Ten Best Herbs to Help You Relax
Everyone deals with stress from time to time, and some of us come up against it more often than others. While there are some more drastic measures available out there to help you relax, those of us looking for safer, natural stress relief can rest assured that herbal remedies are a great option with a solid track record that goes back centuries. The following are ten herbs, arranged in descending order from mildest to strongest, that are commonly used to help combat stress and help you unwind.
**Note: Some of these herbs have contraindications with certain medications. If you're unsure, consult with your doctor first.
Ten Best Herbs for Relaxation
- Popular in cooking and baking, mint is also therapeutic in teas and aromatherapy. I recommend peppermint in particular for its wonderful cooling sensation. Great for when you're feeling under-the-weather too.
- You might not have expected this one, but basil can be surprisingly effective against stress and anxiety. The best way to get the most of basil's calming properties is to prepare it in a tea. Brew 1 rounded tablespoon of fresh or dried basil for each 8 oz of hot water.
- Most folks are familiar with lavender's key role in aromatherapy, but it also can make a wonderful tea, as well as imparting a delicate wow-factor to desserts. And it certainly makes a great addition to any herb garden, if you've got a green thumb.
- Chamomile, like lavender, is another well-known staple in the world of stress-relief. It's a safe, versatile, and delicious choice, and it's also incredibly easy to find and very budget-friendly (I've found boxes of 20 tea bags for under a $1 at Wal-Mart and the like). Use it in teas, cooking, and aromatherapy. It even works great as a rinse after you shampoo your hair.
6. California Poppy
- If you remember what happened to Dorothy and Co. in the poppy fields in The Wizard of Oz, you're on the right track. The active ingredients contain sedative properties that help you safely unwind and can also help you get through those pesky colds and flues. You can find California poppy in tincture and capsule form, as well as in teas, and of course, you can always grown your own for best results!
5. Lemon Balm*
- This is probably one of my favorite herbs. I grow a ridiculous amount of it myself, and I could sing its praises all day long. It's a member of the mint family, but has a delightful lemon twist, which means it not only smells and tastes delicious on its own, but it works fantastically in desserts and potpourri arrangements. For maximum flavor and aroma, use fresh lemon balm if you can.
- Probably most famous for its role in making beer, hops in fact has wonderful sedative properties. Like all the other herbs on this list, it can be added to teas and other beverages, but it also works well as aromatherapy. I've heard of stuffing a little hops and lavender into your pillow to help you get to sleep at night. Worth a try!
3. Kava Kava
- While I haven't used this one myself, I've heard great things. It's near the end of the list, which means it packs a bit more punch than some of the previous items. The plant is native to islands in the Pacific, and its reputation as a sedative and anesthetic is centuries old. You can find it in teas, drinks, capsules, and tinctures. Since it's a little exotic, it can be pricey to acquire, but it's worth a try if you're looking to take your stress-fighting to the next level.
2. Valerian root*
- If the name sounds familiar, it should. Valerian root is the basic building block from which Valium is made. Like its commercialized progeny, Valerian root is a very effective sedative, but it also has the benefit of being a safer, natural alternative. That said, some studies suggest taking too much Valerian root over a long period of time might harm your liver, so be sure to use this one in moderation.
1. Passion flower*
- This is by a mile my #1 choice for stress-fighting herbs. Like Valerian root, it packs some serious sedative properties, but without the risk to your liver. It's also relatively inexpensive to get, and you can find it at nutrition and health food stores in capsules, tinctures, and teas (though it's got an acquired taste, so eating or drinking it might take some getting used to). I've been using it for about two years, and I've had great results. I especially enjoy mixing a little passionflower extract with chamomile and lemon balm tea to give my relaxation time a major boost.
*Herbs I use and personally recommend
Best Ways to Prepare Them
All the herbs I listed can be prepared as teas. Read my article on preparing stress-fighting teas at home for more tips. You can either purchase boxed tea at the store, or use fresh or dried herbs from your garden, putting 1 rounded tablespoon of the herb(s) into a tea ball and steeping for 5-10 minutes in 8 oz of hot water.
You can also find many of these herbs, especially passionflower and valerian root, in capsule form either online or in health food stores. Follow the dosing instructions on the label.
Alternatively, you can purchase essential oils/tinctures of any of these and use them as aromatherapy in perfumes, potpourri, or in the bath.
While you can cook with most of these, cooking might destroy some of these herbs' beneficial properties, and having food in your stomach might get in the way of their proper absorption. I recommend drinking the teas or taking the capsules on an empty stomach when possible.
Best of luck!