyday health & wellness.

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