Plants parts — seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, and flowers — have been used medicinally by every culture.
Archaeologists have found evidence that we’ve been using plants medicinally for at least 60,000 years!
Eighty percent of the world’s population still rely on herbal remedies as part of their primary health care.
There’s been a resurgence in the use of herbs for anxiety in recent years.
This interest has been fueled by the rising costs of prescriptions plus the awareness that anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and Ativan have serious side effects, including being some of the most addictive substances known.
These are our favorite herbal remedies for anxiety that have been proven both safe and effective.
#1. Arctic Root (Rhodiola rosea)
Arctic root for anxietyArctic root, as the name suggests, is found mainly in cold regions of the world like the Arctic and mountains of central China.
It is used in both Scandinavian and Chinese traditional medicine.
It’s a potent adaptogen, a substance that strengthens your overall resistance to both physical and emotional stress.
This makes Arctic root particularly useful for anxiety accompanied by fatigue.
Other uses for this traditional herb include depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and memory loss.
It’s been shown to work faster for depression than antidepressant medications.
One of the ways it works is by increasing the activity of major neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
If you have brain fog, trouble concentrating, depression, or low energy along with your anxiety, Arctic root an excellent herb to consider.
#2. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in the 3,000-year-old Ayurvedic Hindu system of medicine.
Its name literally means “smell of horse” since the root does smell a little horsey.
But don’t let that put you off since it’s also believed to bestow the strength and stamina of a horse on those who take it.
Its main use now is as a stress-relieving adaptogen.
It has a significant effect on the stress hormone cortisol, reducing it by 25%.
It is very helpful at calming anxiety of all kinds, especially agoraphobia (fear of open places).
Try ashwagandha if you feel depressed, fatigued, and lack motivation.
#3. Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri)
Bacopa monnieri, sometimes called brahmi (from the word “brahman” meaning “the energy of universal consciousness”), is another important adaptogenic herb in Ayurvedic medicine.
Bacopa has a long history of use for increasing longevity and enhancing brain power.
It reduces anxiety while also improving memory and attention.
This makes it an excellent choice for anyone who has anxiety with memory loss.
If you try bacopa, be patient.
It can take a while for its effect to kick in.
Expect that it will take a few months to experience full benefits,
#4. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Ginkgo biloba is one the world’s most ancient and impressive plants.
ginkgo for natural anxiety reliefThe earliest ginkgo fossils date back 270 million years.
Ginkgo trees literally grew when dinosaurs roamed the earth!
A handful of ginkgo trees were at the epicenter of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast.
Amazingly, theses trees are so hardy that they survived and are still alive today.
Ginkgo leaves have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
Now it’s one of the most widely used herbal remedies in the world with annual sales topping $250 million.
While it’s thought of as mainly a memory enhancer, ginkgo reduces the release of stress hormone cortisol making it effective for anxiety and stress as well.
Ginkgo raises levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine which are essential for a positive mood.
#5. Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Ginseng is one of the most ancient, popular and widely studied herbs on the planet.
The Chinese believe it to be the “elixir of life” and have used it to promote strength, stamina, and physical performance for over 5,000 years.
It is usually labeled Asian, Chinese, or Korean ginseng, depending on where it is grown.
Ginseng creates a relaxed, but alert, state.
It calms you down and boosts your energy without being over-stimulating.
It’s useful for treating stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression.
Other reported benefits of ginseng include better energy, sleep, libido, and overall well-being.
You may want to try American ginseng, a distinct species (Panax quinquefolius), that is widely regarded as the best ginseng in the world — even by the Chinese!
#6. Kava (Piper methysticum)
Kava (or kava kava) is a medicinal plant that originates in the South Pacific and is one of the most potent natural remedies for anxiety known.
People throughout this region make a traditional kava tea that’s valued for its ability to induce a state of relaxation and mental clarity.
Numerous studies consistently find kava effective at treating anxiety.
It’s been found to work as well as prescription medications for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) by increasing the level of the brain chemical GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).
