Before 2020, mental wellness had already become part of the national conversation. With a prior lens on celebrity suicides, opioid addiction, and the continuing building of research on how stress negatively impacts health, the job loss and social isolation that ensued from the pandemic brought mental wellness further into the forefront of many people’s minds.
For a couple decades, researchers and doctors have been telling us that, clearly, stress does not support optimal health. But the high pace of modern life has kept on with seemingly little achieved in supporting healthy stress reduction and the aggravated Western lifestyle conditions. However, as the world has taken a pause, we are starting to not only look at changing eating habits to support health and wellness, but also lifestyle habits that contribute to stress. One of these approaches that people are overwhelmingly looking towards in order to support a more restful and relaxed lifestyle is the use of herbs.
While traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic, and herbal medicine have been around for centuries, they have recently come into the spotlight as we (collectively) are moving towards proactive wellness rather than reactive self-care. The truth is, humans are made for bitter herbs. Our bodies welcome the key compounds found in these natural ingredients, and the benefits are bold.
As we head into the spring and summer months, here are five herbs that support a more restful and relaxed life:
This popular herbal superstar—which is also called an adaptogen—is a top herb from Ayurveda. Herbalists have known of this class of herbal adaptogens for a long time, but only now are they becoming accepted and understood in Western cultures. Adaptogens do not have one accepted definition, but generally they are herbs that help the mind and body to adapt to stress.
Adaptogens include other herbs like ginseng, maca, and rhodiola. Ashwagandha is often thought of as one of the best adaptogens in supporting healthy stress reduction, and in fact, its scientific name (Withania somnifera) is derived from its usefulness for supporting healthy sleep. In clinical studies, it has been found to support healthy sleep patterns and quality of sleep. Ashwagandha also improves mood and energy levels and helps maintain normal cortisol levels, the body’s main stress hormone.
Jujube could be the most popular fruit you have never heard of. Jujube is popular throughout many Asian countries, and in fact, is the second most-used herb in Taiwan for supporting healthy sleep. Jujube is a shrub or small tree that has shiny green leaves and thorny branches, but its main attraction is its fruit, which is purplish-red, and wrinkles like dates as it ripens fully. It is a popular snack, but the seed and fruit extracts have also long been used traditionally for supporting health and a deep, restorative sleep.
Known by herbalists as a nervine, which is an herb used as a tonic to the nerves, passionflower has long been used for supporting healthy stress reduction and rest. Passionflower is also used frequently in herbal teas. A recent clinical trial showed that drinking the tea one hour before bedtime showed improved sleep quality in young adults.
From green tea and matcha (a certain kind of green tea) comes the starring amino acid called L-theanine. L-theanine can be useful either in the daytime or night. The combination of L-theanine and caffeine has been shown clinically to work synergistically in supporting a state of “calm-alert,” as well as a more steady-feeling energy.
Holy basil is another one of the key adaptogens that can be found in herbal supplements, as a wonderful herbal tea, and in Ayurveda. This herb is so popular in India, in fact, that it has its own day of celebration. It is widely consumed for supporting health and wellness, but also for enhancing meditation.
Expect to hear more about these five herbs in the coming year as people seek more natural ways of supporting healthy stress reduction. But don’t forget that healthy stress reduction and mental wellness is best done through a variety of approaches—not only involving nutrition and herbs but also things like exercise, meditation, taking breaks from screen-time, and social interaction.