Best Herbs for Stress and How to Use Them – Nervines and Adaptogens – A Beginner’s Guide
Stress isn’t a new phenomenon and men and women have found ways to help us to cope throughout the ages. Whether it is from a cup of tea, herbal tincture, flower essence, essential oil aromatherapy or a hot herbal and mineral bath, herbs can be a huge help in helping us to deal with and recover from stressful circumstances in our lives.
While taking herbs and practicing techniques to help you deal with stress is very useful, it’s best to also minimize the stress in your life as much as possible. Since it isn’t always possible, though, it’s wonderful that we have herbal remedies for stress. You may also like to read my article, Ways to Overcome Stress that Really Work to learn more ways of coping with stress.
- Types of Herbs that Help Us Deal with Stress: Nervines and Adaptogens
- Where to Get Relaxing and Calming Herbs for Teas and Tinctures
- How Much Herb to Take for Stress Relief
- Relaxing Nervine Herbs that Help with Stress
- Relaxing Sedative Herbs that Help with Stress
- Calming Adaptogen Herbs that Help with Stress
- Herbal Tea for Stress Recipes
- Which Herbs are Best to Take as a Tincture for Stress?
- Why Use Alcohol in Herbal Tinctures?
- Best Calming and Relaxing Herbs for Children and Babies
- Calming Aromatherapy Essential Oils for Stress Relief
- Aromatherapy Essential Oil Blends for Stress, Relaxation and Sleep
- Relaxing Herbal Bath Salts and Sachets to Destress
- Flower Essences for Stress Relief
- You May Also Like My Articles:
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***Please note that I’m not a trained medical professional. This article is for your educational purposes only. Please do your own research before trying any herbs. Read my medical disclaimer here. If you are pregnant or nursing, get approval from your healthcare provider before taking any herbs.***
Types of Herbs that Help Us Deal with Stress: Nervines and Adaptogens
Generalizing greatly here, there are two classes of herbs that help with stress. In this article, I am focusing on the calming nervines and adaptogens that help with stress. We won’t be using the stimulating or energizing herbs here. They have their uses in dealing with stress, but we want to calm your system and not rev it up.
Nervines help with the health and response of the nervous system. Two of the types of nervines that can help most with stress are calming and uplifting nervines and relaxing sedatives. The calming nervines can be used during the day to calm the nerves and ease stress. These would include Milky Oats, St. John’s Wort, Lemon Balm and Mimosa, Damiana, Wood Betony, Blue Vervain, Motherwort, Linden, Rose and Chamomile. The sedatives are often used to help bring on sleep which include Motherwort, Kava, Skullcap, Passionflower, Valerian, California Poppy, and Hops. The effects of nervines can often be felt fairly quickly–from within a few minutes to a few hours.
Adaptogens help your body adapt to stress by supporting the production of stress hormones and neurotransmitters. They often have a balancing effect on these, so if it is too much, they help reduce the production and if there are too many, they help increase production. There are both balancing and calming adaptogens and energizing adaptogens and it’s important to use them properly. Stimulating adaptogens would include Ginseng, Eleuthero, Rhodiola, Codonopsis. For some Ashwagandha and Schizandra are also stimulating, while for others they help them calm down. Calming Adaptogens include Holy Basil, Gotu Kola, and California Poppy.
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Where to Get Relaxing and Calming Herbs for Teas and Tinctures
Most or all of the herbs that I focus on in this article can be grown at home in pots or in a small garden.
They can also be purchased in bulk, in tea blends or in tinctures already made at How Much Herb to Take for Stress Relief
Here is where it is helpful to consult my list of sources written by trained and experienced herbalists. It also takes some experimentation because each individual is different and how each responds to various herbs is different, too. I encourage you to be patient, learn, and be open to trying new things.
Some herbs like Chamomile and Lemon Balm don’t come with any negative side effects, so these are great herbs to start with. You can drink a whole cup of Chamomile or Lemon Balm tea and feel relaxed, maybe a little sleepy, but that is the desired effect. Other herbs are great taken in small doses. Stimulating nervine and adaptogen herbs, for example, are often best used in small doses. For many people, while a few drops of Rhodiola will calm their nervous system, taking a whole dropper full of tincture can keep them up all night. (Ask me how I know!) Also, some people are especially sensitive to stimulating and sedative herbs and need to start out slowly. Try with 3-5 drops, to begin with, increasing two drops each day if until you reach the desired effect.
Relaxing Nervine Herbs that Help with Stress
Chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla, is one of the most widely used relaxing nervine herbs–at least in the western world. It is mild enough for young children to use it, yet powerful enough to work on a mildly relaxed person. I read that it is good for two-year-olds and adults who act like them. Haha! It is the foundation of many relaxing and sleep-time tea blends. Choose from Chamomile Tea or Chamomile Tincture.
Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, helps with stress. Great for nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, depression, etc. It is said that lemon balm loses a lot of its effectiveness once it is dried. The good news is that it is easy to grow in a container. People do use it as a tea, but it has a milder effect. Choose from Lemon Balm Tea or Lemon Balm Tincture. The tincture can be taken in 1-30 drops and is extremely safe, according to Matthew Wood. I always start small with a tincture and then increase the amount if needed.
Lavender, Lavendula spp., is another widely used and well-known relaxant. Lavender essential oil is almost every relaxing aromatherapy blend. Lavender is good for nervous exhaustion, anxiety, tension, irritability, insomnia, and more. Choose from loose Lavender petals for Tea or Lavender Tincture.
Lavender essential oil is the most common way of using Lavender, but Matthew Wood says you should never take it internally. Add it to a carrier oil and apply it to the skin. For internal use, he suggests the tea from the dried blossoms or leaves and flowers mixed.
Passionflower, Passiflora spp., helps with sleeplessness–especially when caused by the inability to turn off your thinking. Choose from loose Passionflower or Passionflower Tincture. Follow the instructions on the bottle of tincture as to dosage as there is a difference in the amount of medicinal value in various Passionflower plants.
If you are taking it during the day, you would want to take just a little to start. At night I personally take about 1ml or 30 drops to help turn my mind off and help me to sleep. That is from a tincture I made myself from dried passionflower that I purchased. I started small and increased it until I had the desired effect.
**Matthew Wood says that this can have the opposite effect on children under four years old, causing overexcitement and vomiting.
Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora, is good for insomnia, fear, nervousness, headaches after stressful situations according to herbalist Michael Moore. It helps to calm down over-thinking. Herbalist Matthew Wood suggests it also for restlessness, irritability, wakefulness, oversensitivity to one’s surroundings (like bright lights, bright colors, etc.) He suggests taking it before a stressful event like an intense meeting to keep from getting a stress headache afterward.
According to herbalist Susun Weed, Skullcap loses most of its medicinal qualities when dried. She explains that the tincture must be made immediately upon picking the blossoms. So it is best if you purchase the Skullcap Tincture or grow the herb and make it yourself. I have done both.
According to Matthew Woods, Milky Oats, Avena sativa, is an excellent tonic for a nervous system exhausted by stress. The tincture is best made from the fresh oat seeds in their milky stage, so you either need to grow the oats and make the tincture yourself as I have done, or buy the Milky Oat Tincture. Woods recommends 10-15 drops in hot water, which helps the effect to work faster.
Catnip, Nepeta cataria, is another herb that is gentle enough to be used on babies and children, yet really works. Yes, this is the same catnip that so many cats love! It is good for people who are nervous, fretful, restless and worrisome, according to Matthew Woods.
Catnips makes a pleasant tea, so you can purchase loose leaf Catnip Tea or Catnip Tincture. Matthew Wood also suggests that Catnip loses a lot of its effectiveness when dried, so tincture might be preferable for your unless you grow your own and make tea with the fresh leaves. (See below for uses for children.)
Mimosa Blossoms and Bark
Known as the Tree of Happiness in China, the Mimosa, Mimosa pudica or Albizia julibrissin, or Silk Tree blossom and inner bark have properties that help you cope with stressful situations. Whether you’re feeling down or grumpy from stress, Mimosa can lift your spirits and help you continue on your day with more hope. At least that is how it affects me.
I personally have only tinctured the blossoms and a few drops is generally all that is needed to lift your spirits. I find the flavor to be reminiscent of concord grapes and nuts. You can get the Mimosa tincture here.
St. John’s Wort
Best known for treating depression, St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, can also be useful in treating many conditions. In times of stress it can help calm anxiety and tension, hysteria, insomnia, discouragement, chronic fatigue and mental burnout, according to Matthew Woods. The flowers or flowering tops of the plant should be used fresh to make St. John’s Wort tincture, oils and salves.
Relaxing Sedative Herbs that Help with Stress
Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca, is especially effective at calming nervousness and heart palpitations which can come on especially during emotional times like hormone changes in women or stressful situations. Can be used for wakefulness, disturbed sleep, and can often quickly calm anxiety and nervousness especially when combined with heart palpitations. It is very bitter and is best taken as a Motherwort tincture instead of tea. Start with 1-3 drops and increase as needed. Follow the directions on the bottle.
Calming Adaptogen Herbs that Help with Stress
Holy Basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum or sanctum, tastes like spicey basil and makes a delicious tea. According to herbalist Maria Noel Groves, Holy Basil helps to relieve grief and anxiety as it calms and energizes, balancing cortisol and blood sugar levels (which can be affected greatly by stress). She says it “helps us feel less hopeless and more in tune with the world around us.” Buy it as a loose leaf Holy Basil Tea or as Holy Basil Tincture.
