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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 09 2013

6 Tea Ingredients That Can Help You Unwind, Relax and Chill Out

By Mark Sisson
120 Comments

TeaA popular product class is the “sleepy time” tea. These are the teas which purport to help you unwind from a rough day, relax in the midst of exterior (or interior) chaos, and chill out in a state of relatively peaceful bliss. Many of us live in a state of constant stress punctuated by bouts of acute but transient ease of mind, when it should be the other way around (constant ease of mind punctuated by bouts of acute but transient stress), and these teas and their ingredients claim to help you correct the imbalance. But supplement manufacturers say a lot of things, not all of them true.

What works? What actually helps you ease troubled thoughts? What’s actually worth your money and the time it takes to brew a cup of hot water?

For those who balk at the idea of supplementing an otherwise solid Primal eating plan, don’t be so hasty in your dismissal. Modern life presents novel stressor after novel stressor after novel stressor. Not all of us spend blissed out lives at the beach, or on a remote mountaintop communing with nature, or floating through life on a cloud of bodhisattva farts. Life is hard and often unpleasant, and we don’t get a lot of downtime these days. Smart use of select herbs and roots with anxiolytic, calming, soothing, relaxing properties can go a long way toward restoring the Primal balance between active engagement with the hectic world and passive downtime. The way I see it is if we’re trying to emulate the physiological, psychological, and spiritual state of human being established as “normal” by natural selection, we may have to take a few extra steps to get there. Humans don’t do very well under chronic stress, so mitigating supraphysiological stress by supraphysiological means (whether through meditation or chamomile or taking a plane to Hawaii) makes sense and is unabashedly Primal.

Ultimately, it’s about feeling better and improving our health, no matter the means. I go with what works, regardless of some kind of ideology, using our human evolutionary heritage as a starting point and utilizing the best of 21st century technology to get real results with the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice as possible.

Now, let’s take a look at some of these so-called stress relief tea ingredients:

Kava Kava

What is it?

Kava is a crop grown in the South Pacific. Traditionally, its roots were chewed fresh (with the resultant liquid often spit into communal bowls), pounded to release the moisture, or sun-dried, ground, and steeped in water to make an intoxicating, relaxing mild sedative. Nowadays, the active kavalactones are also extracted and pressed into capsules.

History?

Most Pacific cultures used kava, including those of Hawaii, Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea (to name a few).

What is it purported to do?

It’s supposed to reduce anxiety, induce calmness, cause sedation without mental impairment, and generally chill a person out.

Does the research back that up?

Yes. A Cochrane review concluded that kava extract is effective against anxiety, while another review found that kava has no significant negative effects on cognition.

Is it safe?

There appears to be some concern toward hepatotoxicity. The tendency of some supplement makers to use the leaves and sticks (which contain toxins) to increase yield may lead to hepatotoxicity, but the root itself appears reasonably safe. Preparation may also matter; traditionally, kava is prepared with water, whereas modern processing often uses alcohol. Water-based kava preparations extract different proportions of active compounds than alcohol-based kava preparations. For instance, water extracts glutathione (a powerful antioxidant that our bodies manufacture) from kava, whereas alcohol does not, and this could have ramifications for toxicity. Like many other psychoactive compounds, though, kava root should not be consumed with alcohol, prescription drugs, or any other substance which stresses the liver. Kava Kava root itself is non habit forming, and does not appear to impair driving ability.

Where to find it?

Amazon.com has several options available (here, here, or here if you prefer extracts), but there are also designated online vendors. Make sure you stick with actual root (dried, ground, whole, or fresh) or supplements that only use the root and not the leaves.

L-Theanine

What is it?

An amino acid found in tea leaves, especially green tea.

History?

It’s technically been around for thousands of years, or as long as people have been harvesting and brewing tea (and even longer, unless you answer in the negative to “If green tea grows in the forest and nobody brews it, does it still impart a healthy dose of L-theanine?”), but it wasn’t until 1949 that L-theanine was isolated and identified by Japanese scientists who proceeded to stick it into a variety of different products.

What is it purported to do?

L-theanine is promoted as a stress-relieving compound that binds to GABA receptors and induces changes in brain waves indicative of relaxation.

Does the research back that up?

Yes, it appears to lower the negative effects of stress, reduce anxiety, and improve relaxation, as a quick look at the literature shows:

Is it safe?

The LD50 of L-theanine is incredibly high and impossible to reach via tea and nearly impossible to reach via supplement (you’d have to take dozens of bottles or drink hundreds of gallons).

Where to find it?

It’s richest in green tea, with matcha appearing to have the highest L-theanine content. Taking L-theanine via capsule is roughly the same as taking it via tea. It’s also present in Primal Calm.

Chamomile

What is it?

