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Top 10 Herbs for Natural Stress Relief… Which Should You Use?

January 04, 2018

What would it be like to be able to peacefully take on the challenges of your life?

By using the right herbs, you can change how your system responds to stress. You can become thicker skinned when it comes to stress, and things won’t “bother” you as much as they used to.

The Top 10 Herbs for Natural Stress Relief

rhodiola Passionflower for Stress Relief
Kava Kava for Stress Relief holy-basil-for-stress-relief
eleuthero-for-stress-relief skullcap-for-stress-relief
Schisandra for Stress Relief reishi-for-stress-relief

#1 – Ashwagandha: De-Stress and Revitalize

Often called Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry, Ashwagandha is one of my favorite herbal tonics for stress. Here in the West, Ashwagandha has gained popularity as an adaptogen, with an important role in formulas to de-stress and revitalize your body.

Evidence Points To Ashwagandha to Relieve Stress and Burnout

Like other adaptogens, one of Ashwagandha’s main roles is as a body balancer. Because it simultaneously reduces daytime fatigue and eases nighttime sleep, it’s ideal for people with burnout (usually type A people who struggle with having energy in the day, but who are up with worries through the night). I find Ashwagandha works when nothing else does in this regard.

Ashwagandha is unusual as an adaptogen in that it calms the nervous system, like an herbal nervine. It has a much more relaxing effect than adaptogens like Asian or American Ginseng. University of Texas research suggests it has a similar effect as GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid), a calming brain neurotransmitter. In early research, Ashwagandha showed similar benefits in stress relief as anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medicines. Yet it has a long history of safe use, and is not expected to create dependency or cause side effects.

A small study with 64 people shows Ashwagandha decreases cortisol production, the “stress” hormone linked to early aging, mental decline, and even wrinkles. Further, Ashwagandha supports a healthy memory, making the herb ideal for students and people with demanding mental work.

Calm Your Mind and De-Stress with Ashwagandha

If you’re under stress and trying to juggle work and home life, instead of reaching for an energy drink or coffee, try Ashwagandha in a meditative formula like Calm Mind or Stress Daily tonic. Ashwagandha helps soothe frazzled nerves, clears the mind, and increases calm energy so you will feel more productive and happy! Most people I consult with find they work and sleep better with peaceful Ashwagandha.

Consider using ashwagandha if: You feel burned out. You want more relaxation and better sleep.

#2 – Holy Basil: Ground and Calm

Similar to herbs like ashwagandha and rhodiola, holy basil protects against physical and mental stress by balancing cortisol, a hormone linked to chronic stress and aging. By normalizing cortisol, holy basil helps to elevate mood, enhance memory, and support long term brain health. The essential oil eugenol in holy basil in particular aids mental processes, promotes clear thinking, and can calm nervousness.

Holy Basil Knows What You’re Forgetting

In a study with 158 people, holy basil significantly decreased stress markers like sleep problems, sexual symptoms, exhaustion, and forgetfulness. In all areas, holy basil was 39% more effective than the placebo and was well tolerated by the subjects studied. Still, holy basil showed the strongest results against forgetfulness, a major stress effect common in men and women juggling busy work and family lives.

More Good News…

Like other adaptogens, holy basil offers special benefits. Not only is it an important stress aid, it also fights colds and flu and boosts immunity during high risk seasons. It’s a potent antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory herb. Holy basil can also be used topically as a skin rejuvenator in cases of acne or cysts.

In Ayurveda, holy basil is used as a digestive tonic, especially for people prone to poor absorption, overacidity, or ulcers. Further, evidence suggests holy basil can reduce high blood sugar before and after meals. In this way, it aids high sugar-related irritability, fatigue, or nervousness.

When you think of holy basil, imagine it bringing you calm, grounded energy. Try it with eleuthero in Stress Daily Tonic for relief of day- to-day stress. For fast relief in a high stress situation, try it with kava in Serenity Now spray. Both are highly effective, can sharpen your mental clarity, and help your body become more resilient.

Consider using holy basil if: You want to reduce stress and improve mental clarity.

#3 – Lemon Balm: Sharpen Focus and Soothe Stress

A member of the mint family, lemon balm is one of the best herbs to soothe stress, enhance alertness, and aid sleep.
The leaves contain terpenes, known for antiviral benefits and nervous system relaxation. Eugenol in the herb calms muscle spasms (a notorious insomnia trigger), and kills bacteria.

