The modern world has no corner on the market when it comes to day-to-day stress and anxiety. After a tough day at the forum, even the ancient Romans turned to medicinal herbs to calm their nerves. Some of these traditional remedies have carried into the 21st century and continue to be used for anxiety. Before using herbal alternatives in lieu of conventional medications such as Xanax, keep in mind that the natural approach may not work best for you. Some herbs can interact with the medications or supplements you're already taking and cause unpleasant or dangerous side effects. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) stresses the importance of taking herbal supplements only under your doctor's supervision.
The medicinal use of valerian dates back to ancient Rome and Greece, states the National Center for Complementary Medicine (NCCAM). Traditionally, it's been used for anxiety and insomnia, although there's still not an abundance of clinical evidence that supports it for these purposes, according to NCCAM. Valerian is often combined with lemon balm or St. John's Wort, states the UMMC, when used for anxiety. Common preparations include capsules, tablets and liquid extracts. Avoid valerian if you're pregnant or nursing or if you have liver problems. Valerian may interact with certain medications, cautions the UMMC, specifically sedatives, such as barbiturates, narcotics and antidepressants. St. John's wort may also counter the effects of medications such as oral contraceptives and antidepressants, and should also be avoided by pregnant and nursing women.
The tropical passionflower with its stunning, crown-like blooms has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, although it wasn't used in the United States until the late 1800s, explains the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS). Historically, passionflower was used as a sedative. According to the UMHS, one double-blind study showed that passionflower extract was as effective as the prescription anti-anxiety medication oxazepam. Preparations include liquid tinctures and the dried herb, which may steeped to make tea. Passionflower has no known adverse effects when combined with other sedative drugs, although there is concern that it may interact with monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, states the UMHS. Avoid using passionflower if you're pregnant or nursing.
Native to the South Pacific, kava kava was used for centuries as a ceremonial beverage by native islanders, according to the UMMC. Kava kava is known as a "feel good" herb that may be beneficial in treating anxiety, insomnia and other nervous disorders. The ground root is made into various preparations, including tablets, capsules, extracts and topicals. It can also be used to make beverages, such as tea. There is some evidence to support kava kava for use in anxiety, but after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration issued a warning linking kava kava to liver damage, further NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine)-funded studies were put on hold. Do not take kava kava if you're pregnant or nursing or have a liver disorder, cautions the UMMC. Kava kava can also interact with numerous drugs, including alcohol, anticonvulsants and antidepressants. Kava kava should be taken only with your doctor's permission, cautions the UMMC.
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- University of Maryland Medical Center: Anxiety
- National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine: Valerian
- University of Michigan Health System: Passionflower
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Kava Kava
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Kava Kava
- Dr. Andrew Weil: Generalized Anxiety Disorder