Updated: Jul 3, 2020
Herbs and their healing properties have been known and studied for generations. Despite their many positive qualities, you’re more likely to be prescribed a pot of pills to calm your nerves than a natural formulation from the earth.
The effects of herbs are numerous and far reaching. Because of this reason it’s important to know that what works for you may not necessarily have the same effect on a friend or loved one. Seeking advice from a trained herbalist is a good place to start your herbal journey. This is especially true if your anxious thoughts and feelings stem from a specific root cause.
That being said, there are a number of safe and popular herbs that you may find helpful to experiment with. Here, we meet Chantal Perkins, a naturopath and medical herbalist at Healing Herbs Holistic Therapies, who explains the best calming herbs to soothe your nerves, promote calm and lift the spirits.
Please note that this article was not written with pregnancy in mind. This article is only intended as a general guide, and you should seek support from your herbalist or healthcare provider if you have any concerns or queries.
It’s not often spoken about, but there’s far more to oats than just a breakfast-time staple. This plucky and simple grain has fantastic restorative properties and is ideal for calming the nerves.
“Oats are my go-to for restoring the nervous system,” says Chantal. “They’re both calming and tension relieving, and you can get these benefits from a number of different ways.
“Eating them is an excellent way to support and feed the nervous system. Enjoy them as porridge, or include a tbsp of oats in a smoothie recipe.
“You can also bathe in them and this can be really soothing. Oats act as a natural emollient [softening and soothing to the skin]. This can be especially beneficial if you struggle with conditions like eczema where the skin is inflamed.”
Skullcaps are stunning flowering plants that can have a range of benefits for our wellbeing. They’re known to help sooth tension in muscles and can even help with pain, restlessness and insomnia. As Chantal explains, skullcap can be especially useful for treating the physical symptoms of nervousness and anxiety.
“I use skullcap to relieve physical and mental tension,” she says. “This herb helps to calm the parasympathetic nervous system – so can help to bring high blood pressure down and calm heart palpitations.
“Skullcap is best taken as a tea. Take 2-3 tsps in a pot and let it steep for 10-15 minutes. It also combines well with lemon balm and chamomile."
Similar to skullcap is passionflower, and it works in a similar way too. This pretty flowering plant is gorgeous to look at and can also help to soothe the mind when taken as a tea. Key things to remember about passionflower - it's mainly for occasional or short-term use and don't take passionflower during pregnancy.
“Passionflower is really good if you’ve got circular thinking,” explains Chantal. “What I mean by that is where you just have thoughts whirring round and round in your mind. You can have this one at night time too, so is ideal if these thoughts are keeping you from sleeping.”
If you’re able to grow your own passionflower, there’s no need to dry the herb before you use it. Simply chop up into ½ cm pieces ready for your tea, using one to one and a half teaspoons per cup.
A list of calming herbs wouldn’t be complete without chamomile – and with good reason. This daisy-like plant is a popular addition in calming tea blends thanks to the soothing effects that it has on the nervous system. That being said, it's best to avoid if you're known to have hypersensitivity to the Compositae family.
“Chamomile is considered to be really safe – in that respect it’s great for kids too,” says Chantal. “It’s very calming in general and can help if you’re feeling restless and irritable. People who struggle with eczema or restless leg syndrome have often reported benefits from chamomile.
“It’s also good for soothing anxiety, insomnia and digestive problems too.”
Chamomile can be taken as a tea, but is also fantastic for use externally on the skin in creams and lotions. Blending a little of the essential oil with your favourite moisturiser can be a wonderful self-care treatment for the skin.
Dang shen grows in the forests, meadows and woods of Asia. This grounding plant has a variety of uses and, as a result, is seen as something of an all-round tonic.
“Dang shen helps to strengthen the immune system. It's also good for stress, as it’s incredibly calming,” says Chantal. “It can also help to soothe the physical symptoms of stress, calming a stiff neck and shoulders and easing any irritability.”
Dang shen can be a helpful herb to turn to when you’re feeling drained. Enjoyed as a tea, it can help to restore energy – both physically and emotionally – providing support where you need it most.
Our favourite herb – lavender is something of a wonder plant. Not only does it smell divine but, as Chantal explains, it’s also amazing for bringing some calm into your day.
"Lavender is so good for the nervous system – it’s both calming and sedating,” she says. “That being said, it is bitter to the taste – as are many of the herbs that help you feel grounded. The aromatic oils are incredibly grounding and relaxing.
“It’s also good for digestive issues – especially if those issues are emotional ones. People who worry a lot may find lavender is really helpful for the digestive system.”
One interesting aspect of lavender is that it can be beneficial to turn to in times of trauma.
“Lavender is hugely helpful for shock,” says Chantal. “Any kind of huge trauma to the emotional system, lavender is ideal.
“It works on the autonomic nervous system. Any of the herbs that balance the autonomic nervous system can bring you back to a more balanced state.”
If lavender isn’t quite to your taste as a tea, you can also enjoy it as an essential oil in the bath, diffused in an oil burner or mixed with moisturiser as part of your skincare regime.
Remember to not take lavender internally during the main part of pregnancy.
Vervain is commonplace around the UK and can often be spotted on grass verges, coastal cliffs and in rough grassland. Insects love the delicate flowers of this plant – and they’re not the only ones.
“I love vervain as it helps you work though your problems at your own pace,” says Chantal. “It’s so grounding and is good if someone is suffering from emotional trauma.
“You can grow it at home quite easily and brew as a tea. It’s a good thing to have when you’re feel stuck as it helps you to move through these problems, without rushing you.”
Please note that vervain isn't to be taken during pregnancy.
Chantal has had a lifelong passion for nature. As she grew older, she became curious as to how a connection with nature could help to treat illness in the body and mind. Chantal read about herbs, essential oils and different healing energies, before training in reflexology.
This was closely followed by training as a Crystal Therapist, Reiki Master, LUXOR Light practitioner and eventually completing a degree in Herbal Medicine.