A flowering plant similar to the daisy that can be infused in hot water to produce a relaxing, calming tea.

History?

The use of chamomile as a medicinal herb dates back at least to the ancient Egyptians. In medieval Europe, chamomile was a “strewing herb” (herbs which were strewn about the floor of living spaces), a beer-making ingredient, and one of the Nine Sacred Herbs used by Anglo-Saxon god Woden (or Odin in Norse mythology) to “smote the serpent.” In other words, it was pretty dang significant to people throughout history.

What is it purported to do?

Act as a mild sedative and anti-anxiety agent.

Does the research back that up?

Yes, several studies show efficacy:

Is it safe?

It’s pretty safe, with a couple exceptions: pregnant women, for whom chamomile can induce uterine contractions (PDF), potentially leading to early labor; and people with ragweed allergies, for whom chamomile can exhibit cross-reactivity symptoms.

Where to find it?

Chamomile tea, being one of the more common varieties, is easy to find. This is a legit brand, or you could grow your own. Chamomile provides attractive (and useful) ground cover for your garden.

Valerian Root

What is it?

It’s a root, obviously, most often served up as dried powder in capsules, a tea, or a tincture. The plant itself has lovely flowers and leaves that resemble ferns, but it’s the root and rhizome we’re interested in.

History?

Ayurvedic, Chinese, and classical Hellenic medical systems employed valerian as an anti-insomnia and anti-anxiety medicine. More recently, it was prescribed to Edward Norton’s insomniac character in Fight Club (“chew some valerian root”). I can’t remember if it was in the book, too.

What is it purported to do?

It’s said to be a mild but effective sedative, anxiolytic, and sleep aid, akin to the benzodiazepine class of drugs without the side effects.

Does the research back that up?

Kinda. There are a few studies, but the results are mixed:

  • Among patients with generalized anxiety disorder, valerian extract has an anxiolytic effect on the “psychic symptoms of anxiety.”
  • Valerian may be effective against obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • Among insomniacs, valerian extract improves the “sleep efficiency,” reducing morning grogginess and improving sleep architecture. Another study, using lower amounts of valerian, did not get the same results.
  • A 2006 meta-analysis was unable to decide whether or not it was effective against anxiety, however. Another review concluded that valerian “might improve sleep quality without producing side effects,” while a more recent one (of just RCTs) found it likely to improve subjective insomnia symptoms.

Overall, the weight of the anecdotal evidence, my own experience with it, and the fact that some, but not all, clinical trials find efficacy, leads me to the tentative conclusion that valerian can be useful against anxiety and maybe insomnia.

Is it safe?

Valerian is safe, well-tolerated, and seems to have fewer side effects than pharmaceutical sedatives and anti-anxiety meds. Pregnant women should avoid it due to a lack of safety studies.

Where to find it?

Any health food store should carry the capsules and the tea, and perhaps even the whole or ground root. Online is always an option, of course. I recommend buying the root direct.

Rhodiola Rosea

What is it?

Also known as rose root or arctic root, rhodiola rosea hails from Siberia originally and pretty much everywhere else that’s cold – the Arctic, the Rockies, Northern Europe, the mountains of central Asia – and possesses a root with interesting characteristics.

History?

Ancient Greeks, Viking raiders, Central Asian horsemen, Chinese emperors – they all prized rhodiola rosea as an anti-fatigue, anti-stress medicinal herb.

What is it purported to do?

Act as a powerful adaptogen, a compound which improves your ability to adapt to physiological stressors without compromising your body’s normal ability to function once removed.

Does the research back that up?

Definitely. Although most of the research comes from Scandinavia and Russia, there are a good number of trials available on Pubmed:

Overall, rhodiola rosea improves your ability to handle stress. If you’re lagging, it’ll bring things up. If you’re freaking out, it’ll bring you closer to baseline.

Is it safe?

It seems to be extremely safe.

Where to find it?

Primal Calm has it, as do plenty of other products. You can even buy it in bulk.

Magnolia Bark

What is it?

Magnolia bark is the lay name for magnolia officinalis, a deciduous tree whose bark is prized in traditional Chinese medicine.

History?

People have been using the bark for its medicinal qualities as far back as 100 AD.

What is it purported to do?

It gets billed as a sedative with strong anti-anxiety and anti-stress effects.

Does the research back that up?

For the most part, yes:

Is it safe?

While there are no long-term safety studies, trials indicate an extreme paucity of negative side effects. As always, exercise caution if you’re pregnant.

Where to find it?

I use it in Primal Calm. Chinese herb stores will have it (if you’ve got a Chinatown in your city, you can probably find it there).

