Environmental Nutrition: Can plants keep you calm?
Whether you’re looking for a little more calm or a peaceful night’s sleep, you might reach for plant-based therapies to help you relax. Many plants have traditional uses as tinctures and teas for promoting calm and sleep, and now modern science is uncovering why.
Many sedative drugs activate GABA receptors, which inhibits excessive brain activity, helping keep us calm during the day and promote restful sleep at night. As it turns out, many calming plants do, too.
Chamomile. Chamomile is an ancient medicinal herb with many uses, including as a mild sedative to calm nerves, reduce anxiety and treat insomnia. Research using prescribed doses of chamomile extract to reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder looks promising.
Kava. Kava is a beverage or extract made from the plant Piper methysticum, a perennial shrub in the pepper family that is native to islands in the South Pacific, where it’s a popular social drink, regularly consumed to promote relaxation. Kava is often used to reduce stress, restlessness, and promote better sleep. Compounds in kava called kavalactones are thought to be responsible for its calming effects, and in appropriate doses may relieve symptoms of mildto- moderate anxiety.
Lemon balm. Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis, is an herb included in many calming tea blends. Various research studies have found that lemon balm may help reduce stress, insomnia, and mild-to-moderate anxiety symptoms. Plus, it tastes delicious.
L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea associated with improvements in mood and reduction of stress and symptoms of anxiety. One 2020 systematic review found that L-theanine may help reduce stress and anxiety in people exposed to stressful conditions, but cautioned that larger and longer-term clinical studies are needed.
As with other dietary supplements, herbal preparations are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and manufacturers don’t have to prove that their products produce results. To make sure what you’re buying contains what it says it does, purchase products from reputable manufacturers, preferably those that have undergone third-party testing and certification from groups such as ConsumerLab, U.S. Pharmacopeia or NSF International.
(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition.com.)
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