I must admit to being a bit of a stress-head (well, more than a bit, if I am honest!), so I am always keen to find natural ways to reduce stress and promote well-being. I try to follow a healthy diet, take regular exercise and meditate, and because I want to avoid taking drugs of any kind, I was motivated to research calming herbal treatments, for a little extra help. Traditional herbs are often better than pharmaceutical medicines for alleviating mental health problems, as they work in harmony with the human body, and don’t produce unwanted side effects. Here are five herbs I have discovered which have very effective stress-reducing properties:
1) Lavender (lavandula officinalis): My all-time favourite, I think, both for the colour and the smell! This wonderfully fragrant, mauve-flowered plant is originally from the Mediterranean and is a kind of herbal powerhouse. The flowering stems or flowers alone are used medicinally. It has a very relaxing effect on the nervous system, and is very therapeutic in reducing irritability and anxiety. Therefore it is very beneficial for those suffering from insomnia and depression.
2) Chamomile (Anthemis nobile): The herbal infusion (or tea), made from the dried flower heads of the chamomile daisy, has a notable sedative effect, so it is recommended to be drunk in the evening, to ensure a good night’s sleep. (I like it in combianation with another flavour and/or sweetened, as I always think that without some additives it tastes like cat's pee !!! ) It also is very effective in reducing inflammation, similar in action to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In herbal medicine the infusion is also used for fever, dyspepsia, nausea and painful menstruation, besides insomnia.
3) Valerian (Valeriana officianalis):The rhizome and roots of this herb have been used medicinally since the Middle Ages or before, when valerian was highly regarded for treating certain types of epilepsy. . It has remained a popular and effective herbal remedy for insomnia and nervous disorders/anxiety, and is still included in natural over-the-counter sleeping pills, often in combination with hops [see below]. It contains substances which in combination are sedative, hypnotic and anti-spasmodic. They are included in pharmaceutical preparations prescribed for all manner of nervous conditions, depression, and chronic insomnia. However, it is so potent that it should not be taken in strong doses for a long period of time because it can become addictive and may also have other side effects.
4) Hops (humulus lupulus):This herb is often used in preparations in combination with valerian [see above], for its sedative properties. Hops have been used in brewing beer since the Middle Ages, but the cones are also used medicinally. An infusion is used in herbalism for digestive disorders, nervous irritability, to induce sleep and as an anti-aphrodisiac (in men! When I discovered this fact, I wasn't sure if that meant the men were taking it themselves, or their wives were giving it to them secretly before bed!!). An effective way of using hops to combat insomnia is to stuff pillows with them
5) Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): Balm has been used as a medicinal as well as a culinary herb for many centuries. Due to its calming properties, it is reputed to be especially beneficial in a tonic in cases of anxiety and depression, and has traditionally been used as a mild form of Valium. It is also valuable for regulating menstrual cycles, calming nervous anxiety, headache and insomnia. It has also been shown to be effective in treating cases of ADHD. It can also be used in pot-pourris, herb pillows and in herb mixtures for aromatic baths and cosmetic waters. (Not to mention its well-known use as an insect repellent, which also makes it effective for reducing stress in that respect too!)
Picture courtesy of www.glendagreen.com