I’ve had a few folks ask me in recent times how I manage my anxiety. The answer is complex – there isn’t one single way that helps me. It is a delicate balance of eating right, staying active, writing, and tending to my emotional and spiritual needs. For me it’s become a bit of a way of life to tend to my mental health. Along the way, I’ve made friends with few plant allies that help manage my symptoms tremendously.
Please note, I am not by any means a medical professional or even an herbal professional. I am just a person with a personal interest in mental health issues and herbalism and love seeing where those to places intersect. Please be responsible with your herb intake, and if you have any serious concerns or questions, it’s best to contact your doctor or local herbalist.
1. Holy Basil
Holy basil is my personal favorite. I first discovered it after I was gifted a rooting plant by an herbalist friend. It's been my go-to ever since. The dried leaves can be made into a tea with lemon and ginger that is immediately soothing and comforting.
Native to southeast Asia, holy basil, or tulsi, is part of the mint family and used in Ayurvedic medicine, where it's name "Tulsi" translates to "incomparable one." It can be seen planted near Hindu temples and outside of Hindu homes and is regarded as sacred, no surprise when we see all of its actions. To name a few, Holy basil is antibacterial, adaptogenic, antioxidant, nervine, heart opening, and antidepressant. It can be used to both calm the system and remove slugishness, remove heat and toxins, and regulate blood sugar.
You can find Tulsi in tea bags on the shelf at your grocery store, but if you can get your hands on the fresh plant I highly, highly recommend it. Drop a few leaves into a cup with some ginger and a lemon slice, pour hot water and let steep for 2-4 minutes.
We all know lavender, right? It makes an appearance in all sorts of bath and body products, especially those labelled with "stress relief," and for good reason.
This plant is also in the mint family and its flowers can be used in a variety of things like scent pouches, lotions, candles, and even baked goods and tea. Try these lavender lemon shortbread cookies or steeping the flowers with some chamomile.
I also use lavender essential oil on my pillow when I'm in need of some restful sleep. You can also rub lavender oil on your temples for relief from headaches or tension.
Lavender is a gentle sedative, antidepressant, antimicrobial, and can also be used to ease digestion. Click here to read even more about all its uses.
Full disclosure, this is one that I don't have experience with but is regularly recommended to me so I've been meaning to try it. Apparently it is great for calming the nerves without making you sleepy the way that tulsi and chamomile tend to.
It is an antispasmodic and a nervine, and as such can also be used to ease menstrual cramps.
If you've ever used skullcap I would love to hear from you! There are lots of accounts online and in texts but I haven't had any direct experience so I'm curious!
A few more worth mentioning:
Kava kava: A friend of mine recommended kava after I told her about my habit of grinding my teeth in my sleep or clenching my jaw without realizing it. Although some sources suggest that kava can have a negative effect on the liver, in small, infrequent doses I've found it to be incredibly effective. I typically dissolve a few drops of kava in tincture form into some tea or juice as a sort of "emergency" remedy if I'm feeling particularly agitated. Kava is said to induce euphoria in higher doses, but I haven't experimented that far. In my experience, kava has relaxed my muscles during times that not even meditation could relax me, and given me relief from high tension and stress. The effect is similar to alcohol but without the fogginess. For this reason it's one of my favorites for immediate and intense relief, but please talk to an herbalist before using because of possible interactions.
Chamomile: This one needs no explanation. I find it less effective than some of these other herbs, but I'd suspect that many of us have experienced the soothing effect of chamomile tea. It's perhaps the most approachable, gentlest herb on this list but nevertheless incredibly effective.
Ginger and turmeric: This one is purely anecdotal and personal. I haven't done any true research on the effects of ginger and turmeric on anxiety, but I do know that turmeric is used in Ayurveda to support digestion, joint health, and the immune system. Ginger has also been used for centuries to aid in digestion, to ease nausea and cold symptoms, and more. Often anxiety can agitate our digestive systems, and so a nice rice bowl with some sweet potato, kale, ginger and turmeric is a quick comfort food for me. I'll soon post a recipe for this concoction.
Susun Weed provides an even more extensive list of herbs for anxiety and fear on her website.
Have you tried any of these herbs? Are there any other plants or foods that you've used to help calm anxiety? I'd love to know! Let me know in the comments and as always, if you have any suggestions or questions please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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