Lavender pillows help to promote relaxation.
Last week I did my usual segment, Living Green with Sara Snow, on CNN.com/LIVE. I answered viewer questions about herbal remedies for common ailments like stress and asthma. Reducing stress naturally is a great topic and one that I figured merited some additional attention.
The question, as it came in, made reference to the fact that the inquirer had played around with taking pharmaceuticals for her stress and anxiety in the past, but was disheartened (or stressed!) by all of the potential side effects listed…for which she was afraid she’d just have to take more meds. A slippery slope for certain.
Thankfully, our ultimate mother, Mother Earth, has provided a veritable medicine cabinet of herbal alternatives right outside our doors.
Here are five herbs that have been proven effective at reducing stress and anxiety:
1. Licorice Root contains a natural hormone alternative to cortisone, which can help the body handle stressful situations, and can help to normalize blood sugar levels as well as your adrenal glands, providing you with the energy necessary to deal with the stressful situation at hand. Some claim licorice stimulates cranial and cerebrospinal fluid, thereby calming the mind.
As a soothing tonic, drink it warm as in a tea.
2. Passion flower is considered a mild sedative and can help promote sleep. Passion flower also treats anxiety, insomnia, depression and nervousness.
The parts of the passion flower plant that grow above the ground can be dried and steeped for tea. Otherwise, passion flower is available as a tincture, capsule and even as a juice.
3. Kava Kava, an herb from the South Pacific, is a powerful muscle relaxer and analgesic. Kava Kava is also effective at treating depression and anxiety associated with menopause.
Kava Kava is very easily found as a capsule in the supplement section of any grocery store.
4. St. John’s Wort has been used medicinally since Hippocrates time. Even during the Renaissance and Victorian periods it was used for the treatment of mental disorders. Though it presents itself as an unassuming, flowering perennial, St. John’s Wort was shown to be more effective than Prozac, according to a recent study, in treating major depressive disorders.
St. John’s Wort is most often taken as a capsule or tablet. It is often combined with valerian root when insomnia or restlessness are accompanying symptoms.
5. Lavender is the workhorse of herbs. It is effective at reducing irritability and anxiety, promoting relaxation, a sense of calm and sleep. It is also a powerful anti-bacterial agent, and can work to balance hormones and stimulate the immune system. All of that from one little herb.
While lavender can be consumed in a tea, it may work best as an essential oil that is breathed in by way of a diffuser or, in the case of stress and sleeplessness, an eye pillow. To make your own eye pillow, take a thin piece of fabric (a soft cotton from an old t’shirt or silk from an old head scarf would work well) and cut two rectangles about 8-9 inches long by 3-4 inches wide. If the fabric has a wrong and right (printed) side, lay it flat so that the two right sides are in and touching. Using a sewing machine or a simple needle and thread, sew around the perimeter, leaving an inch or two inch gap on one edge. Be sure to use small, neat stitches. Push the fabric thru the opening to turn the rectangle right side out. By way of the opening, fill the pillow with a mixture of flax seed, lavender and hops. The flax seed is for weight while the lavender will help calm your body and the hops will help with sleep. Using a needle and thread sew the pillow the rest of the way shut.
Or course, a good yoga or meditation session may work better than anything else. Take some time to watch spring blooming outside your window and meditate on all that you have to be thankful for. Maybe you won’t need the stress herbs after all.
Much of the research for this article came from the American Botanical Council.