Anxiety is a commonplace term that can be difficult to define due to there being two contrasting types of anxiety: normal and abnormal. While normal anxiety is a typical and even healthy experience (think back to the nerves you felt before your first kiss), disproportionate levels of anxiety alter your coping mechanisms, resulting in physical symptoms and changes (increased blood pressure, sweating, dizziness). Through this interference, anxiety disorders emanate, now affecting more than 40 million North Americans.
Thankfully, there are numerous plants that have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties. We have taken a closer look at a couple of our favourite natural remedies:
Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis) is a perennial that has been historically steeped in wine. Ancient use has led to lemon balm transforming into a multi-use herb known for treating bites and stings, attracting pollinators and intensifying essential oils. As an herbaceous mood modulator, using Lemon Balm results in improvements in cognitive function, increased calmness, and a decline in agitation, irritability and restlessness.
Lemon balm produces the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain, decreasing activity in the nervous system. When GABA attaches to receptors in the brain, signals are sent to initiate and suppress movement. There is a calming effect on the body as the muscular system relaxes. GABA has been found to have mood-stabilizing properties as well, which is what makes lemon balm an effective, holistic (whole-body) remedy for anti-anxiety.
Due to this calming effect, lemon balm has the power to restore sleep, which directly corresponds with anxiety. It also has the ability to significantly subside insomnia symptoms. At higher doses, it is found to be a mild sedative.
Terpenes are organic compounds found in lemon balm which are used as anti-inflammatories and analgesics, affecting neurotransmitters in the brain similarly to antidepressants. Lemon balm also contains tannins which are known to lower blood pressure and modulate immune response. Eugenol is another key proponent in lemon balm, acting as a natural anaesthetic and aiding in pain.
Due to lemon balm’s ability to stimulate relaxation, a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial found that participants suffering from anxiety and insomnia who received lemon balm extract twice daily reduced their state of anxiety by 49% and reduced their anxiety-associated symptoms by 72%.
Another study evaluated anxiolytic effects with lemon balm administered in different consumable forms. The results of lemon balm are associated with behavioural improvements, reduced depressive-relief, as well as positive self-rated measurements of mood.
Lemon balm has antiviral, antimicrobial effects and effectively protects the body from unhealthy levels of oxidative stress through antioxidants (which limit the damage caused by free radicals). It lowers high triglycerides, regulates overactive thyroids, and protects the heart and liver from disease. As an essential oil, it has caused apoptosis (spontaneous death of cells) in cancer cells, specifically glioblastoma, the most aggressive cancer in the brain, one that is highly difficult to treat. With neuroprotective properties, its cognitive enhancement offers exciting data regarding progressive dementia and memory loss.
The naturopathic approach to anxiety is simple when plants offer alternatives with multifaceted benefits. Rich foods, herbs and vitamins all enhance healing and can provide a complementary route to optimal health. There is a current shift in medicine with more and more people opting for natural resources, an inspiring contagion. The utilization of plants can be a powerful experience.
If you are interested in learning how to incorporate the power of plants in your life, you can read Alyssa’s story about how she manages her chronic pain naturally.
*While herbal medicine acts on the same pathways as pharmaceuticals, it is still important to converse with a qualified health practitioner about the safety, dosage, quality and effectiveness of your preferred herbs.