By Pina LoGiudice ND, LAc and Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc Co-Medical Directors of Inner Source Health in New York
In the Asian mountain regions of Asia, teas have been used for millennia to help with relaxation, in rituals (like spiritual and religious ceremonies), for nourishment and as healing medicine.
In most cases of anxiety today, modern medicine will look to prescription medications to help people cope. According to a report in the 2010 Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, people who use anti-anxiety medication have a 36% increased mortality risk. That means people using these drugs are almost 40% more likely to die than people who do not use them (1). While these drugs can be lifesaving in urgent situations, in most cases, there are natural alternatives.
The following teas are all wonderful for helping your body process stress, relax, and heal from the depletion that can occur as a result of long-term stressors.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) was first grown and used by Native Americans in the Southern United States, like so many of our plant medicines. Passionflower has the flavone chrysin, which has wonderful anti-anxiety benefits and, in part, can work similarly to the pharmaceutical Xanax (Alprazolam) (2,3).
Two studies totaling almost 200 people showed no difference between the efficacy of common anxiety medications and passionflower, but showed that the herb may cause less drowsiness (4).
How to Dose Passionflower
Passionflower tea can be made by infusing 1 tablespoon of dried herbs in 1 cup boiling water. Let the mixture steep for about 10 minutes. Drink the tea near bedtime to induce restful sleep. More typically, we have patients use two droppers-full (about 50 drops) of tincture in warm water as a tea before bed. For people who are very anxious, they can take 25 drops as needed, and they may find it a reasonable substitute for Xanax and other anti-anxiety medications.
Passionflower is generally safe and has not been found to adversely interact with other sedative drugs. To be on the safe side, it should not be combined with alcoholic beverages or prescription sedatives.
Passionflower should not be used by pregnant or lactating women, or for children under 6 months old because there have not been any studies in these groups of people (5).
Who Should Use Passionflower?
In our practice, we find passionflower works best for people with anxiety who also have a lot of thoughts swirling in their head and experience a lot of circular thinking or obsessive thoughts.
The latin name passiflora incarnata translates as “passion made real.” As such, it can be a wonderful herbal reminder for people who have not found what they want to do in life and are anxious as a result. We find this herb can be helpful for young people in their 20’s looking for their calling in life.
An herbal medicine grown in Africa, the Mediterranean and India, ashwanganda (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogen. This class of herb helps the body fight stress by reducing the production of stress hormones that result in the fight-or-flight response. This adaptogenic quality can help the body relax and help the body stay strong. It also is a potent antioxidant as well.
This Indian herbal ashwaganda contains a chemical called ashwagandholine alkaloid which has a mild relaxant, tranquilizer like-effect on the central nervous system (6). In some studies of rats who took ashwanganda, their adrenal organs did not become over-sized with stress, something that commonly happens in rats and humans who are too stressed out (7).
How to Dose Ashwaganda
It is delicious to take before bed! We have patients mix about 1 cup of boiling milk (cow, almond, rice, soy or oat milk) with a half-teaspoon of the powdered herb or the dried leaves. Let the mixture steep for about 15 minutes and cool. Strain and then drink. Ashwanganda is known to be quite safe in the short term of a few weeks. No long-term studies are known.
Who Should Use Ashwaganda?
Ashwanganda is best for people who are nervous and exhausted after having undergone a lot of physical and emotional stressors. It’s also excellent at bedtime for people who have insomnia. It can be used as an immune stimulant in patients with low white blood cell counts, so people who recently have undergone the stress of radiation or chemotherapy would do well drinking the tea during the day to rejuvenate their body (8).
Eleutherococcus (Siberian Ginseng)
Eleutherococcus comes from Siberia, as well as from the northern regions of Korea, Japan and China. Commonly called eleuthero, this herb is not considered a true ginseng (like Panax ginseng) because it does not belong to the same genus plant family.
How Eleutherococcus Reduces Stress
Eleuthero tea contains triterpenoid saponins, which are substances that have a beneficial effect on the body when it is stressed. The University of Maryland Medical Center website notes that Siberian ginseng tea improves blood circulation and enhances mental and physical prowess, as well as regulates the amount of stress experienced. This herb may also help the immune system fight common viruses like the rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza (9).
Human Studies on Eleutherococcus
This hardy plant is known to survive brutal Siberian weather conditions. Many plant experts believe it can confer this strength to those of us who take it. Human studies seem to support this idea. One study of 45 men and women revealed a 40% reduction in raised heart rate during stress overall, and up to a 60% reduction in women (10).
Other studies showed eleuthero lowered blood pressure, and eliminated symptoms of angina. Interestingly, as a true adaptogen, it seems to help raise blood pressure in those with low blood pressure (11).
When Should You Take Eleutherococcus?
We tell our patients to take this herb in the morning and/or afternoon. Some sources suggest for best effect, it helps to take it for 6 to 8 weeks straight, and then have a two-week pause before restarting (12).
Who Should Use Eleuthero?
The person who benefits the most from Siberian ginseng is a stressed person with a low-functioning immune system, who may have an unhealthy cardiovascular response from stress (type A personality) with higher blood pressures and heart rates. Eleuthero can be taken as a tea, or in even stronger forms like capsules or tinctures.
Originating in Europe and England, Hawthorne (Cratageus) has both a calming and nourishing effect on the cardiovascular system. It can have a special gentle relaxant effect on the vascular system in people that have higher blood pressures due to a lot of stress hormones (13).
Hawthorne contains healthy plant chemicals called flavonoids that help keep the blood vessels strong. It may also balance total cholesterol, triglycerides, and bad (LDL) cholesterol as well (14). Some studies also showed it may even help in congestive heart failure (CHF), a type of heart disease where the heart is working very poorly (15).
Who Should Take Hawthorne and When?
Generally, we recommend patients dose hawthorne throughout the day. It is safe enough to take for long periods of time. The most appropriate person would be someone who has demonstrated heart and cardiovascular problems and is under a lot of stress. You can use it as a tea by itself or with other calming herbs like chamomile. Stronger versions of this herb can be dosed as a liquid tincture or as an extract, a thicker and more concentrated form.
A Stress-Free Conclusion
From a naturopathic perspective, the long-term approach to anxiety and stress is to work on sleep, eat healthy whole foods, exercise, and work on your spirit and lowering your stressors when possible.
As natural, non-drug aids, passionflower, ashwaganda, eleuthero and hawthorne are safe and wonderful choices to help keep the body relaxed and balanced during this process.
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