Herbal Ingredients That Can Help You Relax and Unwind
Life gets overwhelmingly busy and stressful sometimes. Work deadlines pile up, family demands escalate, and your health or finances may worry you. During hectic times, it's crucial to purposefully carve out time to calm your mind and relax.
The good news? A variety of herbs and botanicals found in nature offer science-backed relaxation and anti-anxiety benefits. When you need to press pause and recharge, turn to these soothing herbal ingredients:
Chamomile: Contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to GABA receptors and promotes a sedating effect. Lowers cortisol and alleviates anxiety.
Lemon Balm: Increases GABA levels and alpha brain waves creating a relaxed state of consciousness. Eases anxiety, stress, insomnia.
Passionflower: Rich in bioflavonoids that increase GABA levels in the brain. Provides tension relief without drowsiness.
Ashwagandha: Ayurvedic adaptogenic herb that improves resilience to stress. Enhances calmness by lowering cortisol.
Rhodiola: An adaptogen that helps regulate stress response. Reduces burnout, improves concentration and mental performance.
Holy Basil: Lowers elevated cortisol levels caused by chronic stress. Relieves depression, anxiety, fatigue.
Valerian: Increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to calm overactivity in the brain. Relieves insomnia and migraines.
Hops: The sedative compound methylbutenol binds to GABA receptors. Relaxes the central nervous system.
L-Theanine: An amino acid found in green tea. Boosts alpha waves and key neurotransmitters for relaxation without drowsiness.
Magnolia Bark: Contains honokiol that modulates GABA receptors and reduces cortisol levels. Eases anxiety and depression.
Let’s now explore each of these herbal relaxants in more detail, along with the best ways to use them.
Soothing chamomile is one of the most widely used herbal relaxants in the world, and for good reason. The dried flowers contain terpenoid, flavonoid and antioxidant compounds that exert a mild sedative effect.
Apigenin, a powerful antioxidant flavonoid in chamomile, binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. This increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity, resulting in a calming, relaxing effect.
Studies confirm chamomile promotes relaxation and feelings of tranquility. It reduces cortisol levels and alleviates anxiety, stress and depression. Chamomile also improves sleep quality.
The glycine compound in chamomile has additional anti-anxiety and nerve soothing properties. Chamomile can even ease gastrointestinal issues and headache pain linked to tension and anxiety.
- Drink chamomile tea: Steep 2-3 g dried chamomile flowers in hot water for 10 minutes. Drink 1-3 cups per day.
- Chamomile essential oil: Add a few drops to baths, inhale, or apply diluted to skin.
- Take 400-1600 mg chamomile capsules per day.
Lemon balm is a minty-lemony herb in the same plant family as basil and mint. Rosmarinic acid, triterpenes and flavonoids in lemon balm leave extract produce relaxing, sedative effects.
Research indicates lemon balm works by inhibiting the breakdown of GABA in the brain. GABA is the body’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter that promotes calmness and relaxation.
In clinical trials, lemon balm tea and supplements significantly increased GABA levels and alpha wave activity. This induces a state of relaxed attentiveness without drowsiness.
Participants reported feeling substantially calmer and less stressed after using lemon balm. It also improved cognitive performance and concentration under stress.
- Drink lemon balm tea using 2-4 g dried leaves steeped for 10 minutes. Drink 2-3 cups daily as needed.
- Take 300-500 mg lemon balm supplements 1-2 times per day.
- Use lemon balm essential oil aromatherapy.
The beautiful passionflower has a long history of medicinal use among Native Americans to promote relaxation and restful sleep. Modern research confirms its traditional use.
Bioflavonoids like apigenin, vitexin and isovitexin are the compounds responsible for passionflower’s anti-anxiety, sleep-enhancing and muscle relaxant effects.
These flavonoids bind to GABA receptors in the brain, increasing GABA activity. This quiets down overactivity in the nervous system. But passionflower is less sedating than prescription anxiety medications.
Clinical trials show passionflower extracts work as well as common anti-anxiety drugs for reducing anxiety symptoms. It also improves sleep quality.
- Drink passionflower tea using 1 tbsp dried leaves per cup of hot water, steeped for at least 5 minutes. Drink 1-3 cups daily.
- Take 350-500 mg passionflower supplements or tincture daily.
- Use passionflower essential oils or extracts.
Ashwagandha is an incredibly powerful adaptogenic herb used in Ayurvedic healing traditions for centuries. It boosts the body’s resilience to all types of stress.
Research shows ashwagandha reduces cortisol levels by 14-27% on average. Cortisol is the major stress hormone released by the adrenal glands during times of pressure.
Ashwagandha alleviates anxiety, enhances calmness and improves depression by normalizing cortisol. It also boosts energy levels, endurance and mental focus depleted by chronic stress.
The main active compounds are withanolides and sitoindosides. But ashwagandha leaf extract contains triethylene glycol and other bioactive compounds that also induce relaxation.
- Take 300-500 mg standardized ashwagandha supplements 1-2 times per day.
- Consume ashwagandha powder mixed into smoothies, oatmeal or honey water.
- Use liquid ashwagandha root or leaf extract for a faster effect.
- Apply ashwagandha essential oil diluted on skin.
Used for centuries in Scandinavia and Russia, rhodiola is a premiere adaptogenic herb that enhances the body’s ability to handle stress.