GABA is a relaxing neurotransmitter that calms the mind and puts the brakes on brain activity when needed.
Low GABA is associated with numerous mental and physical disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and fibromyalgia.
Kava should not be taken with many drugs and does not mix well with other natural remedies that can cause drowsiness such as 5-HTP, melatonin, gotu kola, valerian, and St. John’s wort.
It should never be taken with anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, or sleeping pills.
You can see the full list of substances to avoid with kava at Drugs.com.
You may have heard that kava is linked to liver damage, but this concern has been debunked and is largely unfounded.
In the US, kava is available in the form of capsules or liquid tincture, and less commonly as a tea.
#7. Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)
Passion flower is the only herbal remedy on this list native to North America.
passionflower for anxietyThis beautiful flowering vine was used traditionally by Native Americans to treat anxiety and insomnia.
It was brought back to Europe and is now widely grown and used medicinally there too.
Studies have found it to be as good for treating generalized anxiety disorder as the prescription sedative Serax (oxazepam).
It’s believed to work by increasing brain levels of GABA.
#8. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Valerian has been called “nature’s Valium” and is mainly used to relieve anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
It’s documented use in Europe goes back more than 2,000 years — its properties were first described by Hippocrates.
It’s another one of the several herbs on this list thought to work by increasing GABA levels in the brain.
It is generally considered safe but unlike some of the other herbs for anxiety, valerian can definitely make you drowsy, so use it just before bedtime.
This makes it the herbal remedy of choice if you struggle with anxiety associated with insomnia.
Valerian can be consumed a tea or as a supplement, but most people stick with the supplement since valerian tea tastes and smells pretty awful.
A Warning About Buying Herbal Supplements
In 2015, it was discovered that herbal supplements sold under brand name labels from Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and GNC contained little to none of what was listed on the label.
Disturbingly, 80% of the products tested contain NONE of the herbs listed on the label.
Herbs tested included valerian and ginkgo.
What they did contain was cheap fillers, including houseplants.
Obviously these herbal supplements would not have been helpful and were potentially dangerous.
Whenever you buy herbs, always buy from a reputable company that specializes in herbal remedies, not a big box store.
While it’s important for general health and mental well-being to meet all your basic vitamin needs, there are a few vitamins you should pay particular attention to if you have anxiety.
Being low in certain vitamins can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, and the right supplements can help.
#9. B Complex Vitamins
B complex vitamins are sometimes referred to as “happy vitamins” or “anti-stress vitamins” since they can elevate your mood and increase your tolerance to stress.
Anxiety, depression, fatigue, and poor concentration are signs of B vitamin deficiency.
B vitamins are needed to provide energy to brain cells and to create neurotransmitters.
B vitamins can address imbalances of GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine that contribute to anxiety.
A word of caution: some people report getting too “energized” by taking B vitamin supplements and find it makes them more anxious.
SUBJECT: Sharper thinking, better mood
Nootropic brain supplements are growing ever more popular.
Nootropics are substances that can make you more focused, motivated, positive, and productive.
That sounds good, but many of the products containing these substances are neither helpful nor harmless.
We’ve looked closely at the market and found a supplement that combines many of the most proven, effective, and natural brain enhancers we know.
Inositol was formerly known as vitamin B8 until it was discovered that the body could make its own.
Now it’s categorized as a pseudovitamin.
Inositol is found in high concentrations in the brain where it facilitates communication between brain cells.
It has been proven useful for all kinds of anxiety including panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
One study found it worked as well as Luvox (fluvoxamine), a popular antidepressant, for treating panic disorder but without any side effects.
Inositol diminishes the mood swings, depression and anxiety of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and the more severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
It is very safe and there are no known interactions with medications or other supplements.
However, you need to take quite a lot of inositol for therapeutic value, usually 14 to 18 grams.
That’s not as daunting as it sounds since it’s available as an inexpensive, tasteless powder you can add to water or other drinks.
#11. Vitamin D
Vitamin D for anxietyVitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” since your skin creates it when exposed to the sun.
