Herbs for Anxiety
Answered by: Susan Eagles
Question from: Veronica
Posted on: June 8, 1998

I had been on 10 mg. of Paxil for nine months for anxiety and panic attacks. Now, that I am off of it, I feel very stressed and irritable. I’ve also noticed the anxious feelings again. I’ve heard about various herbs - valerian root, kava kava, and St. John’s wort. I’m not sure which would be best and in what dosage. Can any of these cause side effects or allergic reactions? How long do you use them and do you have to wean off of them?

The procedure for determining a herbal remedy starts with a full patient interview and family history. Often a herb is chosen for a patient because of its additional properties that suit other symptoms discussed in the interview. After using recommended herbs for 1 week, a herbalist will see the patient to monitor progress, and the herbs or dosages may be changed to suit the conditions. Any adverse reactions to the herbs would be reported to the herbalist immediately. Once the dosage is stable and the patient improving steadily, monitoring would be done monthly. The length of time a patient takes a herbal prescription varies according to conditions. Because herbs have a physiological effect, it is recommended that a patient be weaned off of them. The usual procedure is to cut the dosage in half the first week, and half again the second week before stopping. There are rarely side effects or allergic reactions.

St. John’s Wort is the usual herb prescribed for mild to moderate depression. There have been many studies showing its positive effects for this use. St. John’s Wort is also an effective pain reliever, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory remedy. The dosage is 2 to 4 ml. Of a 1:10 tincture made in 45% alcohol, taken with water, three times a day.

Kava Kava is a mood raising herb that is an effective anti-microbial, especially useful in genital or urinary infections. The dosage is one half to one teaspoon of a 1:1 liquid extract, taken in water, three times a day. In very large doses, Kava Kava can be lethal.

Valerian is a calming nervine effective in anxiety, nervous stress and for relief of pain, especially in headache. The dosage is one ml. of a 1:1 liquid extract made in 60% alcohol, three times a day.

All of the above herbs are useful in insomnia.

For more information, the books "Valerian, the Relaxing Sleep Herb" by Christopher Hobbs and "Kava: The Pacific Elixir, The Definitive Guide to its Ethnobotony, History and Chemistry" by Vincent Lebot are available at Richters.

In clinical studies quoted by Steven Bratman, M.D. in his book "Beat Depression with St. John’s Wort" (Prima Publishing) only 2 to 4% of patients experience minor side effects. The most common side effects in one study of 3,250 patients was mild stomach discomfort in 0.6% of patients taking the herb, allergic skin reactions in 0.5%, tiredness in 0.4%, restlessness in 0.3%.

Other herbs that you may find useful are Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) tea which is calming in nervous tension and may be taken freely, and Oats, a nervous restorative, which may be taken freely as large flake oats in a cereal or porridge or as Oat straw in tea.

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