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Top 12 calming herbs
Natural ways to relieve stress and anxiety.
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“Do not expect these anti-anxiety nutrients to be as powerful as Valium and Xanax,” says Ray Sahelian, M.D., Health and Wellness Advisory Board member and author of Mind Boosters. “However, their side effect profile is generally much safer.”

Also be aware that if stress and anxiety are persistent problems, you may need to examine your lifestyle. Are you taking on too much? Do you need to say no more and delegate responsibilities? “Also consider yoga,” says Sahelian. “Practicing yoga does more than increase flexibility, strength and muscle tone. It improves concentration and motivation and lessens anxiety.”


What is it

How it works



An amino acid that’s found only in green tea.

Helps generate alpha brain waves, which have been associated with relaxation.


GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)

An amino acid neurotransmitter.

Stimulates GABA receptors in the brain, which induces relaxation.

May work better in combination with theanine.

Lemon balm

A plant in the mint family.

Acts as a mild sedative.

May work better in combination with valerian.


Comes from a plant called Piper methysticum, which grows in the South Pacific islands.

Relaxes muscles in the body.

Do not take with alcohol or other medications. Do not take at all if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have a history of liver problems. Limit use to two times a week.


A flower often used in aromatherapy.

Breathing in the aroma of natural lavender oil calms the central nervous system.



A native plant of Europe and North America.

Inhibits the breakdown of GABA (see above) in the brain, which has a sedative effect.



A plant native to Britain that’s found in beer.

Acts as a sedative.

Best used in the evening.

5-HTP (5-hydroxy-l-tryptophan)

Extracted from griffonia seeds, which come from a shrub grown in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

Converts to serotonin, a brain chemical involved in mood, behavior, appetite and sleep. One study found it may help prevent panic attacks.

Limit use to 50 mg (at most 100 mg) a day, and take frequent breaks.

Passion flower

A flowering plant (Passiflora spp.).

Methanol extracts from the leaves, stems and flowers have anti-anxiety effects.

Do not use with other sedative drugs.


An Ayurvedic herb taken from the roots of the Indian Winter Cherry shrub.

Promotes GABA-like activity. The antioxidants found in the herb may also reduce stress.

Long-term studies on safety are unavailable. Take occasional breaks from use.


An essential amino acid found in protein-rich foods, such as turkey.

Converts into 5-HTP (see above) and then serotonin.

May cause drowsiness or dry mouth.

Omega-3 fatty acids

An essential fatty acid found in cold-water fish.

Increases fluidity of cell membranes and improves communication between brain cells.

Limit use to 3 fish oil capsules a day.

Information provided by Health and Wellness Club Advisory Board member Ray Sahelian, M.D., author of Mind Boosters, and Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council.

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