Between spending time indoors and wearing sunscreen when we are outside, vitamin D deficiency affects 75% of us.
Vitamin D can help with anxiety and depression associated with fibromyalgia.
Low vitamin D may, in part, be responsible for the anxiety and depression people experience from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Unless you live in a year-round warm and sunny climate, you can almost certainly benefit from vitamin D supplements.
This is particularly true if your anxiety gets worse during the winter.
Not all natural remedies for anxiety fall neatly into the herb or vitamin categories.
There are natural substances like amino acids, minerals, and other nutrients with anti-anxiety properties as well.
Here are some notable supplements in this “best of the rest” category.
Magnesium deficiency is rampant — it’s estimated that 75% of us don’t get enough.
And this deficiency is a major contributor to anxiety.
Magnesium dials down the release of stress hormones and acts as a filter to prevent them from entering the brain.
There are many forms of magnesium supplements but the best for anxiety is magnesium l-threonate.
This relatively new, little-known supplement has the unique ability to permeate brain cell membranes and elevate magnesium concentrations in the brain.
This makes it particularly useful for treating anxiety and depression, and for cognitive enhancement.
You may be familiar with taurine as an ingredient found in energy drinks.
Taurine is an amino acid found in high concentrations in the brain, where it acts very much like the neurotransmitter GABA.
Taurine activates GABA receptors and stimulates the release and formation of GABA.
If you are looking for a remedy for low-GABA related symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and an overstimulated mind, taurine is an excellent substitute for GABA supplements which don’t work well for everyone.
A major problem with taking GABA directly is that it is structurally too large a compound to pass through the brain’s filtering system and into the brain.
There are several theories as to why GABA supplements work some of the time in spite of this.
It’s suspected that there are unknown mechanisms at work or that certain areas of the brain allow GABA to enter.
A widely accepted explanation is that GABA supplements work only for those who have a leaky blood-brain barrier.
Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how and if GABA supplements work.
You can give GABA a try to see if it helps you, but we recommend taurine which is more reliably effective.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s an essential building block of the mood-elevating brain chemical serotonin.
Tryptophan is readily found in protein-rich foods but due to a biological quirk, very little dietary tryptophan is available for serotonin synthesis in the brain — only about 1%.
For this reason, taking supplemental tryptophan works better for raising serotonin than relying on food.
Tryptophan has been found useful for reducing general anxiety, social anxiety disorder, and panic attacks.
Studies have found it to be as effective for depression as antidepressant drugs.
Insomnia is a common problem for anyone with anxiety.
Tryptophan is also a building block of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Thus, tryptophan can help you fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and awake less often in the night.
#15. Fish Oil
Fish oil for anxietyOmega-3 essential fatty acids are an integral structural component of brain cell membranes and nerve cells.
And healthy brain cells are your first line of defense against anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
The most popular omega-3 supplements are in the form of fish oil.
The omega-3s in fish oil supplements can ease anxiety and depression.
Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and this helps to quell chronic inflammation of the brain.
Brain inflammation contributes to depression, anxiety, brain fog, and ADHD and even serious degenerative disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Your intestines house over 500 different species of bacteria.
These bacteria are referred to collectively as your intestinal flora, microbiome, or microbiota and they have a profound impact on your brain and mood.
They are responsible for making over 30 neurotransmitters including mood-elevating serotonin and relaxing GABA.
Practicing neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter reveals in his book Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain — for Life how a dysfunctional microbiome can be the root cause of anxiety, depression, and other brain-related disorders.
Research shows that as little as 30 days of probiotic supplementation can diminish anxiety and stress-related depression.
To make sure the new bacteria from your probiotic supplement flourish, eat plenty of prebiotic foods such as asparagus, bananas, barley, leeks, garlic, jicama, lentils, mustard greens, onions, and tomatoes.
Prebiotic foods give the good bacteria something to feed on and are essential for maintaining a healthy microbiome.
Interestingly, prebiotic foods alone have been found to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Before humans figured out how to stuff herbs into capsules or isolate active ingredients from plants, they were often consumed as teas.
