Can Ethnobotanicals Soothe Anxiety?

Can Ethnobotanicals Soothe Anxiety?

Many people who suffer from anxiety are looking for natural remedies to mitigate their symptoms and calm their minds. Synthetic medications like alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and chlordiazepoxide (Librium) carry numerous side effects. While some patients have no choice but to take them, some can avoid them and resort to traditional herbal medicine instead. That is where ethnobotanicals come into play. Ethnobotany has been in practice for thousands of years. Plus, many people in rural areas still only use plants to treat their various ailments. But what does the research say? Are there effective ethnobotanicals that can soothe anxiety?

Stay with us through this article as we explore four different herbs that have the potential to help you with your anxiety and give you a peaceful mind. But first, let’s see what anxiety even is.

The Battle With Anxiety

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.6% of the population worldwide (about 264 million people) struggles with anxiety every day. Mild stress is natural in some situations like going for a job interview, taking an exam, or giving a presentation. It can even be a good thing and help you prepare. But it becomes problematic when you experience it more frequently. The persistent feeling of worry can hinder your life, interfere with your daily activities, and turn into clinical anxiety disorders, affecting your body and mind.dai

People with psychiatric disorders like phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCDs), depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suffer from anxiety. They are always on-edge and restless. They may also find it hard to sleep and concentrate. Some may even experience bodily symptoms like nausea, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

So it is no wonder that many people are searching for solutions to treat their anxiety. While prescribed medications can help some manage their conditions, they are also associated with numerous side effects such as fatigue, dependence, and slowing of mental function.

So what is the answer? Ethnobotanicals may just be it.

What Is Ethnobotany?

Ethnobotany is the practice of studying local, traditional plants to reveal their practical uses and apply them to modern, everyday life. Societies in different parts of the world have always been using their local herbs for various medical reasons. Cultures with access to diverse plants managed to discover their medicinal properties and use them to treat their illnesses. Even today, most pharmaceutical companies rely on this knowledge when coming up with new medications.

Ethnobotany dates back to the first century AD, but it was first suggested in the 20th century by John William Harshberger. He had done extensive research on local plants of Mexico, North Africa, and Pennsylvania. But it was Richard Evans Schulte who drew attention to this practice by studying the regional plants of the Amazon.

Today, ethnobotany is under criticism for having no theoretical basis. That is why botanists are moving toward a more scientific approach to this field and relying on methodological research to prove the plants’ efficiency.

With this new theoretical framework in place, many ethnobotanicals have shown promise in soothing anxiety. Here, we will look at a few of them.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabis has been widely used for decades to produce a heightened sense. With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, one of the main components of cannabis, CBD, is being used by millions of people for different purposes. One of them is to relieve stress and anxiety.

CBD or cannabidiol is one of the many compounds called phytocannabinoids found in the hemp plant. Hemp is one of the strains of cannabis. The other one is marijuana. They both contain the same array of phytocannabinoids. But while marijuana is higher in THC (the psychoactive component that causes a high), hemp is higher in CBD. CBD is generally safe with rarely reported side effects. This natural compound is now available in different forms like CBD oils, gummies, vapes, balms, and even treats for pets.

Scientists are researching the benefits and risks of cannabis for anxiety and paying extra attention to CBD for its calming properties. A 2019 study examined the effects of CBD on people with anxiety and poor sleep. Of the 72 final subjects, 57 reported less stress within the first month. While more clinical trials are needed, this goes to show that as one of the many ethnobotanicals, CBD has the potential to help people with anxiety-related disorders.

Kava Kava

Kava kava, also known simply as kava or Piper methysticum, is a traditional herb native to the Pacific Islands and famous for its anxiolytic properties. Natives of Fiji and Samoa islands make a ceremonial drink out of kava kava by crushing the root and mixing it with water. They drink it in important social events and gatherings to induce a calm and euphoric state.

Now, kava kava is available as a supplement for people worldwide. Many studies point to the soothing properties of this ethnobotanical for people with anxiety. Different compounds in the plant contribute to its calming effect. Kava kava is also one of the five natural nootropics with the potential to enhance your life.

A placebo-controlled study in 2013 evaluated the effects of kava kava in treating 75 patients with GAD or generalized anxiety disorder. Those receiving the kava kava supplement experienced a significant decrease in anxiety compared to those receiving the placebo pill. This study also showed that kava kava is safe. Although, the FDA states that kava kava is associated with liver-related injuries. More clinical studies are needed to verify these claims. But it is safe to say that kava kava has the potential to be a soothing ethnobotanical for anxiety.



Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera and winter cherry, is a small evergreen shrub with yellow flowers. Ashwagandha is native to India and Southeast Asia. It is also a vital ancient ethnobotanical within Ayurvedic or India’s traditional medicine, based on natural healing. Locals have been using its powdered roots and leaves for thousands of years in the form of herbal teas. Now its extract is also widely available in supplements.

The plant is most known for its stress-relieving properties. It is also considered an adaptogen, which means it can balance physiological processes and regulate stress responses in the body.

A 2019 study evaluated the effects of ashwagandha’s root extracts in 58 healthy adults. It found that after eight weeks, their stress levels decreased significantly, and their sleep quality improved. Another placebo-controlled study in 2019 focused on the stress-relieving actions of ashwagandha extract on 60 people with mild anxiety. Those getting the plant extract experienced significantly less stress versus those getting the placebo alternative.

Other studies on ashwagandha highlight its promise as a way to naturally combat anxiety.



The final ethnobotanical with the potential to soothe anxiety is kratom, also known as Mitragyna speciosa. The kratom tree is a plant belonging to the coffee family and native to South Asia. Laborers have been using it for decades to alleviate physical discomfort and stress. Now, this herb is the topic of conversation in the healthcare industry.

Kratom products are available in many forms, the most common ones being capsules and powder. Kratom capsules are convenient and easy to store. Although, they are more expensive than the powder form. Kratom powder is the more affordable option with a potentially longer shelf life. Plus, kratom powder gives you the perfect aromatic experience of the plant.

Since there aren’t enough clinical studies on kratom, the FDA has not approved it for commercial use yet. So you have to learn as much as you can about it before trying it. Users who have tried it report a mild sense of euphoria, better control over their emotions, and better sleep quality.

The dominant components of this plant are mitragynine and 7-hydroxy mitragynine (7-HMG). Just like cannabis, different strains of kratom have different amounts of substances, hence slightly different effects. Some strains of the relaxing kratom are the White Vein Kratom, the Green Vein Kratom, and the Red Vein Kratom.

Scientists are studying kratom as a potential agent in battling stress. A 2020 study suggests that further research is needed to confirm kratom’s effects. But for now, this plant seems promising.

Disclaimer: Please note that the FDA has not approved kratom for human consumption or reviewed the statements in this article. So proceed with caution.

The Importance of Staying Safe While Using Ethnobotanicals for Anxiety

While ethnobotanicals are a great natural way to calm your mind, you have to use them with caution and alongside a healthy lifestyle for the best results. It may take longer for them to work, and they may interfere with other medications you are taking. While they have the potential to relieve a bit of your stress, they will not be much help if you are suffering from more severe conditions. So the best way to go about them is to consult a doctor first to make sure you stay safe.

If you want to learn more about all-natural remedies, read our article about herbs for constant urination relief.

About the author: Laura Henry is a writer and editor with a passion for alternative health products and practices. When they’re not outside with their rescue dog, they spend their time exploring local wellness/new age spaces and practicing yoga.