Do you feel constantly on edge? Are you exhausted at the thought of small tasks?
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. It’s true that small amounts of stress can support productivity. But, chronic levels lead to dysfunction throughout the body.
While modern medicine can be effective in lowering stress levels, there are a number of natural herbs that show promising regulating effects on the systems responsible for chronic stress.
In this article, we review the best herbs for stress and how these natural remedies can bring stress to manageable levels allowing for a more productive and peaceful lifestyle.
Table of Contents
- The 12 Best Herbs for Stress:
- Herbs for Stress: An Overview
- Symptoms of Stress:
- Managing Chronic Stress:
The 12 Best Herbs for Stress:
Below are the best herbs for stress reduction. Research shows that these herbs help reduce anxiety, cortisol levels, and fatigue, and improve sleep and libido.
Ashwagandha has been known to reduce stress due to its anti-stress, adaptogenic effects.
Researchers believe that ashwagandha may have stress-relieving properties due to its potential to regulate the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). The HPA axis is responsible for regulating the stress response and releasing stress hormones during stressful situations.
In a placebo-controlled study, ashwagandha root extract was able to reduce cortisol levels (a physiological marker for stress) in participants with chronic stress. The extract was also able to increase the subjects’ overall stress resistance which supported balanced energy levels.
A clinical trial found that ashwagandha root extract had stress-relieving properties in healthy adults. Researchers observed that the extract was able to reduce self-perceived stress levels.
A review of clinical research discussed ashwagandha’s ability to regulate the HPA axis and thus reduce stress levels. The research goes on to mention that ashwagandha also decreases the amount of cortisol released in the body.
In a human clinical trial, participants taking 240mg of ashwagandha extract saw a significant decrease in fasting morning cortisol levels compared to those taking the placebo.
Along with its anti-stress effects, researchers speculate that ashwagandha may also have an anxiolytic effect.
Summary:Human clinical trials indicate that ashwagandha may be effective in regulating stress and decreasing levels of cortisol in the body.
The herb, kava-kava, may work to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Commission E, a German governmental health agency, approves the use of kava-kava for stress, nervous anxiety, and restlessness.
In a 25-week placebo-controlled study with 101 participants, researchers observed that kava-kava extract has an anti-stress effect due to its ability to significantly reduce anxiety. They go on to mention that it could potentially be used as a safe alternative to antidepressant medications.
A double-blind trial involving 75 participants found that kava extract showed significant reductions in anxiety, stress, and co-morbid anxiety disorders. Participants were suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is often the result of chronic stress.
In a double-blind study, researchers compared the effectiveness of Buspirone and Opipramol, common anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications for individuals with GAD, with kava-kava extract. They found that kava was as effective as pharmaceutical medications in treating GAD.
Summary:Human clinical research has found that kava-kava may work to reduce levels of stress in the body and support individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
In a clinical trial, 576mg of rhodiola extract was given daily to individuals with stress-related fatigue. The participants experienced an increase in mental performance and an anti-fatigue effect after taking rhodiola.
In the same study, the researchers also found that rhodiola helped patients with ”burnout” fatigue syndrome by decreasing cortisol levels.
A 2018 literature review highlighted Rhodiola rosea as an alternative medicine that’s great for helping to negate stress.
In a trial observing the effects of rhodiola extract on stress, anxiety, and cognition, subjects saw a significant decrease in a number of stress markers. Compared to the control group, participants who took rhodiola extract saw a reduction in self-reported stress, anxiety, confusion, anger, and depression.
An open study discovered that rhodiola has the ability to improve stress management in individuals with life stress symptoms. The trial observed 1,375 individuals, but it should be noted that it was an open trial with self-reported results.
According to some research, rhodiola is capable of modulating the body’s stress response and is one of the best adaptogens for stress resilience.
A study observing stress-related fatigue syndrome and burnout found that rhodiola extract has the ability to decrease cortisol levels during stressful events. Rhodiola also elicited an anti-fatigue effect and increased concentration abilities.
Summary:Human clinical research indicates that rhodiola may have the ability to increase mental performance, reduce stress, and decrease fatigue.
