I needed some serious help with the stress of living in NYC and working as a teacher. Yoga and meditation brought relief but they weren’t enough. Nothing was enough until I discovered the instantaneous relief of diffusing lavender oil... I was amazed by how powerful the herb was and began seriously researching how else herbs could help me find balance in the midst of so much stress. The following herbs helped me stay focused, bright, and calm (well, I just tolerate valerian… more about that) and I still use many of them. While they all help with stress, they have slightly different actions, and have actions beyond the work they do with the nervous system. See if there is one that suits you below.
1. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). This is a powerful, relaxing herb that helped me so many nights that I couldn’t fall asleep from excitement or worry. It’s fantastic at helping my racing mind slow down... but it smells (and tastes?) like the socks from my brother’s high school hockey bag. Despite the smell and taste, it’s a strong sedative that never left me feeling groggy once I woke up. It can be taken as a tea but I prefer taking it as a capsule or in a tincture so I don’t have to deal with its… intensity.
2. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). A major contrast to the sensory experience of valerian, this wonderfully summery and citrusy herb gently and reliably relieves stress and tension and can lift mild depression. This is a great herb to add to any tea and is easy to grow in a pot.
3. Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia). My first herbal love. Lavender is a tonic for the nervous system and relaxes muscle tension. It can be added to a tea blend, but as I mention above it can help just by smell. Lavender essential oil can be diffused through a house or a sachet of the herb can be sniffed to bring relaxation or relieve a headache.
4. Scullcap (Scutellaria laterfolia). Scullcap is a nervous system tonic. It relieves the system, relaxes muscles, helps with exhaustion or depression, and eases PMS. I drink this as a tea, often as a part of a blend.
5. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). Another lovely sedative that doesn’t leave one feeling groggy, this herb also helps with pain and tense muscles. I have used it in conjunction with rosemary to relieve a migraine.
6. Hops (Humulus lupulus). My mom suggested that I try hops. I’ve never enjoyed IPAs because of their “hoppy” taste, but I love the bittersweet flavor that a hops blossom adds to an infusion. This herb relaxes the nervous system and helps with tension and anxiety. While it doesn’t make me sleepy, just relaxed, I’ve seen a friend take it and immediately need a nap!
7. Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera). This herb is my favorite adaptogen. With use over time it improves general health and the body’s ability to handle stress. It can also improve energy for those who are exhausted from stress. I like to take this herb daily as a tincture, sometimes adding it to my tea.
While I don’t need most of these regularly in my life right now, I still love to add many of these to my teas and keep them at hand for the times that just (really high quality) chamomile isn’t enough.