While California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica, is related to the opium poppy, it has much milder and safer effects. It is non-addictive and non-narcotic. Still, it can calm your nerves and thereby help you to sleep. ***Note that the California Poppy is no the same as the edible poppy seeds sold in the grocery store.
The whole plant can be tinctured just as it is going to seed, or just the seeds can be used as a tea. (See below for uses for children) The seeds can be tricky to find for internal use purposes, so you may want to stick to the California Poppy tincture.
Gotu Kola, Centella asiatica, is a favorite edible herb for students in India as it is said to increase mental function and memory as well as to lessen anxiety. Since Gotu Kola is a nourishing herb, you are more likely to see an effect after using if for at least four weeks or more. While it’s mild enough to eat raw, it’s easier to obtain as Gotu Kola tea or Gotu Kola tincture. The Gotu Kola powder can also be mixed into smoothies.
Herbal Tea for Stress Recipes
Some herbs are great for drinking as tea. Teas made from only the herb and flower are often milder than when taken in tincture form. Teas are a great introduction to using herbs for stress relief and are easy to make. Chamomile, Catnip, and Holy Basil make delicious teas and are quite effective with this method.
To make the best herbal tea, follow the method I explain in my article, How to Make Teas from Plants in your Yard.
Rosemary Gladstar’s Stress-Relief Tea Recipe
The idea of this tea is to soothe the mind as well as relieve symptoms from a stress-induced ulcer.
Prepare an infusion of the following dried herbs:
- 3 parts Green Oat Tops
- 1 part Licorice Root
- 1 part Marshmallow Root
- 1 part Purslane or Chickweed
To make an infusion, take 2 teaspoons of the herb misture per cup of water. Heat the water to nearly boiling and then pour over the herbs. Let it steep 30-40 minutes before straining. Drink two to three cups per day.
Rosemary Gladstar’s Evening Repose Tea
This is a relaxing tea perfect for unwinding in the evening after a stressful day.
- 2 parts Spearmint
- 1 part Chamomile
- 1 part Lemon Balm
- 1/2 part Rose Petals
- Stevia or Honey to taste
You can mix the dried herbs and store them in an airtight jar for future use. Use 1 Tablespoon dried herb or 2-4 Tablespoons fresh herb chopped per cup of hot water. Let steap for 45 minutes. Sweeten to taste.
Which Herbs are Best to Take as a Tincture for Stress?
Some herbs don’t hold onto their medicinal value well when dried. While all of the above-mentioned herbs can be taken as a tincture, consider taking the following herbs as a tincture made from fresh plants for maximum benefit: Skullcap, Lemon Balm, Milky Oats. Others have an off-putting flavor and are generally preferred as a tincture or even a capsule such as Valerian Root and Hops.
Why Use Alcohol in Herbal Tinctures?
Which is better for herbal tinctures, alcohol, glycerine or vinegar? The reason that alcohol is used to make herbal medicinal tinctures is that alcohol is very good at extracting certain medicinal compounds from herbs. Also, alcohol is has a very long shelf-life, preserving your herbs indefinitely.
Glycerine or apple cider vinegar can be used and is often preferred when giving the tincture to children or to those who are sensitive to alcohol. While the glycerine and vinegar tinctures are not as strong as the alcohol tinctures, they should still work. Vinegar is good at extracting mineral content in herbs, so if your goal is nutrition instead of medicine, this may be your preferred method.
Stress Rescue Drops Recipe
In the book The Herbal Remedy Handbook, I found a simple recipe for Rescue Drops that can be used when facing intense moments. While it uses several herbs not covered in this article, you can make your own Rescue Drops by combining herbal tinctures above and adjusting the dosage accordingly. It’s nice to have these drops to carry with you to take a couple of drops under your tongue or in water when needed.
Use equal parts:
It is suggested that to use it, take about 5ml or 1 teaspoon each morning and evening, and then 1ml or 20 drops for stressful times up to 5 times a day.
Best Calming and Relaxing Herbs for Children and Babies
Some of the best calming and relaxing herbs for children during stressful times are Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and Catnip which are soothing and safe for both babies and children. They are widely used by herbalists and mothers around the world to bring relief from colic and gas, teething, and general fussiness. All of these are mild-tasting with a good flavor, so kids tend to like them. For these, I use tea which the baby or child can drink from a bottle or cup. The teas can be made into popsicles or soaked in a cloth tied in knot for teething babies. I even administered chamomile in a dropper to my tiny babies to relieve gas and it worked like a charm, relaxing their little tummies so that the gas could pass.
Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar says that California Poppy is even safe for children who are having difficulty sleeping or are overly excitable. She suggests three to give them to children:
- Grind the seeds, mix them with honey and dry them. (This could be done in a dehydrator or an oven below 120 degrees.) Then give them to the child experiencing stress or anxiety. ***
- Prepare 1 teaspoon of poppy seeds per cup of water to make tea. Steep for 20 minutes.
