The Latest on Herbs for Anxiety

The Latest on Herbs for Anxiety


Our lead digital editor reports on one master herbalist's suggestions for our current age of anxiety.

This past June, as the lead digital editor of S+H (and an herbalist in my spare time), I attended the biannual International Herb Symposium at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. I spent much of my time attending workshops, drinking tea (and plenty of coffee) with other herbalists, and shopping the variety of vendors at their indoor-outdoor market.

One of the workshops that stood out the most to me, both personally and professionally, was entitled “The Age of Anxiety: Herbs and Food Medicine,” led by Christopher Hobbs, PhD, mycologist, herbalist, acupuncturist, and founding member of the American Herbalists Guild. The following are some of his strongest suggestions for herbal support for anxiety management. (Make sure to consult with a medical professional before taking herbal supplements.)

American Ginseng

While Dr. Hobbs did offer herbal recommendations for many variants of anxiety, he also made it very clear that for some forms of anxiety, what’s required is not necessarily relaxation but rather activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Using his roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, Hobbs suggested that anxiety can be a symptom of a yin deficiency: when the body’s neurotransmitters and hormones are “depleted” and in need of restoration.

For such manifestations of anxiety, Dr. Hobbs indicated that American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) may be supportive, describing it as a yin tonic. Dr. Hobbs suggested that a dosage of 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried, very finely ground American ginseng in warm or hot water, taken every morning and evening, may be supportive. Dr. Hobbs suggests purchasing micro-ground herbs from sources like Mountain Rose Herbs or using a strong grinder to process them yourself.


Another remedy that Dr. Hobbs mentioned in his workshop was the reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lingzhi). Dr. Hobbs considers reishi to be the most calming mushroom and believes it to be a helpful remedy for those with anxiety who also need additional support in opening the heart.

Similar to the recommendation for American ginseng, Dr. Hobbs suggested a dosage of 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried, very finely ground reishi in warm or hot water every morning and evening to open the heart. Similar to the suggestion above for American ginseng, Dr. Hobbs suggests utilizing micro-ground herbs or processing them very finely yourself.

Valerian Root

One unsurprising herb that Dr. Hobbs suggested for managing anxiety was valerian root (Valeriana officinalis). This remedy has been used to help manage anxiety and promote sleep for centuries. However, one detail about the preparation of this plant is important: Dr. Hobbs suggests that valerian root has to be taken as fresh as possible, as dried and oxidized valerian root may actually stimulate the mind rather than calm it.

To get the most benefit out of valerian root, use a tincture made from fresh—not dried—valerian root. If you are able to grow your own, Dr. Hobbs advises that valerian root is best to harvest any time after the plant flowers. He also suggests that valerian essential oil works well in aromatherapy to combat anxiety.

Chamomile (or Pineapple Weed)

A well-loved anti-anxiety herb, chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) and its related cousin pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) both come highly recommended by Dr. Hobbs. He suggested that, while chamomile may be seen as an overused anti-anxiety remedy, it has the power to offer profound assistance when high-quality herb is used.

Pineapple weed is closely related to chamomile and is similar in appearance with slightly different flowers and more of a tropical scent. This wilder variant works the same as classic chamomile.


The medicinal herb that received the most attention in Dr. Hobbs’ workshop (and, perhaps, the entire conference) was kava, also known as kava kava or Piper methysticum. Kava is a root plant that has historically been used for ceremony, medicine, and community in many Pacific islands and is, according to Dr. Hobbs, the only herbal intervention for anxiety with proven clinical results. As it has historically been used as a social herb, kava offers a gentle sense of relief and calm that makes it a remarkably restorative replacement for alcohol at a variety of social gatherings.

In the workshop, Dr. Hobbs suggested that the best way to prepare the root is through the traditional water extraction method, explained here. Dr. Hobbs explained that kava offers a sense of elation and euphoria for 15-20 minutes, which then fades into a sense of calm that lasts for a few hours.

I can personally attest to the calming power of kava. On the second night of the conference, Dr. Hobbs helped brew an enormous batch of the herbal concoction for hundreds of participants at an herb-themed dance party. (Dr. Hobbs himself was on the dancefloor for much of the evening.) I found myself remarkably relaxed, without feeling sedated, and was lulled into a restorative deep sleep when I later retired.

Additional Support for Anxiety

In addition to the herbs he recommended for our current age of anxiety, Dr. Hobbs acknowledged the many reasons that we humans face anxiety: childhood trauma, neglect, exclusion, racism, long-term stress, uncertainty, unstable housing, grief, and a global pandemic, to mention a few. He also strongly recommended that anxious folks prioritize deep rest. He made the following suggestions:

  • Prioritize sleep, and always stretch before bed; take Child’s Pose for five minutes.

  • Use breathwork and meditation to help eliminate some of life’s “what-ifs.”

  • Limit cannabis and alcohol consumption, as they prevent restorative sleep, which is crucial for healing.

  • Manage (or avoid) anxiety triggers as much as possible. These may include caffeine, messiness, self-neglect, stressful social gatherings, and relationship conflict.

  • Experiment with bodywork modalities like somatics, hypnosis, massage, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, or pickleball. Dr. Hobbs says that “stagnation is the worst for anxiety.”

The Latest on Herbs for Anxiety

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