Lemon Balm Complements Herbal Formulas for Stress and Mental Focus

Lemon balm is also used internally for anti-stress benefits. In one study, 81% of people who took valerian and lemon balm together reported sleeping much better than those who took a placebo.

Studies with anxiety reveal similar tension relief benefits.

For students and other people who require calm, mental focus for work, lemon balm can be a godsend.

A study in England found students did significantly better on tests after taking lemon balm and continued to improve their scores for up to six hours after using the herb. Researchers noted the students were also calmer and less stressed during their tests.

For natural stress relief purposes, I use lemon with skullcap in Stress Daily Tonic. For acute stress reactions, it works well with holy basil in Serenity Now Spray.

As these herbal extracts absorb quickly, you can expect fast results for relief of day-to-day stress. As a bonus, lemon balm nourishes the nervous system, so over time, your body is less likely to go into stress reactions and you’ll feel better overall.

Consider using lemon balm if: You need more calm focus for school or work.

#4 – Rhodiola Rosea: Fight Stress-Related Food Binges

Also called Arctic Rose or goldenroot, rhodiola rosea is another key stress management herb.

Rhodiola is a classic herbal adaptogen, used to increase endurance, and resist all types of stress.

Rhodiola vs Stress

Similar to ashwagandha, rhodiola works by normalizing the levels of the hormone cortisol, linked to chronic stress and aging.

Most people who take it feel relaxation effects within just a few days.

For people with stress-related memory issues, rhodiola can sharpen mental energy without overstimulating or causing insomnia like caffeine.

Rhodiola as a Mood Elevator

Russian research reveals rhodiola offers natural depression relief benefits.

Preliminary results suggest it improves the balance of “feel good” chemicals like serotonin and dopamine by making precursors more available to the brain.

One study shows rhodiola eases symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, emotional instability, and even low self esteem.

I use it myself when the “winter blues” hits. I find after a week with rhodiola, I’m back to feeling like myself, more positive and energized, regardless of the weather.

Reach Your Peak with Rhodiola

Rhodiola is an amazing herb for your “hard working” herbs arsenal.

While we know it enhances focus, interestingly, research shows rhodiola has a stronger effect on work quality than work quantity.

Rhodiola is a “brainy” herb, helping you to work smarter and not just harder.

In one study, students who received rhodiola showed significant improvements in physical fitness, brain and motor activity, performance, and well-being.

It also soothes mild anxiety and tension for many people. Some herbalists use it to fight stress-related food binges, a common problem that leads to weight gain and more stress.

For stress, it works well in combination with ashwagandha in Stress Daily tonic. For energy, it is synergistic with schizandra in the Innergy Daily Tonic formula.

I especially suggest rhodiola for people who want to add exercise to their already busy lives. Rhodiola can really give you an edge, especially when you’re having a hard time getting started.

Consider using rhodiola if: You want to feel stronger, less stressed, and more optimistic.

#5 – Passionflower: Ease Anxiety

Considered one of the most potent nervines in the world, passionflower has earned an important place in Western herbalism.

Passionflower: Nervine Supreme

The Aztecs of Mexico used passionflower for insomnia, nervousness, and as a pain reliever.

In Europe, homeopaths have long used passionflower for nerve pain, insomnia, nervous exhaustion, and hysteria.

Passionflower has a sedating and soothing effect on the nervous system. Similar to other nervines, passionflower works by increasing gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which relaxes the activity of brain cells.

One double-blind pilot study shows passionflower is as effective as the drug oxazepam to ease generalized anxiety disorder.

Just 45 drops a day eased anxiety, but produced fewer side effects like impairment on the job than oxazepam.

An added bonus: Passionflower is non-addictive and does not muddy your thoughts.

Insomnia and Addiction Withdrawal Aid

As an herbal hypnotic (sleep aid), passionflower is regularly used in formulas to relieve insomnia, especially insomnia caused by racing thoughts.

Passionflower gently coaxes an overthinking mind and stressed out body to sleep.

Skilled herbalists combine it with other herbs like hops, such as in Sleep Nightly Tonic, to increase the benefits.

I find it’s helpful for people whose sleep is disturbed by mild palpitations, hot flashes, or anxiety.

Passionflower Provides Pain Relief and More

Because it can relax the blood vessels and calm stress, passionflower can relieve pain for people with migraines or tension headaches.

Passionflower is also widely used by herbalists for PMS cramp relief, nerve pain, shingles, and muscle pain.

Early research suggests passionflower has antioxidant activity and may help balance high blood pressure when it is triggered by stress.

