Mother Nature offers a variety of potential remedies for the chronically anxious person, and studies have shown that some herbal remedies may help you to resolve your anxiety, at least temporarily. For example, valerian is one herb that sometimes is used to treat anxiety, and chamomile is another. Lavender is also an herbal remedy, but it is primarily used as a form of aromatherapy, a subject that is covered in Chapter 5.
Before you take any herb or supplement for any reason whatsoever, first check with your doctor to make sure that it would be safe for you and will not interact with other medications that you take. Do not assume that because a drug is natural, that this means that it is also safe. Cobra venom is also natural—but you wouldn’t want it injected into you.
You can purchase most herbal remedies in supermarkets or pharmacies or you may wish to order them online. Never take more than the amount recommended by your doctor or on the package. If the package says to take one pill a day, do not assume you’ll feel better four times faster if you take four pills a day. When it comes to drugs, including herbal remedies (which act on the body similarly to drugs), more isn’t necessarily better.
Chamomile has been used for many years to help people with stomach aches and diarrhea, as well as with anxiety. Some researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported their findings on the effects of chamomile on people with anxiety in 2009. They found that chamomile significantly decreased the anxiety levels of their subjects, all of whom had been diagnosed with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Chamomile is available as a tablet, capsule or a liquid extract or this herb can be taken in a tea. There are different types of chamomile, but most people favor German chamomile. Some people are allergic to chamomile, especially those individuals who are also allergic to ragweed or daisies, since these plants are related.
THINKING ABOUT GINKGO
Some research indicates that supplements of the herb ginkgo (ginkgo biloba) may improve anxiety in suffering individuals, although larger studies are needed to confirm this finding. This herbal remedy may cause stomachache, nausea, and diarrhea in some individuals. In addition, people taking blood thinners should avoid this herb altogether, because the blood may become too thin with ginkgo.
Passionflower, also known in Latin as Passiflora incarnate, is a plant that has sometimes been used to help people suffering with anxiety or depression. Passionflower is available in tablets, a liquid form, and as capsules. Research has shown some efficacy on anxiety with this remedy, although further research is needed.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a federal government agency in the United States, passionflower may cause drowsiness. Of course if you have a problem with insomnia, as many anxious people do, you might consider this side effect to be a benefit instead of a side effect.
Looking at St. John’s Wort
The herb St. John’s wort, also known as Hypericum perforatum, is sometimes used to decrease both depression and anxiety. It is one of the oldest medicinal herbs known. However, some people may develop anxiety as a result of using St. John’s wort. So far, only one small study in Germany found that St. John’s wort improved anxiety, and as a result, much further research is needed.
It should be noted that St. John’s wort reacts with many different types of medications, such as antidepressants, some heart medicines, and birth control pills, to name just a few. This is why it’s very important to avoid this herb until you’ve first checked with your physician, received approval in advance, and you are aware of any possible interactions with other medications you take.
LISTENING TO Lemon Balm
Also available as a form of aromatherapy, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has been shown helpful in reducing anxiety in some small studies. Further research is needed. Sometimes lemon balm is combined with chamomile. This herbal remedy may be available as a capsule or a tea.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is sometimes used to treat anxiety, as well as headache, fatigue, and depression. The root extracts of this plant are available in capsules or tablets, as well as in a tea form. There is no research to date on the effects of Rhodiola on anxiety or anything else.
Valerian, or Valeriana officinalis, is an herbal remedy that is sometimes used to help individuals suffering from anxiety and/or insomnia. However, there is not enough research to date to verify whether Valerian is effective in helping anxiety or not. This herbal remedy may cause stomach aches and headaches in some individuals.
Valerian is sometimes combined in tablets along with chamomile. Combined medications, even when they are “natural,” should be used with caution. Never consume alcohol or take any other sedating drugs with any of the herbs described in this chapter.
Looking at Green Tea
Some small studies have found that green tea reduces anxiety levels, but much more research is needed before green tea can be validated as a good antidote for anxiety. Keep in mind that green tea includes caffeine, so this substance could increase the risk for anxiety. There are some indications that the liver may be negatively affected by green tea. Further studies should provide additional information.
Some limited research indicates that the Chinese skullcap plant (Scutellaria baicalensis) may have some anti-anxiety qualities, although further research is needed. There is also an American form of skullcap, also known as Scutellaria lateriflora.
The American skullcap is available as a liquid extract or a powder, while the Chinese skullcap is only available in a powdered form.
People with diabetes should avoid taking this herbal remedy because it may increase therisk for low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This herb should not be taken with barbiturates or benzodiazepine medications or with any drugs used to treat insomnia. It should also be avoided in people taking anti-seizure medications.
NOT CONSIDERING KAVA
Some research has shown that kava (Piper methysticum) is effective in reducing anxiety, and this natural remedy is mentioned here because you may have heard about one of these studies. However, this herb has also been shown to cause liver inflammation and even liver failure. As a result, most experts believe that kava is far too dangerous an herb to use to decrease your anxiety.
COMBINATIONS OF HERBAL REMEDIES
Sometimes sellers of herbal remedies combine two or more herbs into one capsule or tablet. For example, as mentioned, a sleep remedy may contain both valerian and chamomile or other combinations of herbs. Always read the labels. If you are already taking sedating medications, such as an over-the-counter or prescribed medication that is sedating, stay away from herbal remedy combinations for your own safety.