4. German Chamomile
Chamomile is known to be one of the best herbs for stress reduction due to its nervine properties. It’s thought to be able to help with mild anxiety and depression.
Researchers believe chamomile’s anxiolytic and anti-stress effects may be attributed to the flavonoid, apigenin.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial discovered that chamomile extract has an anti-stress, anxiolytic, and anti-depressant effect on subjects with GAD. Researchers believe these effects are attributed to the extract’s ability to modulate the HPA axis.
In a controlled trial, researchers found that 500mg chamomile taken 3x/day significantly lowered stress and anxiety levels in participants with moderate-to-severe generalized anxiety disorder symptoms.
Summary:Human research shows that chamomile may be useful to individuals with GAD by its ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
5. Lemon Balm
A variety of studies show that lemon balm is effective in reducing anxiety and may be supportive for those experiencing chronic stress.
An eight-week study demonstrated lemon balm’s ability to decrease levels of stress, depression, and anxiety for participants suffering from anxiety and sleep problems. The subjects experienced improved levels of sleep and increased energy levels.
In a clinical trial involving burn patients, Melissa officinalis tea was able to reduce stress by decreasing anxiety and depression. Although the tea did have an effect on oxidative stress levels, the results were not significant enough to claim the tea increased antioxidant activity.
Summary:Human clinical studies note that lemon balm may be useful in decreasing anxiety and chronic stress.
6. Magnolia Bark
Magnolia bark is another important herb for stress and anxiety.
Anxiety is often brought on by increased stress levels. Consequently, researchers often find a correlation between anti-anxiety and anti-stress therapies.
A 2022 study found that a supplement containing magnolia bark and phellodendron bark (Phellodendron amurense) helped to reduce cortisol levels and stress in 56 moderately-stressed participants. The herb combination reduced salivary cortisol, a physiological marker of stress, by 18% in comparison to the placebo. For participants receiving the supplement blend, it also improved mood.
In another study using the same magnolia/phellodendron blend, researchers discovered that it reduced anxiety levels in premenopausal female adults. However, while anxiety was temporarily reduced, there was no long-term effect after participants stopped using the blend.
An animal trial observing the effects of an isolated active constituent of magnolia bark, honokiol, on stressed mice discovered that the constituent had an anxiolytic effect. Researchers found that honokiol decreased levels of stress and anxiety without causing negative effects on the animals’ motor functioning.
Summary:Research shows evidence of magnolia bark being able to reduce levels of cortisol, stress, and anxiety.
Kanna is known to be an effective herb for stress and anxiety.
In a clinical study examining the effects of kanna extract on stress hormones, it was observed that 1mg dose of kanna extract was able to positively affect biomarkers of stress. Findings suggest that the kanna extract exhibited the ability to regulate stress hormones.
Zembrin®, a standardized pharmaceutical extract of kanna, contains four active alkaloids and is a well-researched drug that has undergone a number of human clinical trials. The standard dosing for Zembrin® is 25mg/day.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving Zembrin® discovered that the extract is able to reduce the fear reactivity response in the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates anxiety and fear. These results suggest that Zembrin® may be supportive for those experiencing stress and anxiety.
Another double-blind study found that Zembrin® significantly lowered anxiety levels in participants using the extract and therefore may have anxiolytic properties.
Summary:Human studies have found that kanna may be effective for regulating levels of stress and anxiety.
8. Tongkat Ali
Tongkat ali shows evidence of being able to reduce stress and improve mood.
A clinical study involved 63 moderately-stressed participants treated with either 200mg of tongkat ali or a placebo for 4 weeks. When compared to the placebo-treated group, the tongkat ali group experienced improved levels of tension, anger, and mental fog.
In a 24-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 93 participants between the ages 25 and 65 with moderate stress supplemented with 50mg of tongkat ali alongside a multivitamin. Researchers found that the tongkat ali-multivitamin treatment group experienced improvements in stress, mental health, emotional well-being, vitality, and social functioning.
An animal study on mice treated with tongkat ali found that this herb seemed to reduce levels of anxiety, similar to the effect of diazepam, a common anti-anxiety medication. The control group did not experience any changes in anxiety.
