There are a variety of herbs that can help boost your body’s natural stress response. Start by keeping calm with herbs like lemon balm, skullcap and passionflower. And if stress becomes chronic and your adrenals become depleted, replenish them with adaptogens like eleuthero and rhodiola.
When it comes to stress-fighting herbs, Cassy Dymond, ND at our Seattle – Wallingford location, says her go-tos are passionflower, lemon balm and milky oats. “WishGarden Herbs has some really nice formulas,” says Cassy. Deep Stress, for example, contains herbs like nettles, oat seed, thyme, bladder wrack and skullcap—“a really great herb for stress. This one is ideal when you have stress and anxiety with agitation and a hard time falling asleep,” says Cassy. She also likes their Emotional Ally, which can be helpful when you’re going through a difficult period in life, like a personal or professional change. That one also includes skullcap and St. John’s wort.
“Cortisol is a stress hormone that’s part of the fight or flight response,” says Paul Clark, herbalist at our Sonoma store. The adrenal glands continue to produce cortisol while we’re in panic mode, so with elevated stress levels, the adrenals can quickly become depleted.
Your body then needs help to calm the stress response and rejuvenate your adrenals. That’s where herbs called adaptogens come in. “Adaptogens are defined by their ability to help the body adapt to stress, whether environmental, physical or emotional,” says Paul. “Adrenals and adaptogens work hand in hand.” Here, more about some of the most powerful adaptogens.
Holy basil has been found to directly inhibit the formation of COX-2 inflammatory enzymes, the proteins responsible for maintaining inflammation and the resulting perpetual production of cortisol in the body. One of the active chemical components of holy basil—called triterpenoic acids—assists in the rapid breakdown of excess cortisol, reducing oxidation of bodily tissues, preserving memory and balancing blood sugar (often leading to significant weight loss, especially in the abdominal area).
As the presence of cortisol in the body decreases, the physical and psychological experience of stress declines significantly, though without any kind of sedative or “foggy” sensations. In fact, holy basil brings a sense of profound clarity and awareness, allowing you to (hopefully) reframe the situation that was causing you stress, and create a new reaction and experience of it. In this way holy basil is not a temporary fix, but rather a partner in long-term healing, helping to create more effective responses to life challenges, and to increase overall life enjoyment.
Cordyceps, a medicinal mushroom that’s been part of traditional Tibetan medicine since the 15th century, directly influences how our cells make ATP, the body’s energy currency, and enhances oxygen utilization. Where stress depletes overall vitality—and specifically can take a toll on sex drive and physical exertion—cordyceps acts as a stimulant and phenomenal aphrodisiac, reinvigorating the neuro-endocrine system.
As long-term stress also diminishes the activity and balance of the immune system, cordyceps has been found to be extremely effective at reducing infection and enhancing defense mechanisms in the body, specifically the T lymphocyte activity involved in cell-mediated immunity.
Rhodiola rosea (also called Arctic or Golden Root) is an adaptogen that hails from the highlands of Siberia and northern Europe. Rhodiola has a profound effect on neurotransmitter balance. In laboratory studies, it has been found to increase the sensitivity of neurons to the presence of dopamine and serotonin, two prominent neurotransmitters involved in motivation, focus, enjoyment and mood. Because of this, rhodiola has been used as a successful alternative to antidepressants in Europe, and may offer benefit to those suffering from attention issues or memory loss.
These and other adaptogens are found on nearly every continent and have been used for thousands of years. They help the body resist chemical, physical and psycho-emotional stressors by balancing neurotransmitters, increasing cellular energy production and supporting neuro-endocrine functions.
Talk to a Pharmaca practitioner about stress-relieving herbs and adaptogens that may be helpful for you.