The Germany’s Commission E approves passionflower as a treatment for nervous restlessness.

I use it in combination with skullcap for facial tics, muscle spasms, or twitches caused by mental overwork or too much caffeine.

Passionflower is very gentle and safe for most people. However, pregnant women should not use it because it can stimulate uterine contractions.

Passionflower works well in an extract or a tea. For purposes of stress relief or healthy sleep, try it in Calm Mind or Sleep Nightly tonic.

It works quickly, but gently, and can be used regularly to help calm the mind and bring the body back into balance from stress overload.

Consider using passionflower if: You want better sleep and are not pregnant.

#6 – Kava Kava: Calm Panic Fast

Used by South Pacific Islanders and Hawaiians for over 3,000 years, Kava kava (Piper methysticum) began its colorful history as a ceremonial herb. Today it’s widely used all over the Pacific Islands.

Kava Kava- Natural Relaxant for the Mind and Body

In America, Kava has become the herbal answer to chronic stress. Numerous clinical studies show kava extract is effective for anxiety relief.

A 2013 double blind, placebo controlled study finds kava significantly reduces anxiety for people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder without affecting liver function.

Kava calms the mind and relaxes the muscles without causing oversedation or addiction like tranquilizing drugs. It’s an excellent tool to ease panic attacks and insomnia caused by stress.

Kava is also used to aid meditation practice and to enhance reflectiveness and focus.

Kava can produce a temporary enhancement of eyesight and hearing. It’s a mood elevator for mild depression, and can ease irritability.

Kava is a great herb to relax the body after a long day of work. Kava helps relax the muscles, soothing symptoms like back or neck aches, or tension headaches.

Clarifying the Reports on Kava and Liver Damage

Reports surfaced in 2002 suggesting that kava causes liver damage. Both consumers and government agencies went into panic mode, leading to kava bans in Europe and Canada.

Yet, in the South Pacific where kava is used regularly in high doses, there are few reports of toxicity. What’s the real story?

Today, this controversial kava research has largely been debunked. Evidence from the International Kava Council and other herb research organizations showed that kava may have been unfairly blamed.

Evidence shows that in 27 of the 30 reported cases the people were using other medications, or had a history of alcoholism, which contributed to the liver toxicity.

Today, the kava ban has been overturned in most places, including Germany and Canada.

The Importance of Herbal Tradition

The case of kava kava is a prime example of why it’s important to follow the traditional use of an herb.

A study by the University of Manoa found an alkaloid, pipermethystine, found in kava’s stem peelings has toxic effects in vitro. Yet, traditional healers use only the root in extract preparations.

Widespread industrial production of kava during its peak of popularity meant that some manufacturers improperly used stem peelings and leaves due to the much cheaper costs.

Herbalists speculate this misuse as well as existing liver problems or alcohol abuse may actually have led to the reports of liver damage with kava.

How To Take Kava Kava

Kava kava root is recommended at a maximum dosage amount of 290 milligrams a day. While kava is safe when used as directed, it’s important to avoid kava if you drink alcohol or use sedative drugs (it intensifies the effects).

Additionally, until we know more, don’t use kava if you have liver problems, if you take drugs that affect the liver, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Like other potent sedative herbs, only small amounts of kava are needed to support nervous system health. A small dose of kava in combination with other nervine herbs works fast to calm strong emotions during stressful moments.

You may notice kava mildly numbs the mouth, but the effect is temporary. You may also feel kava working as a calm sensation moves throughout your body.

I have used kava kava in herbal formulas for years. I have personally never seen any problems when kava is used properly as directed. Kava tastes a bit muddy and bitter, but most people become accustomed to it.

For me, kava calms feelings of panic or anxiety fast. It’s an excellent herb for focus, and is one of the most powerful natural stress relieversavailable.

Consider using kava kava if: You want to calm down… fast. *Kava kava root is recommended at a maximum dosage of 290 milligrams per day. Don’t use it if you have liver problems.

#7 – Eleuthero: Recover from Chronic Stress or Overwork

Eleuthero Leaf 1Mighty Eleuthero has been used to enhance health and longevity for over 2,000 years.

Sometimes called “Siberian ginseng,” eleuthero is not a true ginseng.

It belongs to the same family as Panax ginseng, has similar benefits, but it’s not the same species.

Like ginseng, eleuthero is a proven adaptogen- one of China’s superior tonics that help the body to resist or adapt to stress.