Rhodiola normalizes stress hormone levels and the production of key neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. It burns excess cortisol and adrenaline released during acute or chronic stress.
This leads to significant improvements in exhaustion, mental fatigue, anxiety, depression, and stress-related headaches. Rhodiola also enhances work performance and concentration.
The rosavins, salidroside and tyrosol compounds in rhodiola are responsible for its anti-fatigue and energizing yet relaxing effects.
- Take 300-600 mg rhodiola supplements each morning on an empty stomach.
- Mix rhodiola tincture into water or tea and drink daily.
- Add rhodiola powder into smoothies or protein shakes.
- Use rhodiola essential oil aromatherapy or diluted on skin.
Holy basil, also called tulsi, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 3,000 years to treat stress, anxiety and depression. These traditionally known benefits are now backed by modern research.
Studies show holy basil lowers elevated cortisol levels by up to 25%. Cortisol is your main stress hormone. Lowering it alleviates anxiety and depression.
The triterpene acids, flavonoids and phenolic compounds in holy basil leaves are responsible for inducing mental calmness and improving resilience to ongoing stressors.
Holy basil also supports memory and cognitive function depleted by chronic stress. The eugenol compound acts as a powerful neuroprotective antioxidant for the brain.
- Prepare tulsi holy basil tea using 2-3 g dried leaves per cup of hot water and steep for 5 minutes. Drink 2-3 cups daily.
- Take 300-600 mg capsules of holy basil extract each day.
- Add tulsi powder or extract to smoothies, juices and protein shakes.
- Diffuse holy basil essential oil or apply topically combined with a carrier oil.
Valerian is a mild sedative herb that has been used since ancient Greece and Rome to promote relaxation and restful sleep. Now it’s one of the most common herbal sleep aids.
The valerenic acids, isovaleric acid and antioxidants in valerian root increase GABA levels in the brain. This calms excessive activity in the central nervous system.
Valerian reduces the time needed to fall asleep and improves sleep quality, with minimal morning drowsiness. It also relieves anxiety and psychological stress.
However, valerian can interact with other anti-anxiety medications and sedatives. It’s best not combined with prescription sleep aids or antidepressants.
- Take 300-900 mg valerian root capsules or tablets before bedtime.
- Drink valerian tea using 1 tbsp dried root steeped for 10 minutes in 1 cup hot water.
- For anxiety, take a separate daytime dose in addition to the nighttime sleep-promoting dose.
The female flowers of the hop plant contain methylbutenol, a sedative compound that lightly binds to GABA receptors in the brain. This helps quiet down excessive activity in the central nervous system.
But unlike prescription sedative drugs, hops create a relatively mild relaxing effect. Hops act synergistically with other herbal relaxants like valerian and passionflower.
Hops increase non-REM sleep, improve sleep quality and reduce nocturnal awakenings. Hops also reduce anxiety, restlessness and excitability.
But note that the bitterness of whole hops limits palatability. Hops are best consumed in encapsulated supplements, extract or phytonutrient formulas.
- Take 300-500 mg capsules of concentrated hops extract daily.
- Use hops tinctures following dosage guidelines.
- Drink non-alcoholic hop tea made from powdered extracts versus whole dried hops.
Found naturally in green and black tea leaves, L-theanine is an amino acid that boosts relaxation and focus without drowsiness.
L-theanine boosts levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and especially GABA. This induces the same brain waves generated during meditation to create a calm but alert state.
Studies confirm that L-theanine significantly increases alpha brain waves after 30-40 minutes. This alpha activity indicates a relaxed yet concentrated mindset.
At the same time, L-theanine also increases beta wave activity which is associated with enhanced cognition and creativity.
- Take 100-200 mg L-theanine supplements with your morning coffee or tea.
- Take an additional 100-200 mg before bed to relax and wind down.
- Drink a cup of green tea which provides about 25 mg L-theanine.
- Try an L-theanine based relaxation drink.
Magnolia bark comes from various species of magnolia trees native to Asia. It’s a traditional Chinese medicine used for centuries as a natural anti-anxiety remedy.
Modern research confirms magnolia bark’s active compounds called honokiol and magnolol produce powerful anti-anxiety and sedative effects.
These active constituents modulate GABA receptors and increase the binding of GABA to its receptors. This quells over-excitement in the nervous system to relax the mind.
Magnolia bark also lowers the release of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenal fatigue is a common underlying cause of anxiety disorders.
- Take 200-400 mg magnolia bark supplements daily.
- Drink magnolia bark tea using 1⁄2 tsp per cup of hot water, steeped for 5 minutes.
- Add liquid magnolia bark extract to beverages or foods.
- Use magnolia essential oil diluted in a carrier oil for aroma.
The beauty of these herbal relaxants is they work with your body synergistically to restore natural balance and equanimity. Rely on these herbs as healthy lifestyle tools during stressful times.
To maximize relaxation, combine targeted herbs with calming activities before bedtime:
- Take a warm bath with Epsom salts and lavender essential oil
- Sip chamomile or passionflower herbal tea
- Diffuse a calming essential oil blend
- Give yourself a gentle neck and shoulder massage
- Turn off all screens 1-2 hours before bedtime
- Practice deep breathing exercises
- Read a book or write in a gratitude journal
- Do gentle stretching yoga poses
Make relaxation and these herbal allies part of your daily and nightly routines. Be patient and consistent. With time, you’ll rediscover your natural state of inner calm and peace.