Meditation, yoga and breathing exercises are the buzzwords of today, here we take a look at how to use herbal remedies to calm anxiety.



What works: For mild anxiety you could do far worse than a cup of chamomile tea and a lie down. In fact, several herbs are very good at slowing down our busy bodies if used correctly.

Even better than chamomile is passionflower, a natural tranquilizer that relaxes muscles and relieves nervous tension. Use it before bed to unwind your coiled up spring of a mind.

Damiana tea has been found to dull central nervous system activity and work as a mild aphrodisiac – verified on otherwise disinterested rats – which may, arguably, further decrease anxiety levels. Take too much though, and it can cause sleeplessness. It can also be smoked, but it’s unlikely to impart the same benefits.

St John’s Wort is the heavyweight medicinal herb with a bigger reputation for treating depression than anxiety, but similar to SSRIs, can also be effective for anxiety. It works as a neurotransmitter booster – having a positive affect on the big three: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine – as well as having a very mild tranquillizing affect. 

But remember – St John likes to work alone. This is not a herb that goes well with other medications – and can decrease the effectiveness of SSRIs. Some people may also experience some side effects, including increased sensitivity to sunlight, an upset tummy or dizziness. Research indicates that it may also weaken the effects of oral contraceptives.

Experts say: Valerian

Good sleep is vital for combating anxiety so if you’re looking for a herb that can bring you sweet dreams with none of the morning after medicinal grogginess, then valerian is your friend.

Clinical studies have found that valerian can be as effective as tranquilisers in alleviating mild to moderate anxiety and insomnia, but, unlike prescription tranquilizers it’s not addictive and it’s unlikely to impair concentration or memory. In fact, there are virtually no side effects associated with valerian. 

If you don’t get that sleepy feeling straight away, don’t despair. Studies have found that for some unknown reason the synergistic effects don’t kick in for some people until they’ve been taking it regularly (at night) for 2 to 3 weeks.

Avoid: Kava

Kava (or kava kava as it is sometimes known for those that need a little reminding) is probably the most effective natural treatment for anxiety going around. So why avoid it you ask? Because the highly strung angst-ridden panic-merchants of the world are prone to a little excess, which can quickly border on abuse. Kava, unfortunately, fits into that category. 

Yes, clinically it has been proven to be an effective tranquillizer that has been compared to Xanax (but isn’t addictive) and in small doses works on the GABA pathway to provide a light sense of wellbeing, but in large doses it can induce lethargy and drowsiness, which over time, if you really get into the stuff, can result in severe liver damage, even worse if you start mixing it with prescription tranquilizers.

So, unless you’re really confident you won’t go off the kava rails, avoid.


If you find some information that sounds useful, do your own research, go armed to your GP or psychologist and quiz them about what you know, then make your own decision about what works for you.

NEXT: Read more about complementary medicine here.