Germany’s Commission E approves eleuthero as a tonic for fatigue, debility, declining work or focus, and for illness recovery.

Today, athletes use eleuthero to prepare for competitions. It’s also highly popular with miners, deep sea divers, and mountain climbers to help adapt to stressful environments and increased physical demands.

Here in the U.S., eleuthero is used in formulas to improve strength and libido, ease hormonal concerns, and relieve stress naturally.

Research on Eleuthero

The early research shows eleuthero improves physical endurance and focus for people working long hours.

Research suggests eleuthero benefits neurosis, chronic fatigue, and bipolar disorder. However, modern trials are needed to confirm and expand on what we know about this impressive herb.

Eleuthero is rich in saponins that balance hormones, support the adrenals, and encourage a healthy libido.

Eleuthero’s Role in Stress Protection, Energy, and Sexuality

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), eleuthero is believed to increase Qi (vital energy), improve sleep, encourage a healthy appetite, and helps the body fight stress.

It’s excellent for people suffering from fatigue, weakness, or low libido. Eleuthero is an exceptionally helpful tonic for older men and women.

It’s a nourishing herb for the adrenals, helping to protect against anxiety and fatigue. For women, eleuthero supports normal menstruation and tones the uterus.

Like other adaptogens, eleuthero needs to be used for a few months at a time to allow it to build in the system.

Eleuthero strengthens the body over time, increases endurance, and encourages recovery from chronic stress or overwork.

Used as suggested, I find eleuthero is an amazing herb for people who want to exercise, but don’t seem to have the energy or endurance for it. It fights the physical effects of stress like muscle tension, apathy, and exhaustion.

It combines especially well with ashwagandha and rhodiola in Stress Daily Tonic. Used regularly, the mighty eleuthero can revitalize your system, and help you thrive in challenging situations.

Consider using eleuthero if: You want to heal fatigue and improve focus.

#8 – Skullcap: Soothe Anger-Related Stress

SkullcapAmerican skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is one of my favorite herbs for stress.

Although it’s often overshadowed by stronger herbs like passionflower and hops, I believe American skullcap is just as good for chronic stress and burnout.

Skullcap is a stress neutralizer that can help calm and center people that deal with high stress on a daily basis. That’s most of us today!

American skullcap is versatile, growing well in a garden or harsher environment. The name skullcap comes from how its flowers look similar to helmets worn by European soldiers.

Skullcap “Cools Your Jets”

Skullcap flowers are a brilliant, blue-purple, providing a visual clue on its health properties. Like other herbs in the mint family, skullcap is a cooling herb.

While it’s a helpful stress reliever for most anyone, skullcap especially soothes and calms “fire” types.

Called the Pitta dosha in Ayurveda, it refers to those who become irritable, angry, or struggle to sleep or relax because of stress (think of redheads, people with flushed complexions or fiery tempers that need to “cool down.”).

Skullcap both nourishes and mildly sedates the nervous system. Its benefits have been demonstrated in scientific studies.

A 2003 double-blind study shows skullcap offers significant anti-anxiety benefits for healthy individuals.

The leaves are used therapeutically and contain ample amounts of calcium and the constituents, scutellarin and baicalin, which support the body’s natural production of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid- a nervous system relaxant).

Skullcap Detoxes the Body, Relaxes Tense Muscles, and Fights Burnout

Like other herbs, skullcap has its own unique benefits. Skullcap was popular with Native Americans for nervous disorders, delayed menstruation, anxiety, headaches, and tremors.

Furthermore, skullcap is one of the most effective herbs available to ease pain and relax tense muscles or spasms anywhere in the body.

Skullcap is an excellent workaholic’s herb. As an anti-spasmodic, it soothes muscle tension caused by long days sitting at a desk. As a nervine, it supports nervous system health and can even decrease nerve pain.

Skullcap refreshes the mind and body from being both overstimulated and exhausted – an amazing benefit for burnout indeed!

Skullcap has a long history of safety and effectiveness, and can be taken regularly as needed to combat stress.

Skullcap is one of my favorite choices for insomnia. The magical skullcap can quiet racing thoughts and even reduce nightmares that make it hard to sleep.

I combine skullcap with passionflower and hops in Sleep Nightly Tonic, a premier formula to help you recover from stress and get the sleep you need.

* Important: Always use a reputable source for your herbs. Inferior skullcap brands have been found to be adulterated with germander which can be toxic.

Consider using skullcap if: You want to quiet racing thoughts, you feel burned out or have anger-related stress.

