Taking a pill to help you chill might sound appealing, but many prescription drugs have nasty side effects and are very expensive. Using herbs for stress relief is a lot less, well…stressful.
For centuries, herbs have been the cornerstone of good health. Many cultures have successfully used herbs as treatment for all types of medical issues. Unlike western society that relies on powerful mind-altering drugs to help with severe mood swings and depression, other cultures have often looked to the natural world for stress relief.
The Fabulous Five Herbs for Stress Relief
One of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha has been used since ancient times to treat a wide variety of conditions. It is most well-known for its restorative benefits. The name means “the smell of a horse” indicating it promotes the strength and vigor of a stallion.
Ashwagandha contains many potent medicinal compounds in the leaves and roots like:
- Steroidal lactones – improve the power supply of nerve cells
- Alkaloids – act quickly on the nervous system and can have a safe natural sedative effect
- Choline - from the B vitamin family it has been shown to lower cholesterol and stave off cognitive decline by boosting brain function
- Fatty acids – omega-3 and omega-6 are critical to proper development and functioning of the brain and nervous system
- Amino acids – the building blocks of protein they play a crucial role in the development and maintenance of a healthy nervous system, immunity and brain function
- Healthy sugars – for energy
2. Rhodiola rosea
This unique herbal remedy grows at high altitude in the sandy soil of artic areas of Asia. It has long been used as a treatment for fatigue and western medicine is prompting scientists to examine its health benefits more closely.
Rhodiola rosea has been showing great promise by decreasing the harmful effects of chronic, long-term stress on the body. It helps bring balance back to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems of the body.
In the modern world, we are often under constant pressure and stressed throughout the day. This leads to feeling edgy, tired and depressed. Rhodiola rosea seems to be able to help the body re-establish balance by influencing the brain chemicals serotonin (the “happy” hormone) norepinephrine (the adrenaline hormone) and feel good opioids called beta-endorphins.
In a Columbia University publication, rhodiola’s remarkable effect on the nervous system was described as “emotional calming.” Dr. Richard Brown stated that rhodiola “enhanced the healing properties of one’s own nervous system”
The health benefits of rhodiola rosea don’t stop there. Numerous studies have found it to:
- Improve cognitive and memory function
- Increase mental and physical resistance to stress due to fatigue
- Reduce levels of C-reactive protein, and inflammatory marker that results from muscle damage due to physical exertion
- Enhance sleep
- Lessen depression symptoms
- Keep blood sugar stable
3. Elueuthero (Wucha)
Elueuthero belongs to an amazing class of plants known as adaptogens. They are known for helping the body to adapt to environmental changes and reduce the effects of stress on the body. Other health benefits include:
- Stronger memory and clearer thinking under stress
- Sustained energy without the side effects of stimulants like caffeine that cause the jitters
- Increased tolerance to heat, noise, strenuous exercise
- Increased sexual vigor
- Sleep aid
Elueuthero’s effectiveness at reducing stress is believed to come from the compounds it contains called eleuetherosides. These enhance the immune system by helping T-cells engulf harmful microorganisms, damaged cells and foreign particles in the body. It also promotes the formation of protective B lymphocytes that are critical to a strong immune system.
Related: Do Probiotics Benefit Your Overall Mood?
4. Holy basil
Holy basil is known to be a powerful antioxidant with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties as well. Modern science has been taking a closer look at this remarkable herb due to its great potential in relieving stress and promoting relaxation.
Like Eleuethero, holy basil functions as an adaptogen to enhance the body’s natural response to physical and emotional stress. It seems to be able to influence the secretion of stress hormones, corticosterone in particular. A rush of cortisol is good when an actual predator confronts you. However, work, traffic, and many other things keep us saturated with the stress hormone, and it wreaks havoc on the body.
Holy basil’s concentration of eugenol and caryophyllene release a pleasing and soothing aroma that has been shown to elevate mood. Eugenol also has shown to enhance mental clarity, something that can suffer during periods of prolonged stress.
5. Suma root
Suma root has been used for hundreds of years in South America to increase physical strength, boost energy levels, stamina and the immune system. It contains two anabolic agents, allantoin and ecdysterone, which have been linked to muscle growth and enhanced endurance.
It also is an herb for stress release known as an adaptogen. Packed with germanium, a potent immune booster and saponins, which have shown to improve immune function and lower cholesterol, suma root also has many important vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
A compound called beta-ecdysterone is also found in the herb and is showing great potential to treat sexual dysfunctions like impotency. This is most likely due to its ability to provide more oxygen to cells. This has the added benefit of improving circulation to all areas of the body including the brain, which improves memory and sharpens mental clarity.
Suma root is an effective herb to combat stress due to its ability to affect the adrenal glands, which produce adrenaline and corticosteroid hormones, the ones that are responsible for our “flight or fight” response. Suma root is effective at balancing these hormones in the body, which is important because constant long-term exposure to them causes many health problems.
Using herbs for stress relief has proven effective for thousands of years in many cultures. Finding natural ways to reduce stress are preferable to taking powerful prescription drugs with harmful side effects. Taking these five herbs to reduced stress and balance out mood swings is a safe natural way to combat the stressors of daily life without dangerous side effects.