Herbs for Anxiety

Plant Medicine is one of the many tools I use in my naturopathic practice to treat anxiety. Watch or read below for some of my favourite anxiety herbs!


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Hi everyone. Good evening and thanks for coming and joining me for tonight's Tranquil Tuesday. I'm really excited tonight. We're going to talk about a topic that I know a lot of you have been asking me about and are really curious about, which is herbal medicine for anxiety. I know it's one of those things there's a lot of different plants out there and you might hear different things about what's effective. So what I'm going to let you know about tonight are the top five herbs that I use in my clinical practice when treating anxiety.

I love plant medicine for like a lot of different reasons but whenever I'm making like a botanical prescription for someone, there's a lot of different factors that go into deciding what herbs to use, and that has to do with what their concerns are. So when we're talking about anxiety, each plant is not just used for anxiety as a symptom. But plants are dynamic and they have all kinds of different compounds in them. A lot of times we're choosing a plant remedy, we're choosing it not just for its use in calming the nervous system, but also for what else it does and for how that matches up with what else is happening in my patients life. So that's one factor that goes into choosing that.

Other factors are of course the patient's age, any medication that they might be on. It's really important if you are going to use herbal medicines, and you are on any kind of prescription drug that you have an expert helping you out and making sure that's safe to go together. Just because you can buy something over the counter doesn't mean that you can take it with your prescription drugs. That's something that I just encourage everybody to get some expert help with whether that's through their doctor, whether that's through a naturopathic doctor. Naturopathic doctors are trained in drug herb interactions and so they're able to help you safely figure out really what herb goes along with which concern and which condition. So with that being said, I'm going to get into my top five herbs.

5. Lemon balm

My number five verb for treating anxiety is lemon balm. Lemon balm is what we call unnerving, meaning it's really tonifying and calming for the nervous system. It's a beautiful nourishing herb. I love it because you can drink it in a tea and that's kind of nice throughout the day. Some people know grows in their garden, they can pick it and they make this tea and it's really healing and calming. The other thing I really love about lemon balm is great for the digestive system. So for someone who's anxiety manifests with digestive discomfort, lemon balm is something that I sort of turned to for that and look at for that reason.

4. Bacopa

My fourth herb that I want to talk about for anxiety tonight is the Bacopa. I was kind of like, do I put this in there? Do I not? Because it's not really an anxiety herb it's actually an herb for focus and concentration. But this actually can be really helpful for anxiety particularly for people who find that their anxiety, the way that that impacts their life is that they can't focus. I find this is a really big problem a lot people have with anxiety is that it impairs their focus and they feel like they can't do their job well. That's such a hit on your self-confidence when you feel like I'm not bringing my best self to this. So Bacopa can really help with that. It can help with coping, anxiety and focus. I use it a lot in students who just need that extra cognitive support, and Bacopa is definitely an herb that I think of when that focus is impaired.

3. Lavender

Herb number three that I'm going to talk about today is lavender. Lavender might be my personal favorite herb, but it's number three for use in anxiety. Lavender is really great. There's lots of different ways you can use lavender. It's really effective actually as aromatherapy. So the essential oil when you smell it or you put it in a carrier, oil on the skin, that's been shown to decrease blood pressure, decrease the stress response. It's just a really great calming scent that can really impact like blood pressure and there's like physiologic. Like things are happening in the body about stress, that is impacted by just smelling lavender. So that's kind of a cool thing. There's lots of teas that have lavender in it.

Lavender is one of those herbs that people use for sleep because it's calming in a way that's kind of sedative. So that's definitely something that I look at, is whether there's some sleep concerns as well and whether lavender makes the best sense is sometimes indicated by sleep issues. Then there's also just some really cool research out there on lavender essential oil actually given in a capsule. You want to make sure that you've got a proper quality product for this, but the research has been shown that it's equivalent to a benzodiazepine, which is the type of medication that a lot of people take in the moment to help them sleep. Benzodiazepine are really addictive and they have their own concerns with them, but the lavender essential oil has similar efficacy without the side effects. So it's non-addictive which is really awesome. So that's definitely something you'll use with sleep and anxiety.

