Stress is the body’s natural response to demanding situations or pressures. Stress may result from either positive or negative experiences. Stress can be a healthy reaction allowing us to cope and move through life’s challenges, however too much stress or prolonged stress can detrimentally affect both physical and mental health.
Physiologically stress response is controlled by the Adrenal Cortex: Your body’s immune system responds by revving up when you’re under stressful conditions. Your adrenal glands, which are small organs above your kidneys, respond to stress by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are part of your “fight or flight” response. They increase your blood pressure and your heart rate.
Some of the signs and symptoms commonly accompanying stress include fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, depression, headaches, and digestive complaints including altered bowel patterns, abdominal bloating and appetite changes.
Herbal medicine has been used throughout history for a myriad of health ailments, including stress and the accompanying signs and symptoms. Some of our favourite herbs for aiding the stress response include:
Chamomile (Chamomilla Recutita, Matricaria chamomilla)
Chamomile is one of the oldest, most widely used and well documented medicinal plants, and has a large array of therapeutic applications. It is especially indicated for anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness, with further soothing carminative benefits for relieving flatulence and bloating. Chamomile is a gentle herb and is generally considered safe for children and pregnant women. A major active constituent is flavonoid apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm, a member of the mint family, has a subtle lemon flavour and many therapeutic applications. Like Chamomile, Lemon balm may be therapeutic to those experiencing both the physical and emotional signs of stress, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and digestive upset. Lemon balm may have an uplifting effect on mood, and is a common ingredient found in stress-relieving herbal tea blends. One of its constituents Rosmarinic acid from lemon balm has potent anti-GABA-T activity.
Kava (Piper methysticum)
Kava root has been traditionally used in the South Pacific Islands as a recreational drink. Therapeutically, Kava root is also used for its effects on the central nervous system and brain, promoting relaxation, stress relief and sleep. Kava works particularly well alongside Saffron, another stressrelieving herb.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Passionflower has a striking appearance with large intricate flowers, and has been traditionally used in Western herbal medicine for nervous tension, anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Skullcap is a traditional herbal remedy used for stress and anxiety and to promote mood.
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
California poppy is used as a herbal medicine to promote relaxation, ease anxiety and relieve insomnia.
Common mechanisms of action for the majority of botanicals reviewed primarily involve GABA, either via direct receptor binding or ionic channel or cell membrane modulation; GABA transaminase or glutamic acid decarboxylase inhibition; a range of monoaminergic effects; and potential cannabinoid receptor modulation.
Maxine Haigh-Whiteis a fully qualified medical herbalist and naturopath with over 18 years of working in Sydney.
For further information details may be found