Today I’m talking about my top 5 calming herbs to reduce stress and help soothe the mind and the body. It’s a timely post because as I write this I am getting ready to go on vacation – I can’t wait! Though I love what I do, I’m looking forward to disconnecting from my phone, email, social media etc. We are stressed in our modern world – far more than we may know – and it’s taking it’s toll on us all. I’m not talking about hardcore stressors like divorce, illness or loss – obviously those are expectantly difficult.
I’m talking about the subtle daily stressors that we become so accustomed to that they go unnoticed, however, the effect they have on the body is profound.
Many of us, whether we are aware of it or not, are constantly bombarded with sensory overload: Traffic, text alerts, alarms, noise pollution and artificial light, just to name a few. These constant subtle stressors take a toll on our nervous system. The reality is that we need to take a break from these stressors and soothe our brains so we are not constantly in a state of fight-or-flight. Only when our minds and bodies are relaxed can we heal, sleep soundly, rest and enjoy life.
Meditation is one of my favourite tools for calming the mind, but another is botanical medicine.
There are many wonderful, soothing herbs that I prescribe to patients and use myself all the time. The healing power of plants goes beyond food – there are many herbs that have powerful calming effects. Whether taken via a cup of tea, tincture or tablet, the following herbs are my go-tos when I need a little extra support:
Passion Flower (Botanical name: Passiflora incarnata)
This herb is very popular, most likely due to the fact that it’s very gentle on the body, effective and safe. It’s a lovely calming herb that I use a lot when feeling ‘tired and wired’ and have a hard time getting my mind to calm down after a busy day.
Passion flower helps to calm the mind and body by increasing the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that calms the nerves and alleviates anxiety. It’s a herb that can be consumed in tincture or tablet but it’s also very soothing in a tea. Perfect when combined with other calming herbs like chamomile and valerian for helping you sleep.
Skullcap (Botanical name: Scutellaria lateriflora)
This herb is excellent for anxiety and muscle tension – just think of it as embodying the same energy as a shoulder relaxing, body calming, long exhale! It is classified as a nervine tonic, spasmolytic and mild sedative, meaning it calms the nervous system, relieves muscle tension and chills you out! Also great for tension headaches and people who hold a lot of tension in their upper back and shoulders.
Different parts of the plant are used for different things – it’s the flowers that you want to use for the purpose of calming the body. I love this herb in tablet or tincture form, especially when combined with other nervous system tonics like St. John’s Wart.
Kava (Botanical name: Piper methysticum)
Know to some as ‘the root of happiness’, kava kava is a relaxing beverage made from the root of the kava plant and has been enjoyed in the South Pacific Islands for over 3000 years. It promotes relaxation and calms the mind as it binds to GABA receptors in the body and works similar to the neurotransmitter GABA to relieve anxiety almost immediately. I have to say, this one is my herb favourite for anxiety, hands down.
Kava has gotten a bad rap in the past as there was concern over it’s effect on the liver. It’s important to note that kava should be hot water extracted only. The concern with kava was because companies were using ethanol extractions to create supplements – this was what caused the health issues. So if you are going to use this herb, be sure it is well sourced and prepared properly using aqueous extraction as this is the only safe way to extract the kava lactones (the feel good stuff!).
Lemon Balm (Botanical name: Melissa officinalis)
Delicious in a tea, this herb is awesome for irritability, anxiety and low mood. The essential oil contains it’s main constituents and therapeutically it’s great on it’s own or used in combination with passion flower to help as a sleep aid or help calm the mind. It has a long history of soothing not just the mind and the body but also the tummy being used to treat flatulence and intestinal colic. (Which is great cause there’s nothing worse than being irritable AND gassy too! I mean c’mon!?)
It’s lemon scented leaves are also great when used with lavender and epsom salts to make a lovely scented relaxing bath. Add some candles and some calming music and that’s stress reduction city, ladies! Combined with peppermint, it also makes a great iced tea. This herb is truly versatile – it’s even been indicated in treating the common cold and cold sores.
California Poppy (Botanical name: Eschscholtzia californica)
You’ve probably never hear of this one – and no, it’s not the opium poppy, so there’s no worries in taking it! It’s gentle enough for children and I use it a lot in my practice to help people who are experiencing nervous exhaustion. It’s very effective for treating insomnia, anxiety and emotional stress, especially when combined with other herbs like chamomile, passion flower and lemon balm.
One of the little know facts about this herb is that when dosed appropriately it works with the neurotransmitter GABA providing some of the benefits of prescription anxiety medications without the fear of addiction or toxicity. It can also help hypertension when taken daily.
So that’s my top 5 calming herbs to help reduce stress and soothe the body and mind! Remember please consult your MD or ND before consuming any herbal medicines, especially if you are taking any other medications, are pregnant or are breastfeeding.
(photo credit: @herbalacademy)