Surprising herbs to help reduce stress

Stress is one of those things that it is quite easy to be in total denial about. “Stress? Bring it on! I thrive on pressure.” Then you end up wondering why you don’t sleep so well, or your digestion isn’t great. Perhaps your headaches are really getting to the point where you feel sick and have to go and lie down in a dark room, or you experience those few days before your period which aren’t just painful, but border on malicious.

Herbs and lavender lay on a workbench, waiting to be crushed with a pestle and mortar

A bowel of oats and a cup of lemon teaLive life in a healthy way

When your car indicates it needs a service you book it into the garage; often when the red lights are flashing on the dashboard of our health, many of us just try and over-ride the warnings and carry on regardless in a blasé fashion. We are stunned when the inevitable “break down” occurs. If we eat the right food most of the time, do a bit of exercise, make time to just breathe and be, then these sensible measures are likely to mean that you “break down” less often.


As Hippocrates said, “Let food by thy medicine.” One of the best things we can do to moderate stress is to eat oats (assuming of course that you do not have an allergy). Preferably oatmeal; oatmeal is the whole oat including the husk.

The medicinal part of oats is just underneath the husk, so while rolled oats are not “bad” for you they are not as “good” for you as oatmeal. Whole oats as well as reducing your blood cholesterol and acting as a non-irritant bulk laxative also act as a “food” for your nervous system thus allowing you to cope better with life.

Useful herbs

Herbs have been taken since time immemorial (well at least 60,000 years) to modify our responses and to facilitate health. About 50% of all pharmaceutical medicines originate from plants. These drugs are very specific and, in certain situations could save your life where herbs may not. However, they can have side effects. The correct herbs at the correct dose, and used at the correct time, may have fewer (if any) side effects.

Chamomile tea could be regarded as entry level for mild irritability – especially if there are digestive symptoms. Lemon balm and lemon verbena are also pleasant tasting mild stress moderators with a digestive effect.

Skull cap, often used with passion flower, is a great combination for more intense stressful times. Valerian is a herb that straddles stress and insomnia,  however about 25% of people who take Valerian find it hypes them up rather than relaxing them. Hops are useful for sleeping, but can be associated with depression so be careful. Lavender pillows aid a restful night.

St John’s wort is fairly well known, but this herb can help more with mild depression. If taken when feeling anxious and panicky as opposed to depressed it can aggravate these feelings.

There are a host of more exotic herbs that can be used for stress and anxiety: buplerum, peony, albizzia, sour date, bacopa, and ashwagandha to name but a few, are beginning to find their way into over the counter remedies.

Starting with any of the herbs mentioned will help to modify your responses. While healing does indeed come from inside sometimes part of the process of getting better includes asking others for help and advice. If you get stuck or don’t seem to be changing as much as you would like, go and see a herbalist. 

Steve Kippax is a Western and Chinese herbalist, an acupuncturist and the author. Steve’s latest book, Health in Theory and Practice: Circling the Square is available now in paperback and on Kindle.

Health in Theory and Practice
RRP £14.99, Aeon Books
Read now, reference later. Laying out the rationale for self-maintenance and personal growth through the development of diet, exercise, and breathing exercises, discover how you can transform your health and well-being naturally with the help of herbs, acupressure and homoeopathy.


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