The ability to adjust our diet in order to fuel our bodies with the proper nutrients has been well documented but the conversation around fueling our brains is often less accessible. If you find yourself suffering from insomnia, anxiety or depression, you might consider adopting herbal remedies to help alleviate these symptoms. Herbs like valerian root, lavender, chamomile, passionflower and lemon balm can easily be added to your daily regimen and will feed your brain the proper nutrients for optimal health.
Lemon Balm, Photo by Shyam Sundar
Herbs for Anxiety & Depression
I have talked about the many ways kava can help reduce anxiety and mild depression but kava is not the only organic resource you can turn to. Many herbs help in a similar way by promoting the body’s release of GABA, a compound that regulates mood and influences the production of serotonin. Valerian root, for example, when taken in 120-200 mg capsules (3x per day), can help increase serotonin levels and reduce anxiety levels. The rosmarinic acid in lemon balm and passionflower induces relaxation and promotes serotonin production in the body. These herbs all work similarly to anti-anxiety medications, providing the brain with the tools to induce a sense of calm. Typically, results are best seen when taken consistently for more than two weeks.
Passion flower vine, Photo by David Nieto
A flavonoid called apigenin found in German chamomile is often used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), as it induces relaxation by binding to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain, causing a sedative effect. This is one of the most common herbs and can be easily found as an oil extract, cream, lotion, herbal sleeping pill or dried in tea bags. German chamomile is one of the easiest herbs to introduce into your daily routine, as it is widely available and very tasty. Because it is meant to treat symptoms that crop up throughout the day, I would recommend drinking a cup of tea with each meal, or at least 3 times a day, for the best results.
Natural Herbal Medicine to Tackle Insomnia
If your struggles with insomnia are a matter of falling asleep consider adding valerian root to your diet. It contains antioxidants called hesperidin and linarin that have sleep-enhancing properties known to reduce the amount of time it takes to drift off. Roman chamomile (Chamamelum nobile) is another effective solution. It carries a specific flavonoid called apigenin that behaves similarly to benzodiazepines in the body, giving chamomile its sedative-like properties. In order for these herbs to help you ease into your nightly slumber, you’ll want to ingest your preferred choice about 30 minutes before bed. The most common dosage for valerian root ranges between 400-800 mg in a tea or tincture. Start with a lower dose as high doses may lead to morning drowsiness. For chamomile, 1-2 drops of essential oils can be added to a cup of hot water or 2-3 teaspoons of dried flower heads can be steeped into tea.
Valerian, Photo by Elle Hughes
As you know all too well, Insomnia is not only a problem of falling asleep, but of staying asleep. Slow-wave sleep, also referred to as deep sleep, usually lasts about 20-40 minutes and is an essential sleep state that helps to optimize physical and mental recuperation. Insomnia often interrupts this, which is why you sometimes feel sluggish even after falling asleep with ease. Antioxidants found in lemon balm and the essential oils from lavender and passionflower improve the quality of your sleep, allowing for the uninterrupted periods of deep sleep that give your body and mind a chance to heal. I often dab a drop or two of lavender oil on my wrists before I brush my teeth at night. The smell from the oil makes me feel instantly calm and its proven ability to lower your heart rate helps prepare me for a good night’s sleep.
To truly tackle this issue head-on, two or more of these herbs can be taken in conjunction with one another. Most commonly, valerian root and lemon balm are taken together, prepared as a nighttime tea. When preparing a lemon balm tea be sure to keep your teapot covered in order to catch the steam, which contains the important therapeutic oils found in the herb. Drinking a cup 30 minutes before bed will maximize its sleep inducing benefits.
Holistic Healing: The Power of Herbs
Herbal remedies can be incorporated into your diet to tackle the root cause of your problems, ensuring that they go away and stay away. Feeding your brain proper nutrients makes it better equipped to fight back against any maladies that might bother you in the short and long-run, ultimately leaving you healthier and stronger. These remedies are not intended to be an immediate replacement for doctor prescribed pharmaceuticals, so be sure to discuss your holistic plan with your mental healthcare provider and consider seeking the advice of a medical herbalist to help you map out a specific and concrete alternative medicine plan.