When it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), most doctors recommend two forms of treatment: medication and psychotherapies. While these can be effective, much of the medication prescribed for PTSD comes with unwanted side effects. In order to combat this, some people look for the best herbs for PTSD.
But what are these herbs and how effective are they in comparison to traditional treatment? Our guide not only lists the best herbs for PTSD, but discusses the research currently surrounding these natural treatments. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after someone experiences a traumatic experience. While it’s natural to feel fear during the trauma, people are diagnosed with PTSD if they can’t recover from that fear. ¹
The most common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Avoiding places or events that remind you of the trauma
- Being easily startled
- Difficulty remembering key features of the trauma
- Distorted feelings, such as blame or guilt
- Experiencing angry outbursts
- Feeling tense or “on edge”
- Flashbacks (reliving the trauma)
- Frightening thoughts
- Ignoring thoughts or feelings related to the trauma
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Negative thoughts
- Troubles with sleep
Typically, PTSD is treated with a type of medication (such as antidepressants) to help control symptoms. Alongside this, patients will also undergo psychotherapies to learn ways in which to overcome symptoms.
What Causes PTSD?
Unlike other types of anxiety, we know someone must experience a traumatic event in order to develop PTSD. However, research is currently underway as to why some people develop PTSD and others don’t. As of this time, PTSD risk factors include: ²
- Childhood trauma
- Feelings of horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
- Getting hurt
- Having little to no social support after trauma
- History of mental illness or substance abuse
- Managing extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one
- Witnessing another person hurt or seeing a dead body
Currently, research is looking into the importance of each of these risk factors (and other risks, such as neurobiology and genetics). There is some promise that one day we’ll be able to predict who’s more likely to develop PTSD and prevent it.
Best Herbs for PTSD
Since traditional medication comes with a list of side effects, it comes as no surprise many are looking towards herbs and supplements for PTSD. These are our top ten picks:
As a powerful herb used for nearly 5,000 years, ashwagandha has helped many cultures treat a number of conditions and symptoms, including: ³
- Difficulty concentrating
- Joint pain
- Lack of endurance (mentally or physically)
- Low libido
- Neurological conditions
- Poor memory
- Trouble sleeping
As an adaptogen, ashwagandha can help to modulate your response to stress or a changing environment. With that, some people have sought out whether or not it may be beneficial for PTSD.
One study reported that participants who took ashwagandha (500mg a day) saw a significant reduction in symptoms. This is thanks to its ability to prevent the impairment of memory and change oxidative stress biomarkers in the brain. ⁴
Since jimsonweed causes psychoactivity (more specifically, hallucinations and a heightened sense of well-being), many in Western culture use it as a recreational drug. While there currently is no research concerning PTSD, some have found it helpful in treating night terrors or nightmares.
Furthermore, a 2017 study concerning homeopathic remedies (such as jimsonweed) agreed that while evidence is low, we should have more research concerning these herbs for the treatment of specific disorders. Not to mention, that there may be some bias in self-reports. ⁵
With that said, jimsonweed wouldn’t be our top recommend substance. However, if you find other herbal remedies aren’t working, it may benefit certain symptoms of PTSD.
More research is revealing that cannabis – more specifically, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – is beneficial in treating PTSD. In fact, the evidence is so overwhelming that most medically legal states have PTSD as one of their qualifying conditions.
Here are just a few examples:
- In a 2015 review, military veterans reported having reduced anxiety and insomnia after consuming cannabis. ⁶
- In a 2016 study, it was revealed that cannabis users were less likely to develop PTSD, severe depression, and suicidal ideation. ⁷
- Another 2016 study showed that drugs that interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) help to reduce PTSD symptoms following a memory extinction period. ⁸
If cannabis remains illegal where you live, you can also opt for cannabidiol (CBD), another chemical compound found in the cannabis plant that’s legal across the United States. In one 2018 study, it was discovered that CBD may make it difficult for the brain to develop PTSD if taken immediately following a traumatic event. ⁹
4.) Kava Root
While most research concerns anxiety, kava root is a powerful substance that can help to relieve fears and relax muscles. In fact, some research reveals it even has the ability to help individuals who struggle with either a generalized anxiety disorder or panic attacks. ¹⁰
Admittedly, there are no published human trials concerning kava and PTSD. ¹¹ However, if you find other herbal remedies aren’t effective, it may help reduce your anxiety.
