You don’t need anyone to tell you that these are strange and stressful times. In a recent Stress in America survey completed by the American Psychological Association (2020) 7 in 10 adults reported that the economy is a significant source of stress. Similarly, 7 in 10 parents reported that managing their child’s online/distance learning is causing them stress. Furthermore, when people of color were surveyed, 71% reported stress over getting the coronavirus and 61% were stressed about their basic needs (APA, 2020).
There is a lot that we cannot control right now, but when it comes to calming negative stress, there are choices we can make. This article will explore some key ayurvedic herbs for stress support. Whether you are concerned about finances, back to school, or keeping your family safe and healthy, there is something you can do to take a step toward wellness.
When it comes to all around nervous system support, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root is a winner. This starchy root has a long tradition in Ayurveda. It is indicated for fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, overwork, general weakness, and tissue deficiency (Dass, 2013). Ashwagandha is helpful in that it both strengthens and calms the nervous system, thereby helping you adapt to stressful situations. Also, it supports a regular sleep cycle when taken over a period of time (at least a month). So, if worry and stress are keeping you up at night, you may want to consider ashwagandha.
The suggested dosage for ashwagandha is 3-9 grams per day (Dass, 2013). It can be taken as powder dissolved in hot water, capsule, or tincture, and is fine to take in both the morning and evening. You can even purchase ashwagandha in bulk as a dried powder and stir a teaspoon or two into rice, porridge, or smoothies.
Ashwagandha’s versatility makes it a key ayurvedic herb for stress support. There are not a lot of safety concerns around this herb, but it is a nightshade so those with nightshade sensitivities may want to proceed with caution.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is also calming to the nervous system. It is considered to have a cool energy, so is especially helpful for individuals who run warm. (Or who are prone to being hot-headed!) This spinach-like plant is helpful in cases of irritability, stress, adrenal insufficiency, poor immunity, as well as rashes and skin irritations (Dass, 2013).
Gotu kola is typically safe to take in fairly large doses—3-30 grams per day (Dass, 2013). It can be found as a powder, capsule, dried looseleaf tea, and tincture. This cooling stress support can be combined with ashwaghandha to both tone and calm the nervous system.
If you are in serious need of a mental vacation, skullcap (Skutellaria lateriflora) may become your new ally. According to Ayurveda, this herb has a bitter taste, a cool energy, and is wonderful for nervous tension, PMS, stress, anxiety, and insomnia (Dass, 2013). According to Ayurvedic practitioner and author Vishnu Dass (2013), “Skullcap works exceptionally well to relax and replenish the nervous system” (p. 290).
If you struggle to get to sleep, skullcap tincture can be helpful to take in the evening to help calm your mind and soothe your stress. Or if your brain is feeling overheated and overloaded, consider skullcap. This herb combines well with gotu kola, as both are cooling and calming. The suggested dosage is 1-9 grams per day or 30-60 drops of tincture (Dass, 2013).
Bacopa (Bacopa monniera), also known as brahmi, is one of the most important ayurvedic herbs for stress support. Brahmi is another name for Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of arts and letters (Dass, 2013), and the herb’s namesake points to its usages.
Brahmi is a brain tonic extraordinaire. This bitter tasting herb is indicated for nervous disorders, ADHD, excess anger, headaches, irritability, stress, and adrenal insufficiency (Dass, 2013). Furthermore, renowned Ayurvedic doctors David Frawley and Vasant Lad (2001) report that bacopa revitalizes the brain cells and aids concentration and memory (which often suffer under extreme stress).
Bacopa can be combined with any of the herbs listed above for a broader effect. For instance, if you are looking to soothe a headache and support your sleep cycle, you could combine bacopa with ashwagandha. The suggested dosage for bacopa is 3-6 grams per day (Dass, 2013). It has a strongly bitter taste, so best to take as a capsule or tincture.
Where to Purchase
Your local natural food store or co-op is a great place to start when shopping for herbal supplements. Often, there will even be specialists working at these locations who can help guide you to trusted brands and quality products.
If you are shopping online, there are many excellent resources. Here are a few of my favorites:
Herbal Safety for Stress Support
The ayurvedic herbs for stress support described in this article are safe for most people. However, if you have a health condition and/or take any medications, it is also wise to consult with an expert. Also, different people respond to herbs in different ways, so it’s always smart to start with a small dose and see how your mind and body responds. You may also find that a particular herb is more effective for you and with other herbs you don’t notice a difference. Therefore, there can be some experimentation and trial and error involved with choosing an herbal support(s).
To start with small doses, begin at the bottom of the range provided for each herb. For example, if the recommended dosage is 1-9 grams per day, start with one gram per day and if there are no issues, slowly in increase the dosage over the course of a few weeks. In general, for capsules, aim for 1-4 capsules, 1-2 times per day. You can start with one capsule 2x/day and then slowly increase to a maximum of 8 caps/day. For loose powdered herbs, working up to about a teaspoon per day is good, divided into two doses. I recommend you start with 1/4 teaspoon 2x/day and then increase to 1/2 tsp 2x/day.
Finding the best ayurvedic herbs for stress support is not one-size-fits all. However, these plant allies—tested over the centuries—can be a wonderful support in your self-care routine. May you be happy, may you be healthy, and may you move with ease through these challenging times.
Greta Kent-Stoll s a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), a Certified Iyenger Yoga Teacher, and a writer and editor for the Herbal Academy. She is also the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville in Asheville, North Carolina.
American Psychological Association. (2020). Stress in America 2020. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report
Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology: East & West. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Frawley, D., & Lad, V. (2001). The yoga of herbs. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.