#9 – Schisandra: Balance Stress Hormones and Beat Fatigue

schisandra4Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) has been used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for more than 2,000 years. First mentioned in the ancient Shen Nong Pharmacopoeia, schisandra was a favorite choice of Chinese royalty for preserving stamina and youth.

Today, it remains popular as a rejuvenating, anti-aging herb, and as atonic for energy and libido.

Five Flavors

Schisandra’s Chinese name, Wu Wei Zi, translates to Five Flavored Berry, because it offers all five flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent).

Very few plants are thought to be helpful for everyone. Schisandra is an herb that crosses these barriers.

The great equalizer, schisandra is believed to be able to energetically match any person who uses it.

An Adaptogen for Mind and Body

As an adaptogen, schisandra improves physical performance and fights fatigue and exhaustion. It’s a great endurance herb that helps balance levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the blood.

In addition, schisandra supports brain activity and mental health.It’s a workaholic among herbs, fighting lethargy and improving quality of work. Schisandra may even increase accuracy in the workplace.

Preliminary research shows schisandra improves concentration, coordination, and endurance. More human studies are needed to determine the full scope of its benefits.

Adrenal Energizer

In the West, schisandra is best known for promoting adrenal health. It’s a non habit forming energizer for people dealing with chronic stress and adrenal exhaustion.

Schisandra both calms and mildly stimulates the nervous system. Some research suggests it counteracts the effects of caffeine – good news for people with the coffee jitters!

It works especially well combined with licorice and eleuthero in a formula like Adrenal Daily, which energizes and supports the proper functioning of the adrenal glands.

Consider using schisandra if: You want more focused energy and you want to support your adrenals.

#10 – Reishi: Defend Your Immune System from Stress

Sometimes called the Elixir of Immortality, Reishi mushroom (or Ling Zhi) has been considered the most valuable mushroom in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for 3,000 years.

It was long used by Chinese emperors and the royal family for longevity, and to promote wisdom and happiness.

Taoist followers use Reishi for spiritual purposes. To them, reishi calms the shen (spirit). It’s regularly used to improve meditation, mental calm, and centeredness.

Today, reishi is widely used by natural health practitioners to fight immune weakness and encourage recovery from serious illness, like HIV, Epstein Barre (a culprit in chronic fatigue), and various cancers.

Reishi holds an important place in my own herbal immune programs. It’s the most effective of all medicinal mushrooms to strengthen and revitalize an immune system weakened by chronic stress.

Reishi supports and regulates healthy immune response, and can even encourage recovery after an illness.

For stronger vital energy, it is my go-to choice, especially in combination with other tonic herbs like schisandra and astragalus. Reishi is truly the King of all Tonics.

Consider using reishi if: Your stress levels are impacting your immune system.


How To Use Herbs for Stress

The key to realizing the true potential of using herbs for stress is to use them on a daily basis, long term. That is one of the reasons I focus on using adaptogens and nervines that are safe for daily use and have an accumulative effect.

Over time, you will notice that you feel better, happier, and the things that used to set you off or make you super stressed no longer have the same power over you.

Yes, herbs can do this! Now you can see why I am so excited about this topic!

Consistency is also important. These types of herbs work best when they are continuously in your system, so taking your herbs multiple times a day will have the best results.

I personally think liquid herbal extracts are the best delivery system for herbs. The active components are extracted out of the plant into a super concentrated liquid. When you take liquid herbal extracts, the components are absorbed directly into your bloodstream within minutes, bypassing the liver and digestive tract, bringing you relief and results much more quickly. Liquid extracts are also easy and convenient to take with some juice or water.

Herbs Work Best as a Synergy

Any herbalist will tell you that herbs work best when thoughtfully paired together. While one herb reduces racing thoughts, another provides optimism and energy. Don’t you want both? However, just piling herbs on doesn’t work. This is why I take so much time and care to use herbs that complement and amplify one another when creating my herbal stress relief formulas.

Quality Matters

You know how a fresh-picked strawberry from a farmer’s market tastes completely different than a factory-farmed strawberry that’s been sitting in a grocery store for days? Herbs are the same way.

For herbs to be most effective, you’ll want to find herbs that are carefully grown in healthy environments and then harvested in small batches. Herbs can also be adulterated, so be sure to choose a source you trust. The herbs we use in our products are grown in small batches from farm to bottle, with many of our organic herbs grown on a 2,000 acre buffalo farm in Wyoming.


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