Although conventional drug therapies for the disorders are easily available, financial, cultural, or personal reasons may cause the individual to seek alternative therapies. Herbs and herbal products may be slower acting than conventional drugs but they provide an inexpensive, effective way to treat the root cause of the disease rather than treat just the symptoms.
The following herbs are effective to a certain degree in reducing (sometimes curing) anxiety and depression.
Holy basil (tulasi, Ocimum sanctum) - Holy basil soothes and calms the nerves, according to the Indian traditional medicine. Research too has confirmed the fact that basil helps with anxiety disorders. For example, a study of 35 people given 500mg per capsule of tulasi twice a day for two months showed not only a significant reduction in their generalized anxiety disorders but attenuation of its correlated stress and depression too. No wonder, tulasi is one of the ingredients in Manasamitra Vataka, an Ayurveda formulation that treats anxiety disorders.
Kava (Piper methysticum) - Kava has also been proved effective in treating anxiety. Number of studies have shown anxiolytic (reducing anxiety) effects of kava to be superior to that of placebo. Actually, it is the only herb that is demonstrably effective in reducing anxiety. However, use it cautiously since kava has adverse effects such as liver damage. Kava is also known to interact with levodopa and alprazolam causing extrapyramidal symptoms or lethargy.
Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) - Passion flower has been used since ages to reduce stress and anxiety. The whole plant except for the roots show anxiolytic activity. However, pharmacologic work on this plant are inadequate, so it is difficult to say how the herb acts to relieve anxiety.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) - Also called the maiden hair plant, Ginkgo has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for treating various health disorders. The extract is particularly helpful with concentration problems, depression, anxiety, dizziness, tinnitus and headaches. The herb apparently works by dilating blood vessels to increase blood flow, reducing blood viscosity, reducing free radicals in the body, and also by modifying neurotransmitter systems. Although some studies reported beneficial effects of Ginkgo at doses of less than 200mg per day for 12 weeks with no side effects, big trials showed inconsistent results. Other studies reported no benefits as regards anxiety and depression.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) - Yarrow is a medicinal plant used in traditional medicine to treat gastrointestinal disorders, inflammation, anxiety and insomnia. A study done to investigate the effect of yarrow on acute and chronic anxiety disorder indicated that the herb exerted anxiolytic effect at doses that did not alter locomotor activity. Its behavior was similar to that of diazepam.
St. Johnís wort (Hypericum perforatum) - St Johnís wort is the only herb that has shown beyond reasonable doubt to be effective as a treatment for mild and moderate depression. The active ingredient for the herb is hypericin and /or hyperforin that act by inhibiting serotonin reuptake and monoamine oxidase. Five trials involving more than 2200 people showed that St Johnís wort acts more or less in a similar fashion as conventional antidepressants. However, evidence suggests that the herb is safe only for people who donít take any other medication. A study even showed that the herb can trigger psychoses in people who concomitantly take SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors).
Saffron (Crocus sativus) - Widely cultivated in India (in Kashmir), Iran, and Greece, saffron is a useful remedy for a number of health disorders. The active ingredient, alpha-crocin, present in the red dried stigma of the herb is known to possess not only anxiolytic and anti-depressive qualities, but also has antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and relaxant activities and some studies even found tumoricidal properties. Studies have compared saffron to the antidepressive drug fluoxetine and found that saffron performed as well as fluoxetine in treating depression.
Borage (Echium amoenum) - A study in mice has shown that borage flowers have anxiolytic effect with lower sedative effect as compared with diazepam. Further, tolerance to the extract was not observed after one week of its use.