Lastly, an animal study conducted on pigs with lighting-induced stress and environmental sleep disturbance found that the pigs treated with tongkat ali experienced significantly decreased levels of stress-related behaviors such as restlessness and anxiety when compared to the control group.
Summary:A combination of both human and animal studies indicate that tongkat ali may be useful for reducing stress and improving mental health.
Rosemary has promising potential as an herb for addressing stress, anxiety, and depression.
In a trial involving rosemary and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil sachets, researchers found that rosemary and lavender have the ability to decrease the stress of test-taking in nursing students. Stress reduction was measured through test scores analyzing anxiety, personal statements, and pulse rate.
A trial involving university students discovered that rosemary supplementation may have the ability to reduce stress through the reduction of anxiety and depression and improved sleep scores. After taking rosemary for 1 month, the students’ anxiety scores improved by 18% while depression scores improved by 9%. The sleep scores improved by 14%.
Summary:Research indicates that rosemary may be useful in decreasing stress by improving anxiety, depression, and sleep.
10. Holy Basil
Holy basil, or tulsi, is one of the most effective herbs for addressing chronic stress. This is due to its adaptogenic (i.e. stress-fighting) properties.
A human clinical trial discovered that those who took holy basil were 39% better at managing their stress than those who took the placebo. Holy basil also seemed to improve health scores of symptoms such as sexual problems, forgetfulness, sleep problems, and frequent feelings of exhaustion.
In an animal study, the administration of holy basil inhibited excessive cortisol release in mice that were exposed to stressful situations. Researchers discovered that this anti-stress ability might be due to holy basil’s ability to work with the HPA axis.
A 2016 animal study observing Ocimum sanctum found that the extract was able to re-regulate the HPA-axis through the modulation of cortisol release. Rats given holy basil extract after being exposed to chronic variable stress were able to manage their stress better than rats who didn’t receive the holy basil.
In another animal study, holy basil extract was able to decrease cortisol and glucose levels in the body. It should be noted that the holy basil used in the studies were Ocimum sanctum, which is another species of holy basil that’s interchangeable with Ocimum tenuiflorum in herbal medicine.
Summary:A combination of both human and animal studies show that holy basil may work to improve stress management and inhibit the release of cortisol in the body.
11. California Poppy
California poppy is known as a nervine relaxant which is often used in times of stress and tension and may help to reduce stress levels.
A placebo-controlled study of 264 subjects assessed the effects of California poppy, hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha), and magnesium on individuals with mild-to-moderate anxiety. The findings revealed that this combination treatment is effective in supporting those suffering from stress-induced anxiety.
Many herbalists today use California poppy in anti-stress and anxiolytic herbal formulas.
Well-renowned herbalist, Dr. Aviva Romm, mentions that California poppy can reduce nervousness through its calming effect. To support those with sleeping problems (a symptom that is often associated with chronic stress), she likes to combine California poppy with other relaxing herbs.
Summary:Human and animal clinical research indicate that California poppy may be beneficial in reducing levels of stress-induced anxiety.
12. American Skullcap
American skullcap may be a supportive herb for stress reduction through its ability to reduce anxiety levels. Both clinical research and traditional usage of this nervine point to its anxiolytic effects.
A placebo-controlled study with 19 healthy participants observed that two 100mg capsules of skullcap extract daily have the ability to reduce anxiety levels. As a result, this herb may have a notable effect on those managing stress-induced anxiety symptoms.
In an animal study, researchers looked at the anxiolytic effects of skullcap extract. Their results revealed that the skullcap group showed less anxious behavior. The active phytochemical constituents in skullcap, baicalin and baicalein, appeared to contribute to the anxiolytic effects.
Additionally, the British Herbal Compendium recognizes the use of skullcap for nervous disorders due to anxiety, tension, or stress; headaches; migraines; panic attacks; restlessness; sleep disorders; premenstrual tension, and period pain.
Summary:Human and animal clinical studies note that American skullcap may reduce stress by its ability to decrease levels of anxiety and anxious behavior.
Due to passionflower’s ability to reduce levels of anxiety via the HPA axis, researchers believe that it could be a helpful herb for stress reduction.
