The Top 5 Herbs for Relaxation

woman laying in grass in the sun
Camomile in a jar

After a stressful day, there are many ways to wind down and let go of tension. Reading, conversation, gentle exercise, meditation and prayer are all time-honored ways to encourage relaxation. You can further enhance your relaxation routine by adding in herbs. 

These five herbs from the Western tradition will complement any home-relaxation ritual. 

1. Lavender

This herb native to the Mediterranean is treasured for its calming and soothing effects. The essential oil is inhaled for its pain-relieving, anxiety-reducing and mood-stabilizing effects. In a 2012 study in European Neurology, lavender essential oil was found to significantly reduce the severity of migraine headaches. In another study, lavender essential oil as aromatherapy was shown to decrease agitation in patients in nursing homes.

  • Add lavender to your relaxation routine:
    In its dried or fresh form, lavender is ideally suited for use in a bath. Fill a mesh bag with lavender flowers and add it to your bathtub. Soak and relax for 20 minutes.

2. Chamomile

This plant could be the most widely used relaxing Western herb. Among its many properties, it calms nerves and muscle spasms, aids in digestion by relieving gas and bloating, helps with dizziness and motion sickness, and can safely be used for children and infants to promote restful sleep, according to 2010 research published in Molecular Medicine Reports.

  • Add chamomile to your relaxation routine:
    A cup of chamomile tea before bed is a classic ritual.

3. Lemon Balm

This mint-family plant has a pleasant citrus taste and reduces anxiety, calms digestion and elevates mood. Lemon balm is traditionally indicated for restlessness and nervous indigestion. It has also been shown to enhance cognitive performance through its actions on acetylcholine receptors in the brain, in a 2002 Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior study

  • Add lemon balm to your relaxation routine:
    One tablespoon of fresh or dried lemon balm per cup of hot water makes a delicious and soothing drink. Lemon balm may theoretically interfere with thyroid hormones, so avoid taking it long-term at high doses if you have hypothryoidism.

4. Hawthorn

The leaves, flowers and fruit of this plant are often used to strengthen the cardiovascular system and relax blood vessels, lowering blood pressure, according to a 2010 article in Pharmacognosy Review. In traditional Western herbalism, hawthorn is also used to soothe emotional stress of heartache and facilitate healing by opening the heart and inviting forgiveness. As it can alter the need for certain heart medications, any cardiac patient taking hawthorn should be monitored by a physician, as noted in a 2002 research review in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy

  • Add hawthorn to your relaxation routine:
    Brew it into an evening tea, using a tablespoon of hawthorn per cup of hot water. If you prefer not to drink a lot of fluid right before bed, you can take 1/8 teaspoon of solid extract of hawthorn, which has a syrup-like consistency.

5. Passionflower

The beautiful flower of a vine native to the tropics and sub-tropics, passionflower promotes restful sleep and relaxation. According to a 2010 study in Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, passionflower works chiefly by affecting gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors and other neurotransmitters in the central nervous system.

  • Add passionflower to your relaxation routine:
    Add dried leaves, roots and flowers to a small pouch to create an herbal sachet for near your pillow, or add them to a warm bath. Passionflower works well and tastes good as a tea, too — especially when combined with hawthorn. Passionflower should not be taken by people who are already taking other sleep medications.

As with all natural products, choose herb sources that are high-quality, organic and sustainable, to help ensure plant medicines will be available for future generations. If you take medications, have a health condition, or are pregnant or breast-feeding, consult a health care professional before you take herbs.



— Natalie Walsh, ND, MS, resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health. This article was originally published in Massage Magazine.