7 Herbal Remedies for Stress

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

A great many people choose some form of herbal remedy as a calming or reviving supplement. In this Sharepost I'm focusing on just seven of these.

St. John'ort (hypericum): You'd be hard pushed not to find this old favorite in most health stores. The medicinal properties of St. John's Wort have been known of for centuries. In some people it helps lift low mood and may be especially helpful when anxiety is linked to depression. It still isn't clear how St. Johns Wort works, but the action is likely to involve some alteration in the balance of neurotransmitters thought to be involved in anxiety and depression.

St. John's Wort has been exposed to some critical scientific examination. It's probably fair to say that the evidence for its effectiveness is very mixed. Various placebo trials suggest that, at most, its effects may be minimal. There are also side effects, the most common of which are fatigue, increased sensitivity to light, upset bowels and dizziness. It can also react with other drugs and can't therefore be taken alongside prescribed SSRI antidepressants.

Ginseng: Often used as a restorative for flagging levels of energy, it is also taken to induce feelings of relaxation and general wellbeing. There are various types of ginseng and all sorts of claims as to its effects on a variety of health conditions. It too has side effects. Pregnant women are urged to avoid its use and, somewhat ironically perhaps, it can actually increase levels of agitation, nervousness and insomnia. It also has drug interaction effects so shouldn't, for example, be used by anyone taking medication to thin the blood or affect the heart rhythm.

Oatstraw: Is used as a tonic and also to enhance feelings of relaxation. People who stand by its use say it benefits both anxiety and depression. Oatstraw may be taken as a tea and is claimed by some to have additional beneficial properties such as easing the effects of arthritis and enhancing sexual functioning.

Lemon Balm: This common garden herb is said to increase calmness and even improve memory, according to researchers at Northumbria University in the UK. Lemon balm also has the effect of increasing the activity of acetylcholine, an important chemical messenger linked to memory, the level of which is reduced in people with Alzheimer's disease. Lemon balm increases levels of the inhibitory brain chemical GABA that dampens down anxiety, so it may be useful for things like exam stress. The suggested daily dose is around 650mg, three times daily.

Chamomile (camomile): I'm partial to a cup of chamomile tea myself. Not only does it taste nice it is also said to have properties that help reduce anxiety and promote sleep. Unfortunately, the National Institutes of Health warn that its reputation as a gentle medicinal plant is not entirely warranted. They point out that many people have allergic reactions after coming into contact with chamomile preparations and a few have even been life threatening.

Reishi: Sometimes described as the mushroom of immortality, reishi is considered to lower blood pressure, boost energy and promote restful sleep. It has also been used as an immune stimulant by some patients with HIV or cancer as a number of its polysaccharides, such as beta glucans, have demonstrated antitumor and immunostimulating activities.

Guarana: Is a climbing plant of the maple family. Its fruit, about the size of a coffee bean, actually contains at least twice to three times the amount of caffeine in coffee. Its main purported effects are to increase energy levels and improve the stress response. In Brazil, the extract is found in cans of soda. It is also used as an infusion in tea and also pops up in some herbal slimming pills due to its appetite suppressing properties.

The evidence as to its positive effects is mixed but its side effects are better known. It has been found to interact with certain drugs such as MAO-inhibitors and can increase the risk of bleeding if taken alongside anticoagulants. It is also possible to overdose on guarana and signs include vomiting and stomach cramps.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.