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Herbal Medicine for anxiety: Understanding & treating

Have you ever felt anxious? Then read on friends…

Anxiety has become commonplace, in fact Beyond Blue states that one quarter of Australians will experience an anxiety condition in their lifetime.

Generally women are 1.5-2 times more likely to have an anxious condition than men. Some people experience anxiety on its own, while for others it is present concomitantly with a depressive disorder.

What exactly is anxiety?

Anxiety is a multisystem response to a perceived threat or danger. Anxiety is very similar to fear, as it invokes an emotional, behavioural & psychological responses to a detected threat. The difference between the two is that fear happens in the present moment, whereas anxiety generally results from thoughts around a future event.

What causes anxiety?

Anxiety can be caused by a number of factors including genetics, personality, life events, and physical health.

Types of anxiety

It is important to distinguish between anxiety as a feeling or experience, and an anxiety disorder as a psychiatric diagnosis. Different types of anxiety conditions include general anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, panic disorders, and specific phobias. For some, anxiety may form part of an obsessive compulsive disorder. Please see your GP or psychologist for a diagnosis.

Signs & Symptoms

There are a range of features & symptoms that form part of anxiety. You may have only a few, or perhaps you can relate to the whole list:

  • A racing heart
  • Fast or difficulty breathing
  • Hot or cold sweats
  • An upset stomach
  • A tight chest
  • Tense muscles
  • Feeling agitated
  • Insomnia, difficulty getting to sleep, or difficulty staying asleep
  • Excessive worry
  • A constant feeling of unease
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Panic attacks

Treatment Options

There are a range of ways to tackle anxiety, including nutrition, lifestyle practices, and psychological support. Herbal medicine is also incredibly valuable in treating anxiety, and we will delve into five herbs that are supportive and calming for anxious conditions. Not all herbs are made equal and quality is important when it comes to all types of herbs, whether it be liquid, dried, or essential oils, so as to ensure therapeutic benefit.

+ Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia):

Lavender is a beautiful purple flower and is known for its calming scent. The main active ingredients are essential oils, specifically linalool and linalyl, and these are thought to have anxiolytic and antidepressant properties. This makes lavender a relaxing herb which helps to reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Lavender is thought to work via a number of mechanisms. It is involved in the inhibition of voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs), which are found in the membrane of excitable cells. It also increases parasympathetic tone, which is the part of the nervous system that calms us down.

+ Chamomile (Matricaria recutita):

Chamomile is a bright yellow flower with several of its flavonoid components having anxiolytic and antidepressant activity. It’s very safe with minimal side effects, and therefore a popular option for those who cannot tolerate medications. Evidence suggests that chamomile helps anxiety by affecting gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), noradrenalin, dopamine, and serotonin neurotransmission, and by modulating hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis function.

+ Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata):

Passionflower has a long history of use in folklore as a treatment for anxiety, and it has sedative and anxiolytic actions. While the flower of this herb is beautiful, it’s generally the leaves that are used for therapeutic benefit. To date three human trials show the efficacy of passionflower as a treatment for anxiety, with one trial showing it to be as effective as benzodiazepines in the treatment of GAD with fewer job-impairment side effects.

+ Withania (Withania somnifera):

Withania is an Ayurvedic herb commonly known as Ashwagandha. Withania works in a slightly different way for anxiety, due to its adaptogenic, sedative, and nervine tonic properties. Adaptogens work by increasing the body’s resistance to stress and promoting normal physiological function, meaning they help to bring the body back into balance. Anxiety, like stress, can increase levels of cortisol, and withania is beneficial in reducing this.

+ Kava (Piper methysticum):

Kava is a plant that is indigenous to the western Pacific. If you travel to Fiji you can undertake a traditional ceremony involving kava, which involves a slightly muddy tasting drink, lots of clapping, and a mouth tingling sensation. It’s definitely worth the experience! Clapping aside, kava is coming into the spotlight for its benefit in anxiety and insomnia, due to its effect on the central nervous system. It has hypnotic, anxiolytic, sedative and analgesic actions, making it an excellent choice for sleep disrupting anxiety or if pain is involved. The mechanism of kava’s anxiolytic activity occurs via a number of pathways, including GABA receptors, and norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibition.

Ways to take herbal medicine:

  • Herbal tinctures: are a beautiful way to support anxiety. Dosage is individualised depending on the person.
  • Supplements: there are a range of supplements on the market that contain the above discussed herbs. Quality & dosage vary.
  • HalsaTea: After Hours: Blends lavender, passionflower, chamomile & . Infuse 1 tsp of dried herb in 1 cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Drink one cup daily in the evenings to promote calm, or up to three times daily as required.
  • Decoction: kava is made into a decoction. Add 30g of dried rhizome to 500ml water, bring to a gentle boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Drink ½ cup three times daily.
  • Essential oils: Add 5 drops to a diffuser and enjoy. We stock Anjali Oils in our Slow-Down Shop

So while anxiety can feel uncontrollable at times, there are ways to support it. Of utmost importance, remember to be kind to yourself throughout the process.


Brooke Schiller, BHSc Nat & Nut

Brooke is a qualified naturopath with a focus on digestive health, hormones and sleep disorders.

Learn more about Brooke here

Book a session with Brooke here

To learn more about herbs for anxiety or for speaking enquiries on this topic get in touch at