This article is an introduction and overview
Many people with anxiety take prescribed tranquillisers and/or antidepressants for their "nerves". However, a lot of people prefer to avoid prescribed medications and prefer to take herbal treatments for their anxiety.
There are a number of herbal medications which are used to treat anxiety.
Valerian is a root that grows in East India. Some doctors refer to it as "nature's Valium". Some medical authorities claim that it has been medically proven to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and improve the quality of sleep. Unlike benzodiazepines such as temazepam, lormetazepam and nitrazepam it is believed generally that valerian is not addictive. Valerian has been taken and safely used as a treatment for insomnia for hundreds of years. In some countries such as Germany a doctor is quite likely to first recommend valerian for insomnia and to only prescribe benzodiazepine sleeping tablets when a stronger drug may be required in the short-term.
Read more: Treat anxiety with valerian
There are other anti-fatigue and anti-stress herbs which act as " nerve tonics".
Examples of these include Panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng, ashwaganda and licorice root.
There are sedative herbs which enable people to stay calm and relaxed without the need for a tranquilliser.
Examples of these sedative herbs include California poppy, Reishi mushroom and chamomile.
Doctors who specialise in herbal medication often recommend that people over the age of 40 should consider taking Ginkgo biloba to protect the brain and milk thistle to protect the liver.
St John's wort or hypericum has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.
Read more: Hypericum for anxiety and depression
There is a lot of new research taking place in countries such as China Japan India and South America into the use of herbal medicines to treat anxiety.
Patients in hospitals in the United Kingdom are sometimes treated with lavender and other aromatherapy herbal scents to aid their recovery.
The World Health Oganisation (WHO) has estimated that about 80% of the Earth's population take herbal medications for their health needs. In a number of countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Australia herbal products are often taken as supplements as well as being prescribed by doctors.
It was estimated that in 1996 Americans spent over $3 billion on herbal remedies. This is far less than the $6 billion spent by people in Germany in the same year. Many patients are afraid of the drugs which are used in conventional medicine, and this is leading them to seek alternative natural treatments such as herbal medicines.
Synthetic drugs can be toxic and often have associated unpleasant side-effects. Doctors often find themselves prescribing one drug to treat the side-effects of another. As a result many patients are seeking gentler safer more natural herbal treatments. Cost is also a factor driving patients to try herbal medications. Conventional synthetic drugs can be very expensive particularly before they come off patent and herbal treatments are often much cheaper.
Herbal remedies work through active biochemical compounds which occur naturally. This is in a similar way, in one respect, to the way that synthetic pharmaceutical drugs work. One reason for the increased interest in natural herbal substances is due to the fact that modern medical researchers are achieving reproducible and consistent results in clinical trials and studies using standardised botanical extracts.
Many modern medicines are derived from plants, or are synthetic versions of chemicals found originally in plant and botanical substances. A typical example is aspirin which originates from the bark of the white willow tree. Digoxin which is used to treat heart problems such as atrial fibrillation is made from digitalis from the foxglove plant. Penicillin is derived from a mould.
Doctors who specialise in herbal medications take the view that isolated or synthetic drugs can be more toxic than the natural sources. These doctors believe that the whole herb may be more effective than isolated pharmaceutical compounds. They believe that the whole of the plants active substance is greater than the sum of its individual constituents because the active biochemicals within the plant exist in natural ratios which human genes have experience and adapted to over the course of evolution.
My view is that at present this is still a theory and much more research is required in this area. Herbal medications generally have a much less dramatic effect and are slower to work than synthetic drugs. Specialists in herbal medication claim that the healing which results however is deeper and more long lasting. Certainly traditional doctors and consumers, who are used to the instant relief of synthetic tranquillisers, often become impatient with herbal medicines because they are slower to act.
The use of herbal medications to treat anxiety is covered in in greater detail in other articles on this website.
Healing Anxiety with Herbal Medications Checklist
After you and your doctor have ruled out an anxiety disorder or any other medical or psychiatric illness, then you can use the following herbal medications discussed on this website to heal and treat the signs and symptoms of anxiety and stress listed here below, provided that the symptoms of anxiety are mild to moderate.
- Excessive worry
- Trembling, shaking
- Palpitations provided they are mild and have been discussed with and checked by a doctor
- Cold clammy hands
- Dizziness, light-headedness and faintness
- Indigestion, knot in the stomach
- Work strain
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- Excessive worry
- Muscular aches and pains
- Tension headaches
- Insomnia and nightmares
- Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Persistent shyness
- Social anxiety
- Premenstrual tension
- Fear of flying and other specific phobias
- Chronic irritability and tension
- Difficulty concentrating
- Performance anxiety
- Chills or hot flushes
- Excessive sweating
- Attention deficit
- Nicotine withdrawal
- Difficulty unwinding or relaxing
- Depression and low mood
- Fears about sexual performance
- Memory problems
- Clenched teeth and bruxism
- "Hurry" disease, feeling constantly in a rush, impatient and under pressure
- Feeling chronically unsafe and insecure
- Lack of sexual energy and vitality
- Inability to relax
- Mind and thoughts keep racing
- Obsession with the past
- Fear of the future
- Difficulty relaxing or unwinding without alcohol
Herbal medicines can be a first-line treatment for the many millions of individuals who are suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety. It is important to discuss fully with your doctor whether herbal medicines or synthetic prescription drugs are appropriate for your anxiety condition.
Sometimes the first herbal remedy chosen does not produce the desired effect. If this is the case then don't give up. Often the second or third alternative herbal medication chosen will result in the desired anxiety treatment benefit. This is probably due to subtle differences between individuals.
Some herbs work very quickly and others may take 3 to 4 weeks to have their beneficial effect to treat anxiety. Although herbal medicines used to treat anxiety and insomnia are not thought to be addictive, it is important to remain under your doctor's care and take your doctor's advice.
Many patients who have been prescribed tranquillisers and sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines (diazepam, alprazolam, temazepam, lorazepam etc.) become addicted to these tranquillisers and have difficulty coming off these drugs. Rapid withdrawal from benzodiazepines can have serious or even dangerous effects such as epileptic fits. Whilst herbal medicines are able to aid and support withdrawal from benzodiazepines, tapering off and stopping these drugs can be extremely challenging, and should only be done under careful medical supervision.
Kava is made from the root of a pepper tree from Polynesia. This is taken by patients for the relief of mild-to-moderate anxiety. Medical studies have shown that Kava can sometimes relieve mild-to-moderate anxiety as effectively as benzodiazepine tranquillisers but without the troublesome side-effects of sedation, memory problems and without a significant threat of addiction.
There is concern that Kava may cause serious liver problems and is currently banned in the UK.
The liver toxicity may be due to the "problematic" Kava being made from the leaves, stems and root of the plant rather than being pure Kava from just the root.
Until this issue is clarified with certainty then Kava cannot be recommended to treat anxiety.