Herbs & Natural Remedies:
Catnip (Nepeta cataria), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and kava (Piper methysticum).
Catnip, chamomile and passionflower: tea or tincture. Kava: capsules.
How it Works:
Catnip: German researchers report that the nepetalactone isomers responsible for cats’ intoxication are similar to the natural sedatives in valerian (valepotriates). Chamomile: Argentinean researchers have discovered that a compound in chamomile oil (apigenin) binds to the same cell receptors as the Valium family of tranquilizers and anti-anxiety drugs. Passionflower: The herb contains tranquilizing compounds, notably passiflorine, which is chemically similar to morphine. French researchers gave anxiety sufferers either a placebo or an herbal preparation containing passionflower. After twenty-eight days, those taking the herb reported significantly greater relief. Kava: American researchers gave anxiety sufferers either a daily placebo or kava (240 mg). After four weeks, only the kava group showed reduced anxiety symptoms.
Catnip: 2 teaspoons of dried leaf per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes and drink up to 3 cups daily. Chamomile: 2 to 3 heaping teaspoons of flowers per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes and drink up to 3 cups daily. Passionflower: 1 teaspoon of dried leaf per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes and drink up to 3 cups daily. Kava: standardized extract with 60 to 75 mg of kavalactones per capsule. The dose used in most studies is 300 mg per day of standardized extract. Follow package directions. When using tinctures, follow package directions.
Passionflower contains compounds identified as uterine stimulants. The herb has not been associated with miscarriage, but pregnant women are best advised to avoid it. In unusually large doses, kava causes inebriation similar to alcohol. Do not mix kava with alcohol or other tranquilizing, sedative or psychoactive medications, including antidepressants. Kava potentiates the sedative effect of other drugs. Recently, kava has become controversial because in rare cases, it appears to cause severe liver damage. Don’t use it if you have liver disease. Don’t use it daily for more than eight weeks. If significant anxiety symptoms persist for more than eight weeks, consult your doctor and/or a mental health professional.
Other helpful anxiety treatments: meditation, massage, a hot bath, sex, humor (rent some comedy videos), aromatherapy (try chamomile or lavender oil), exercise, listening to music or a relaxation tape, companionship (friends, family, pets) and counting your blessings.
San Francisco health writer Michael Castleman is the author of 11 consumer health books. Visit