by Dr. Kristen Bovee, Peninsula Naturopathic Clinic, Hydrate IV Wellness Centre –
We are in an age where feelings of anxiety are the norm for most of us. In fast-paced lives, increased population density and constant stimulation from our environment, we can overwhelm our nervous system. Causes of anxiety can also be due to a mental condition (such as panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, phobias or stress) or a physical condition (medications, thyroid disorders, or heart abnormalities). With so many contributors to nervous system “overload,” many turn to medications and drugs to help manage feeling anxious or overwhelmed. The following are my top botanical medicines that have shown excellent clinical outcomes for anxiety management as well as having the best research to support their use.
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
Lavender has been used for centuries for both its medicinal and cosmetic benefits. It has been shown to have antibacterial, antifungal, sedative, carminative and antidepressant activity. With its high concentration of volatile oils and pleasing fragrance, lavender can be used medicinally in topical form, through inhalation, as well as orally. Internally, lavender has been used for mood imbalances including anxiety, insomnia and gastrointestinal disorders such as “nervous stomach.” The active constituents of lavender that contribute to its nervous system effects include terpenes, linalool and camphor, to name a few. Its therapeutic benefits have been determined to affect GABA receptors (as a neuro-inhibitory neurotransmitter), blocking effects of caffeine and inhibiting acetylcholine in the central nervous system.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
In 1985, Germany’s Commission E officially approved passionflower as a treatment for “nervous unrest.” Since then, passionflower has been studied several times, comparing it to pharmaceutical medications. In smaller doses it can cause a calming effect on the nervous system without inducing sedation; in larger doses, it has been used as a remedy for insomnia. A study in 2001 determined that passionflower was just as effective in treating general anxiety disorder as oxazepam with no risks of impairment or dependency. There have even been studies with passionflower supporting the mental and emotional withdrawal effects of opioid dependency. Passionflower can be taken orally in the form of a tea, tincture, capsule or tablet.
Lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemonbalm is a perennial from the mint family. It is a hearty plant that can grow in a variety of environments and has a gentle lemon scent and flavour. The leaves of the plant have been used for culinary purposes, in perfumery and medicinally for its nervous system benefits. In 2014, a study was done to determine the anti-stress effects of lemon balm when added to foods. The results demonstrated that the lemon balm products were capable of benefiting a number of aspects of mood and performance including enhanced memory and focus. Cortisol levels were also reduced in the blood stream one hour after consumption. Subjectively, the participants scored better in their general anxiety scale. Lemon balm can be taken effectively as a tea or a tincture.
Whether it is from trauma, stress buildup, personality, mental health disorders, or just general lack of being able to cope, having anxiety does not mean one has to suffer with the associated feelings or seek pharmaceuticals or drugs to suppress the issue. Beginning with utilizing a botanical support like lavender, passionflower or lemon balm may be enough to help with better quality sleep, keeping your mind focused and reducing feelings of excessive worry and stress.