Most of the plants and herbs below are also available in the form of supplements.
But there are some good reasons to consider using them in the form of tea instead.
Unlike swallowing pills, sipping tea is enjoyable and the ritual of making tea can be relaxing.
#17. Chamomile Tea (Matricaria recutita or Chamaemelum nobile)
Chamomile tea has long been used to treat insomnia, stress, and anxiety.
chamomile tea for anxietyYou may recognize it as a main relaxing ingredient in the highly popular Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea.
Chamomile is particularly useful for those who suffer from depression along with anxiety.
Chamomile is so safe it can be given to children.
There are many species of chamomile.
The two most popular are Matricaria recutita (common names German or wild chamomile) and Chamaemelum nobile (common names Roman or English chamomile).
All species of chamomile belong to the same plant family (Asteraceae) as the highly allergenic ragweed.
If you are one of the millions of people allergic to ragweed, you might want to avoid chamomile since there’s a chance of allergic cross-reactivity.
#18. Lemon Balm Tea (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm has been used as a calming herb since the Middle Ages.
Since it’s a member of the mint family, it has a pleasant minty taste with a hint of lemon.
It reduces the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the relaxing neurotransmitter GABA.
It’s good for treating insomnia and improving memory.
It works synergistically with other herbs for anxiety like valerian, hops, and chamomile.
#19. Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)
It might be a surprise to see green tea on this list since it contains a small amount of caffeine (25 mg per cup).
But, in fact, green tea is more calming than stimulating.
Its caffeine is offset by two unique anti-anxiety compounds, l-theanine and EGCG.
tea for anxietyL-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that has a relaxing, but not sedating, effect.
L-theanine can actually alter your brainwave state, putting you into the same brainwave state achieved during meditation.
It can sharpen focus and concentration, while reducing stress and enhancing overall well-being.
It increases brain levels of GABA.
EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) is the most bioactive compound in green tea.
It exhibits effects similar to the prescription anti-anxiety drug chlordiazepoxide.
Like l-theanine, it normalizes activity of GABA.
If you are concerned about the stimulating effects of caffeine, give decaffeinated green tea a try.
It retains most of the benefits of regular green tea.
Or if you prefer, you can take an l-theanine supplement as a safe and effective way to relax.
EGCG supplements are not recommended since they are very poorly absorbed.
And avoid green tea extract.
These extracts are usually sold as a weight loss aid and contain large amounts of caffeine.
#20. Gotu Kola Tea (Centella asiatica)
Gotu kola’s health benefits are legendary.
It is an important natural remedy in Chinese, Indonesian, and Indian Ayurvedic medicine.
Traditionally it was used to treat disorders of the mind including anxiety, mental fatigue, depression, memory loss, and insomnia.
Its Chinese name means “fountain of youth.”
Unfortunately, the name gotu kola sounds like it contains caffeine (as in cola drinks) but it doesn’t.
Ironically, it is a natural relaxant.
In studies, gotu kola increased calmness, contentedness and alertness by 100% and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression by 50%.
It can lower symptoms of anxiety and stress in persons with generalized anxiety disorder.
It’s also taken as a cognitive enhancer to halt memory loss.
It contains compounds that inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine, the brain chemical of learning and memory.
Gotu kola is extremely safe.
It’s been eaten as a food and drunk as a tea by millions of people for thousands of years.
Give gotu kola tea (or supplements) a try if you are looking for anti-anxiety relief along with cognitive enhancement.
#21. Holy Basil Tea (Ocimum sanctum)
Holy basil (or tulsi) is yet another herb used in the Ayurvedic healing tradition.
It’s one of the most revered plants in India as its name attests — tulsi means “the incomparable one.”
It is thought to bestow upon its users a long and healthy life.
Holy basil alleviates stress and anxiety by decreasing levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine.
It provides significant relief to those with generalized anxiety disorder.
It can also help with other brain-related disorders such as depression, memory loss, insomnia, and migraine headaches.
Holy basil can be consumed either as a supplement or as a tea known as tulsi tea.