Anxiety is a prevalent concern among people of all ages and backgrounds, from all walks of life. It affects each individual differently. This variability means that every treatment should be approached with an individualized approach. There are many techniques and tools to help support people with anxiety, in a way that addresses root cause while providing symptomatic treatment. Supporting the nervous system is an important mechanism to effect meaningful, beneficial changes. This article will briefly discuss how herbal remedies for anxiety can positively impact our physiology. Please note that the information outlined below is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat. Always discuss any supplement or herbal formula with a healthcare practitioner.
How can herbal remedies help with anxiety?
Botanicals possess many different chemical constituents and properties that help support the nervous system. Some terms used to describe these processes include nervine or anxiolytic, for example. Nervines can help strengthen the functional activity of the nervous system and support optimal functioning. Anxiolytics are used to prevent and treat anxiety, as well as help to reduce anxious feelings and symptoms. The following herbs are commonly used to help treat a variety of nervous system conditions, but I will briefly outline their various roles to reduce anxiety.
This wonderful member of the daisy family is used often in herbal medicine due to its ability to have positive effects on a variety of physiological processes (digestion, sleep, etc.) as well as its generally calming and soothing power. One way people prefer to take it is as a tea, usually before bed, to help ensure a restful sleep. Insomnia or difficulty sleeping is one way that anxiety can manifest, so this is a tool to help mitigate those effects without relying on sleep aids. In a study with 179 subjects with moderate to severe generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), chamomile significantly lowered symptoms of GAD.1
This beautiful plant has been used by various cultures and peoples for many years. It is thought to have positive effects on neurotransmitters that are beneficial for relaxation and a feeling of calm. In one study, it was found to be comparable in terms of efficacy to a benzodiazepine (Oxazepam) which is a pharmaceutical drug used for anxiety that had a higher level of impaired job performance in comparison to the passionflower extract.2 The use of herbal medicines to try to effect meaningful and beneficial change in anxiety while exhibiting a better safety profile than other treatments is an important way to navigate treatment to provide the best possible outcome in the safest way. Interactions with other constituents including pharmaceutical options is something that should always be discussed with a healthcare professional to ensure that safety is prioritized.
Not only is lavender used as an olfactory (smell sense) tool, it has also been shown to be effective when taken orally as well. In multiple studies by Kasper at al., lavender consistently improved HAMA scores (a tool used to measure anxiety severity) with low adverse effects rates.3, 4 It also improved symptoms such as restlessness, disturbed sleep and had a beneficial influence on general well-being as well as quality of life.5
Kava has been studied a little more frequently than the aforementioned herbs, with meaningful impacts on anxiety throughout. In a study with 41 adults with 1 month or more with elevated generalized anxiety, kava supplementation for 3 weeks showed highly significant improvements in anxiety measurements tools such as the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale and the Beck Anxiety Inventory.6 Like other herbs, it is also evaluated comparatively alongside pharmaceutical options. In one study with 129 outpatients diagnosed with GAD, Kava was as effective as Buspirone (10mg/day) or Opipramol (100mg/day) with an 8-week study duration, showing significant reduction of the HAMA score.7
So what next?
There needs to be a focus on high-quality research to continue to explore the efficacy of herbal remedies for anxiety in meaningful ways. However, even subjective or qualitative evidence can be useful with conditions such as anxiety, as people who have anxiety can offer useful insight into how it manifests for them, as well as how they perceive the changes after treatment. Furthermore, the duration and dosage of herbal supplements has to be discussed with a healthcare professional. There are adverse risks and side effects that also need to be explicitly outlined and discussed to ensure the best possible care and continue to prioritize safety.
- Mao JJ, Xie SX, Keefe JR, Soeller I, Li QS, Amsterdam JD. Long-term chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized clinical trial. 2016;23(14):1735–1742.
- Akhondzadeh S, Naghavi HR, Vazirian M, Shayeganpour A, Rashidi H, Khani M. Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2001;26:363–367. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2710.2001.00367.x.
- Kasper S, Gastpar M, Muller WE, Volz HP, Moller HJ, Dienel A, et al. Silexan, an orally administered Lavandula oil preparation, is effective in the treatment of ‘subsyndromal’ anxiety disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial. Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2010;25(5):277–287.
- Kasper S, Gastpar M, Muller WE, Volz HP, Moller HJ, Schlafke S, et al. Lavender oil preparation Silexan is effective in generalized anxiety disorder–a randomized, double-blind comparison to placebo and paroxetine. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014;17(6):859–869
- Kasper S, Anghelescu I, Dienel A. Efficacy of orally administered Silexan in patients with anxiety-related restlessness and disturbed sleep–A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015;25(11):1960–1967