2. Rhodiola

Number two on my list to talk about tonight is rhodiola. Rhodiola is really great for anxiety and stress. Rhodiola is actually not unnerving, it's not something you usually think of as more of something that calms the nervous system. But what it is, is from a class of herbs called adaptogens. What it's really great at is helping the body cope with stress. By doing that, rhodiola in particular of all the different adaptogens really seems to help calm people down. So it's a beautiful choice and one of my top choices for when anxiety is really because of stress and because of the stress response. It can be really calming for a lot of people. It's good for physical stress and also mental and emotional stress. Yeah, it's just it's a beautiful herb and I use it quite a lot.

1. Kava

The number one herb that I want to talk to you guys about tonight is kava. Kava kava is this herb from the Pacific Islands and it's traditionally consumed as a tea and it's very calming. Of all of the herbs out there, this is the one that has the most research for anxiety and it's definitely for that reason is my number one herb. People that really have a generalized anxiety disorder and need something on a daily basis, it's going to make a real big difference in their life and their calm, and how calm they feel.

If you start googling kava, which I find most people that are anxious start googling, you find a few things about it. I'm just going to address some of those right now because there was a time in Canada where we didn't have access to kava as an herb due to some safety concerns. So there were some people that took kava and had an increase in their liver enzymes and some problems with their liver. So this attributed to kava and it was taken off the market. Now, every herb, every pharmaceutical, anytime you take something there's always a chance that someone's liver enzymes are going to go up. That's just a response in a certain number of people.

Now, the kava extracts that were being used were extracted through alcohol. This is really like boring chemistry. But it's important because the way that you extract elements from a plant, that influences the type of compounds that are in there. When this solvent was being used rather than water to extract the kava, it was extracting compounds that weren't as safe. So kava is back on the market now and they realized that in those cases, kava was not the only thing to blame.

I am very picky about the kava sources that I recommend and I do like a water extract of kava because that actually extracts ... If you remember, I was just saying that the traditional way to consume this herb is actually in a tea. So historically, that's the appropriate way to extract it. But also when you get into like the boring chemistry again, the appropriate compounds are easily the things that are responsible for helping people be calm are more easily extracted with water and not so much with some of the solvents. Some of the more toxic compounds come out more in those other types of extraction methods. So long boring story short, kava water extract is something that I always look for. With any herb but particularly with kava. You want to be really careful with your sourcing from there.

Then the other thing that kava is really good at is pain and tension. I know for some people with anxiety, they get a lot of muscle pain. It's like tension headaches or like your body's up here, kava really helps with relaxing. But in a way, that's like so you can still drive your car. It doesn't impair your ability to operate heavy machinery. So that's a really awesome feature of kavas, that calming. That's really my number one herb as I get to the bottom of this list. I mean, there's so many other herbs that I could have included that I use all the time. I'm looking at this just wondering, why passion flower isn't on there? I played around with putting chamomile. I mean, there's just so many beautiful herbs for anxiety, it's just a matter of finding the right one for each person.

It's really about knowing what you're trying to achieve. Any time we're trying to add a plant remedy into someone's treatment protocol, what is that trying to do? What are you hoping to get from that? I think it's really important ... I mean, one of the things that I look at in my practice is lifestyle medicine. I think that what we do every day for ourselves and for health is way more important than what we take. But sometimes it can be hard to do things and that's why I love plant remedies. Is because when you're at a point where you should be eating better or you want to be doing this exercise program, but you can't get there because you're so anxious, you just can't even do it.

That is where I love to use herbs and plant medicine as a tool to help the body get into a place where they're calm enough or you're calm enough to actually tackle some of those bigger, bigger challenges. That is the role that I see of herbs in anxiety and I would love to answer any of the questions that you have about herbs for anxiety and like either in general or any specific herbs. So feel free to throw them up in the comments and I will do my best to answer them. If anybody's got one now, I can answer it now. Otherwise, if you're watching the replay, for sure add that in the comments. I'll come back and answer. Then next week on Tranquil Tuesdays, we're talking about panic attacks and what to do when you're having anxiety or a panic attack. I really hope you'll join me for this one, I think it's going to be really great and we'll see you next week.

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