Stress is hard to get rid of. It's all around us, and just when we think we've gotten through one catastrophe, another is waiting to happen. Many of us also deal with chronic, low-key stress that can really have a negative impact on your nervous system and health.
Herbs provide a world of relief and can restore a sense of calm in you. If you've ever breathed in the scent of flowers or maybe an herbal tea, you know the soothing power of herbs.
However, pregnancy brings another factor into the equation. You may want a natural approach to stress relief, but you also want to be careful about what you expose your growing baby to. The good news is that there are many pregnancy-safe herbs that can help you with stress.
Here's a look at the top choices.
(Note: Some herbs that are safe for pregnancy are still contraindicated in the first trimester. Talk to your midwife, a qualified herbalist, or other healthcare professional about which one are safe and when to use them.)
Natural Stress Relief with Pregnancy-Safe Herbs
Chamomile is probably the poster-child herb for aiding sleep and stress. It's a great choice during pregnancy because of its gentleness and has an added benefit of being soothing for your stomach.
Many people enjoy the sweet and slightly bitter flavor of chamomile, and it's been shown in studies to reduce stress and even help with symptoms of anxiety. If stress is keeping you up at night, a cup of chamomile tea can help with that as well. (1)(2)
Another option is to try it with a blend of herbs in this Sweet Slumber tea.
Due to the popularity of peppermint, spearmint often gets overlooked, but it has a great ability to calm stress and anxiety. Spearmint also has a milder and sweeter flavor than peppermint, which can be helpful when you want a less intense remedy.
Menthol is thought to be the main substance in mint that calms the nervous system. Research indicates that antioxidants and other compounds in spearmint could also contribute to its relaxing properties. (3)(4)
Try a cup of spearmint tea to calm both stress and your digestion, or use peppermint if you need something more invigorating.
Lemon balm is a lovely herb for stress-relief. It belongs to the mint family and is perfectly safe for use during pregnancy. Traditional herbalism and modern research both agree that lemon balm can restore a sense of calm and decrease feelings of stress. (5)(6)
You can also use lemon balm to help with sleep and to ease a headache, especially one caused by stress.
Lavender is one of the most popular and well-known herbs. It has a strong floral scent and can be used internally or externally to ease stress and anxiety. Many people find that just using lavender in aromatherapy is effective for stress-relief (and better sleep). (7)(8)
You can try lavender a few ways to see what works best for you: an herbal tea, added to a warm bath, or diffused as an essential oil.
Milky Oats and Oatstraw
Oats might not be your first thought when it comes to stress-relief, but they can actually provide serious support for your nervous system. Oatstraw is the stalk of the oat plant, and milky oats are the still green seeds that are harvested before they harden into the oats we buy at the store.
Both are tonic herbs that nourish and restore your nervous system. You won't necessarily notice an immediate difference, but taking either one for a period of time will help your body with long-term stress. (9)
Not only are both pregnancy safe, their vitamin and mineral content is highly beneficial during pregnancy and can restore nutrient levels that may be depleted. (Rosemary Gladstar. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, pg. 181)
Roses have a much-loved fragrance, and the petals are considered an herb for the heart. Breathing in the fragrance of rose petals or soaking in a rose-infused bath can be very effective for stress-relief.
Studies done on rose oil find that it also promotes relaxation and can even lower blood pressure. However, since the essential oil is so expensive, you may want to opt for the dried petals to make your own tea, facial steam, or infused bath. (10)
Not just for cats, catnip is another member of the mint family. It has been used for centuries for its calming properties and is gentle and safe.
Catnip can have a sedative-like effect that calms stress and anxiety and promotes sleep. If you find it makes you sleepy, only use it at night or decrease the amount you take. Catnip combines well with other herbs for stress and is mostly taken as a tea. (11)
Hawthorn berries are another herb with an affinity for the heart (both physical and emotional). They have long been used for emotional support through periods of stress and may also help with anxiety. (12)
Hawthorn belongs to the rose family of plants and is a gentle herb. However, some herbalists recommend not taking it during the first trimester. (13)
Adaptogens are a unique class of herbs that have special properties. They help your body adapt to physical and emotional stressors and are some of the best herbs for long-term stress relief. Adaptogenic herbs also have anti-fatigue properties and can benefit your mental health. (14)
Not all adaptogens are recommended during pregnancy, so make sure you check before taking them. Here are a few possibilities to try:
- Maca Root
- Reishi and Cordyceps (mushrooms)
- Holy Basil (in small amounts)
As mentioned earlier, please keep in mind that some herbalists recommend even pregnancy-safe herbs be avoided during the first trimester. Be sure you speak with a midwife or qualified herbalist before using herbs so that you can get tailored advice. The quantity of herb you use also makes a difference, meaning that something like an herbal tea is safer than a concentrated extract.
Calming Your Stress
Herbs can be a great ally during stressful times. As you can see, there are several that are gentle and safe enough to help you deal with stress while pregnant.
Use herbs in all kinds of ways to get the most benefit. Soak in an herb-infused bath, drink herbal tea, apply an herbal lotion, and use herbs in aromatherapy. And keep in mind that even herbs that can't be taken during pregnancy can still be safely inhaled or applied to your skin.
Of course, don't forget to add in other stress-relieving activities like exercise, deep breathing, and quiet time!