If you plan to take kava, it’s important to consult your doctor prior. Some evidence suggests it can cause liver toxicity and also have negative interactions with certain medications. ¹²
5.) Ginkgo Biloba
As one of the oldest plants on our planet, ginkgo biloba is often referred to as a living fossil. Within its leaves are powerful antioxidants that can help fight against free radicals – a type of molecule that damages cells. ¹³ With this, ginkgo also helps to promote blood flow and circulation throughout the brain and body. ¹⁴
This blood flow promotion allows for an improvement in brain function, including mental sharpness and refinement of memory. With that, some believe ginkgo may help improve certain mental health conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
One study looked into how ginkgo helped refugees and war survivors. It found those that who took ginkgo saw a significant reduction in symptoms compared to the placebo. ¹⁵
Chamomile is commonly used to reduce anxiety and overall levels of nervousness. Furthermore, some have also used it to promote better sleep. ¹⁶
In terms of PTSD, it may help to alleviate:
- Mood swings
However, as of this time, there is no research concerning chamomile and PTSD. But since this is one of the most accessible herbs on our list and has been found to help treat general anxiety, it’s worth checking out.
7.) Dong Quai
While there’s no research concerning dong quai and PTSD, the substance has been found to: ¹⁷
- Help in managing the nervous system
- Prevent panic attacks and help in managing stress
- Regulate adrenal gland response
The regulation of adrenal glands is most notable here as those with PTSD have been found to have overwhelming responses. ¹⁸ With that in mind, there are some reports of it being useful in treating PTSD.
Gelsemium (sometimes referred to as “woodbine”) is a plant with pain-killing properties that have been useful in migraine headaches and other facial pains. Since it contains sempervirens, there’s minor evidence that it can help in situations when anxiety is provoked. ¹⁹
If true, this has a lot of applications for people with PTSD. Especially those who avoid people, places, or situations that remind them of their traumatic event.
Made from the stavesacre plant, staphysagria is a homeopathic remedy that may help treat anxiety, tooth problems, and genitourinary. Due to its homeopathic nature, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding staphysagria and whether or not it actually helps. Many argue that people that it simply provides you with a placebo effect.
As of this time, there is one study suggesting it helped to reduce depression in rodents – just as effectively as the drug escitalopram. However, this evidence has not been observed in humans. ²⁰
10.) Green Tea
L-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea) can help to relax muscles and reduce overall anxiety. In a rat study, it was discovered that L-theanine eased symptoms caused by trauma and enhanced the rat’s mood. ²¹
Since green tea is the most accessible herb on our list, we highly recommend it to those looking for something they can take daily. Beyond its anxiety-relieving effects, L-theanine can also balance out hormones, the nervous system, as well as strengthen the immune system. ²²
While this isn’t a complete list of herbs that can help, we personally found these to be the best herbs for PTSD. Since research remains slim, we don’t necessarily recommend these supplements over traditional medication. In many regards, they can act as a therapeutic addition to the treatment you’re already receiving.
Furthermore, if you plan to take any of the herbs on our list, it’s important to consult a doctor prior to purchasing. In some instances, these herbs can have negative interactions with other drugs.
Still have questions concerning what are the best herbs for PTSD?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ NIMH: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
² VA: PTSD: Risk and Resilience Factors After Disaster and Mass Violence
³ AJTCAM: An Overview on Ashwagandha
⁴ Molecular Biology Reports: Withania somnifera root powder protects againist post-traumatic stress disorder-induced memory impairment
⁵ Systematic Reviews: Randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of non-individualised homeopathic treatment
⁶ AJHP: Use and effects of cannabinoids in military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder
⁷ Journal of Psychopharmacology: Does cannabis use modify the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder on severe depression and suicidal ideation?
⁸ Pharmacological Research: The endocannabinoid system and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
⁹ Frontiers in Neuroscience: Cannabidiol as a Therapeutic Alternative for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
¹⁰ Trials (BMC): Kava for the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder (K-GAD)
¹¹ Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Kava and St. John’s Wort: current evidence for use in mood and anxiety disorders
¹² WHO: Assessment of the risk of hepatotoxicity with kava products
¹³ Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin: The effect of ginkgo biloba extract on free radical production in hypoxic rats
¹⁴ Angewandte Chemie: Chemistry and biology of terpene trilactones from Ginkgo biloba
¹⁵ Proceedings of Singapore Healthcare: The effect of Ginkgo biloba and psycho-education on stress, anxiety and fatigue among refugees
¹⁶ HHS: Long-Term Chamomile Therapy of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
¹⁷ HHS: Herbal Medicine for Depression and Anxiety
¹⁸ HHS: Fear Potentiation is Associated With Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Function in PTSD
¹⁹ U.S. National Library of Medicine: Gelsemium Sempervirens in Anticipatory Anxiety (ANXIHOMEV)
²⁰ Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences: Comparison of the antidepressant like activity of homeopathic remedies (Argentum nitricum, Staphysagria and Ignatia amara) and their effect on the behavior of rodents
²¹ The Scientific World Journal: Effects of L-Theanine on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Induced Changes in Rat Brain Gene Expression
²² Chinese Medicine: Beneficial effects of green tea