In a review discussing passionflower’s anti-stress abilities, researchers found that passionflower is capable of reducing stress reactivity in those with chronic, long-term stress. Along with this, it should be noted that passionflower has a similar effect to anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals, and can reduce depression-like behavior.
In an animal study, passionflower extract was found to reduce stress in rats that underwent a series of stress tests. Researchers attribute this effect to passionflower’s influence on GABA-A receptors which are highly affected by stress.
Summary:Clinical research shows that passionflower may benefit individuals struggling with chronic, long-term stress.
Herbs for Stress: An Overview
In the US, 77% of adults report having physical stress, and 73% of adults report having psychological stress. The Center for Disease Control reported that stress causes around 75% of all doctor’s visits.
Symptoms of stress can manifest as fatigue, muscle tension, low libido, headaches, and upset stomachs.
Stress is a physiological response to environmental pressures and factors. This response can either be internal (a stressful social event) or external (long hours of physical labor). It is also the body’s natural emotional and/or physical response to a challenge. It can be productive in short-term situations, such as meeting a deadline or running away from danger.
However, if the body is in a chronic state of stress, the body becomes imbalanced, which leads to exhaustion and disease. It puts many physiological systems into overdrive, leading to a shortage of energy for crucial processes (such as immune function and digestion).
High levels of stress in the body trigger the sympathetic nervous system and the body enters the fight-or-flight response (FoF). During this response, the body focuses its attention away from crucial processes. Think of digestion and immune function. Instead, it focuses on increased cortisol (the “stress hormone”) release, physical strength, and increased heart rate and breathing.
While in a state of chronic stress, the body remains in the FoF response, diverting energy away from those crucial, life-sustaining processes. Due to this imbalance, chronic stress is known to cause conditions such as anxiety, depression, weakened immune system, digestive issues, adrenal fatigue, and more.
Herbs and natural remedies may help to support the body’s stress response, regulate stress markers, and provide the body with a more consistent flow of energy.
Symptoms of Stress:
Stress can manifest itself in a variety of different ways. Due to the physiological changes the body undergoes during a stressful situation, if the body is constantly stressed, many processes start to break down.
Sometimes, it is difficult to recognize that the root of a specific illness or disease may stem from the stress response.
Typical symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Emotional instability or irritability
- Sleep problems
- Lack of energy
- Physical weakness or fatigue
- Chest pain
- Stomach issues
- Brain fog
- Difficulty concentrating
While these symptoms may appear individually, it is not uncommon for many to appear together. If any of the above symptoms are not managed, they can have severe, negative effects on overall health and quality of life.
Some diseases that manifest from chronic stress include:
- Chronic inflammation
- Cardiovascular dysfunction
- Autoimmune syndromes
- Mental illnesses
- Neurodegenerative diseases
Managing Chronic Stress:
Chronic stress can arise from many different internal and external factors. Managing these factors and how much stimulation/sensory input we absorb during the day may help improve and balance the stress response.
Some common causes of chronic stress include:
- Inadequate sleep
- Daily stressors (work, situations involving children, etc.)
- Obesity and physical inactivity
- Excessive screentime
Making different lifestyle choices may support stress levels and provide the groundwork for implementing physiological balance.
Some lifestyle changes that can improve stress levels include:
- Implementing an exercise routine
- A consistent sleep routine
- Reducing screentime
- Including daily mindfulness
- Avoiding smoking
- Eating a healthy, whole food-based diet
- Weight management
Both modern medical care and lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on stress levels. Integrating the use of natural herbs and remedies to improve chronic stress may actively regulate the stress response and support the body’s adaptation to stress, avoiding future health issues.
Implementing herbs for stress may have a profound influence on overall health and quality of life.
As discussed above, there is a wide variety of herbs for stress reduction. These herbs are traditionally and scientifically proven to reduce numerous stress markers and encourage protection against an imbalanced stress response.
Through the management of bodily processes, these herbs show encouraging therapeutic results for dealing with and avoiding health issues that arise from chronic stress.
It is important to consult a healthcare practitioner if you are thinking about including supplemental herbs for stress in your diet or daily regimen.
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