- Give as a tincture.
***Note that the Califonia Poppy seeds, Eschscholzia californica, are not the same that you buy in the grocery store which is Papaver somniferum. I have found it difficult to find California Poppy seeds in bulk that are meant to be taken internally and not planted in the garden. It may be easier to use a tincture.
If you’re wanting a tincture for babies and children, I recommend the non-alcoholic herbal tinctures made with glycerine instead of alcohol. These are some of my favorites:
Rosemary Gladstar’s Children’s Stress Calmer Glycerite
This is a gentle and calming remedy for children and adults taken from Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs book.
- 1 part Chamomile
- 1 part Lemon Balm
- 1 part Spearmint
- 75% Glycerin solution (made of 3 parts glycerine and 1 part water)
Put the herbs in a jar and cover with the glycerine mix until it is about 2-3 inches over the herbs. Stir. Cover the jar and let set for 3-4 weeks. Strain into a clean jar. This should last for 2-3 years.
- Give 1/2 teaspoon 2-3 x daily for chldren 3-6 years
- Give 3/4-1 teaspoon 2-3 times daily for children 6-10 years.
- For children under 3 years:
- 0-3 months, 2 drops
- 3-6 months, 3 drops
- 6-9 months, 4 drops
- 9-12 months, 5 drops
- 12–18 months, 7 drops
- 18-24 months, 8 drops
- 2-3 years, 10 drops
Calming Aromatherapy Essential Oils for Stress Relief
Stress comes with seemingly a myriad of possible symptoms, and individuals manifest them differently. But herbs and essential oils can help us cope with the stress and bring relaxation. In the book The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness, we are given a complete list of essential oils for many stress symptoms. I highly recommend the book if you would like to learn more about aromatherapy and using essential oils for healing. The most common essential oils recommended are:
- Clary Sage
It’s important to purchase your essential oils from a reputable supplier, like Starwest Botanicals.
Aromatherapy Essential Oil Blends for Stress, Relaxation and Sleep
From the Aromatherapy & Essential Oil Handbook mentioned above, here are a few Essential Oil blends to help with stress. Add them to your essential oil diffuser or put them on a cotton ball and place them in a sachet or near your bed. :
Mind Soother Essential Oil Blend:
- 135 drops bergamot oil
- 65 drips lavender oil
- 20 drops mandarin oil
- 20 drops cedarwood oil
- 20 drops sandalwood, peppermint or juniper oil
Add to a 10ml dropper bottle and shake to blend.
Sleep Time Essential Oil Blend:
- 65 drips chamomile oil
- 65 drops lavender oil
- 20 drops marjoram oil
- 20 drops clar sage or neroli oil
Add to a 10m. dropper bottle and shake to blend.
Relaxing Herbal Bath Salts and Sachets to Destress
At the end of an especially taxing day, it can be very relaxing to take bath. Epsom salts.. Adding relaxing herbs to your bath can enhance relaxation.
You can tie loose herbs up in a cloth or use a large 4″x6″ disposable tea bag. I like to make the bath sachets ahead of time so that I can just plop them in a bath at a moment’s notice or gift them to a friend in need.
Relaxing Herbal Bath Salts Recipe
Herbal Bath Salts can be made with dried herbs, essential oils or both. And easy recipe is:
- 2 cups Epsom Salts
- 1 cup Sea Salt (optional)
- 1/4-1/4 cup dried herb such as chamomile, rose petals, lavender (optional)
- 20-30 drops essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, rose, lemon balm or bergamot.
Mix and create Bath sachets if using dried herbs. If you’re only using the salts and essential oils, you can just mix and put in a jar. Scoop out about one cup or more for a bath and mix into the bath water. It will dissolve.
Relaxing Herbal Bath Sachets to Make
You can use any of the aromatic herbs that you would use for tea in your sachets. Use fresh or dried Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and Lavender for calming baths.
Flower Essences for Stress Relief
Flower or plant essences are made by extracting plant material into pure water using heat, either from the sun for delicate flowers or by boiling for other plant parts. Bach’s Rescue Remedy is a now-famous blend of flower essences used for stressful times. Many people find that these are helpful to use throughout their day, though I have found them to be very mild in their effects for myself. Everyone is different, though.
You May Also Like My Articles:
Body into Balance by Marie Noel Groves
Practical Herbalism by Philip Fritchey
The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness by Nerys Purchon and Lora Cantele
The Herbal Remedy Handbook by Victoria Chown and Kim Walker
Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar
The Earthwise Herbal Vol. 1 by Matthew Wood
The Earthwise Herbal Vol. 2 by Matthew Wood
Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar
Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee de la Foret