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Anxiety Disorder and Herbal Medicine

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

I recently read a statistic that one in five people meet the clinical criteria of anxiety disorder at least once in their life (1). I’d like to say this shocked me, but the reality is in my experience that statistic is pretty spot on. Often I feel it stems from the vast disconnect between the way we live in the modern world compared to the way our biology was designed to function… but of course, I’m also acutely aware that there is much more to it than that- more than my little brain will ever likely be able to fully grasp!

Most people know that anti-anxiety medication is pretty freely prescribed these days and in most cases it can help to relieve symptoms. However, recently I was interested to learn from a 2019 meta-analysis (2) (that’s science talk for a study that performs a statistical analysis on the results of many different studies on the same subject) that the improvement in anxiety symptoms from common pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medication is actually pretty small when including the placebo effect. If the client is then also experiencing side effects from their medication e.g. fatigue, sedation, sexual dysfunction, GIT upset etc. it begs the question, are there any other options?

Of course, the answer is yes. Both nutritional therapies and herbal medicines can assist in lowering anxiety. In fact, there are some promising past and emerging studies on the effect of herbal medicines on generalised anxiety and other anxiety disorders.

I recently attended a MediHerb Seminar with Professor Kerry Bone on this very subject. He mentioned many useful herbs for the treatment of anxiety and backed it up with some sturdy research. Three herbs in particular caught my eye; Valeriana officinalis (Valerian), Piper methysticum (Kava) and Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower). Here’s a couple of interesting facts I learnt about these herbs from the seminar:

  • Results from a study on the effects of Valerian on anxiety showed (by looking at EEG results) that subjects taking Valerian were able to be alert, yet relaxed (not sedated). (3) I find this really interesting as many people on anxiolytic or anti-depressant medication often experience fatigue and lethargy due to their medication.

  • Kava has repeatably shown to be as effective as some anxiolytic drugs (buspirone and opipramol) and have a significant effect on reduction in anxiety (4). Those beautiful Pacific Islanders are onto something!

  • A single dose of Passionflower has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety (5,6,7). Yes A SINGLE dose! This suggests it could be a highly useful herb in treating clients suffering from panic anxiety disorders.

There are many other considerations and options when formulating herbs for clients suffering from anxiety. Part of the beauty of liquid herbal extracts is that they can be formulated for the individual and tweaked as necessary.

Always chat to your doctor and herbalist before changing any medication.


1. Lei Liu, Changhong Liu, Yicun Wang, Pu Wang, Yuxin Li, Bingjin Li, Herbal Medicine for Anxiety, Depression and Insomnia, Curr Neuropharmacol. 2015 Jul; 13(4): 481–493. Published online 2015 Jul.

2. Slee A, Nazareth I, Bondaronek P, Liu Y, Cheng Z, Freemantle N. Pharmacological treatments for generalised anxiety disorder: a systematic review and network meta-analysis [published correction appears in Lancet. 2019 Apr 27;393(10182):1698]. Lancet. 2019;393(10173):768-777. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31793-8

3. Roh D, Jung JH, Yoon KH et al. Valerian extract alters functional brain connectivity: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2019. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6286. PMID: 30632220

4. Boerner RJ, Sommer H, Berger W et al. Kava-Kava extract LI 150 is as effective as Opipramol and Buspirone in Generalised Anxiety Disorder--an 8-week randomized, double blind multi-centre clinical trial in 129 out-patients. Phytomedicine. 2003; 10 Suppl 4: 38-49. PMID: 12807341

5. Movafegh A, Alizadeh R, Hajimohamadi F et al. Preoperative oral Passiflora incarnata reduces anxiety in ambulatory surgery patients: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Anesth Analg. 2008; 106(6): 1728-1732. doi: 10.1213/ane.0b013e318172c3f9. PMID: 18499602

6. Aslanargun P, Cuvas O, Dikmen B et al. Passiflora incarnata Linneaus as an anxiolytic before spinal anesthesia. J Anesth. 2012; 26(1): 3944. doi: 10.1007/s00540-011-12656. PMID: 22048283

7. Dantas LP, de Oliveira-Ribeiro A, de Almeida-Souza LM et al. Effects of passiflora incarnata and midazolam for control of anxiety in patients undergoing dental extraction. Med Oral Patol Oral Cir Bucal. 2017; 22(1): e95-e101. PMID: 27918731

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