Some teas blend some or all of these (and other) ingredients, so not only are you getting the dozens of bioactive compounds found in this herb, root, or rhizome, you’re getting the hundreds of bioactive compounds found in these other herbs, roots, and rhizomes. Plus, one ingredient might potentiate, inhibit, or otherwise modify the action of another ingredient, so it’s difficult to predict exactly what you’ll be getting out of a blend. Take valerian and lemon balm, which combine to become an effective anti-anxiety blend against acute stress.

With the possible exception of kava kava, though, I wouldn’t worry too much about any interactions – and even with kava, it seems reasonably safe as long as you’re smart and moderate about it while avoiding alcohol and other compounds with a liver load.

That’s it for this week, folks. Next week, I’ll explore some other helpful ingredients in tea. Thanks for reading!

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120 thoughts on “6 Tea Ingredients That Can Help You Unwind, Relax and Chill Out”

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  1. I use L-theanine supplements on my husband (a natural-born Type A personality,complete with excess cortisol), and my cat (also a Type A with excess cortisol issues)–both run on the “fight” side of fight-or-flight. Both spouse and cat are much calmer and easier to deal with in the mornings.

  2. There’s no question about what kava does. It puts you to sleep like marijuana does while numbing your face/mouth. Travel books warn young single ladies about drinking too much of it while traveling alone in the south Pacific.

    1. I agree, in Australia the Aboriginals in some communities use kava to excess , it has A LOT of negative effects (a main one being liver problems), possibly due to the fact it is used to excess and with alcohol. That is one herb I’ll be steering well clear of.

  3. Our earliest ancestors may not have been able to make tea, but I’m sure they did chew stuff like this. I definitely will try some of these.

      1. Chamomile is good blended with other herbs, valerian smells like sweat socks and tastes the same 🙂

  4. As an herbalist, I use some of these regularly. Long tradition shows that kava, chamomile and valerian have relaxing effects in various cultures. Be careful with valerian as it can have the opposite affect in some people. It’s the only nervine that has a “warming” effect. If you already have a hot constitution, valerian can aggrevate that and really keep your mind going non-stop.

    I also like lemon balm, lavender, rose, skullcap and california poppy for relaxation. All are very safe.

    1. LMAO. Just finished a weekend retreat and this comment was perfect.

  5. I would like to drink more tea (I love oolong especially), but I’ve been told that people with underactive thyroid conditions should not drink true tea because it is goitrogenic. I have done a bit of research, but am still confused about whether the benefits outweigh the risks. If anyone has any info, I would love to hear it.

    1. From what I understand, it’s the catechins in green tea that are goitrogenic, but you’d still have to drink high amounts to get the goitrogenic effect, so go ahead and have that oolong. Oolong and other black teas aren’t going to have the high amounts that green and white tea have.

      On another note: most hypothyroidism in the US is of the autoimmune variety, and the majority of it is in the form of TH1 cell-mediated immune dominance. Tea is a potent TH2 humoral immunity stimulant that can balanced out the immune system for TH1 dominant autoimmune conditions, so for many people, it’s actually helpful for taming their autoimmune thyroid disease.

      1. Thank you Erin that is interesting. I have an autoimmune condition that will eventually kill me and I am always wary of boosting my immune function, are all auto immune conditions TH1 dominant (and therfore will green tea help me)?

        1. I reversed my autoimmune thyroid problems with a Primal diet. This was before I even knew there was such a diet. I avoided all grains and dairy because I didn’t like how I felt after eating them. I ate whole foods. I exercised and now I no longer have the autoimmune factor. I still need my natural thyroid meds (no synthetics for me, thank you). But I’m working with virgin coconut oil to potentially reduce or eliminate these meds all together.

          Don’t give in to traditional medicines thoughts about terminal illness. Many people have survived and thrived through dietary changes.

          Best wishes to you…

  6. We used to have a kava bar where I grew up in South Florida- that stuff was great. It really does numb your mouth and lips after you drink it. I’ve recently been interested in getting back into it, but I’ve been too concerned about the hepatotoxicity… not because I think it’ll actually poison me, but because my acupuncturist tells me that my liver is out of whack and I don’t want to stress it out even further!

    1. Just FYI- check with your acupuncturist- the Liver (Livah as my British prof says, not to confuse it with biomedical liver) is more of an energetic concept. It’s NOT the same thing as the liver in Western medicine. If your acupuncturist told you your “liver” was “out of whack” it’s quite possible that your body is experiencing various effects from stress and/or emotions. But then hopefully your acupuncturist gave you some herbs already to help with that. FWIW.

      1. Thanks, Dizzy; I’m well aware of that fact (have been self-educating about oriental medicine for several years now, and in the process of filling out applications to acu schools), I was just simplifying my comment :-p

  7. I have tried kava kava, valerian root and chamomile but none of these seem to have much effect on me.

    1. Mark’s suggestions on diet and exercise have yielded wonderful results for me.
      (Thank you Mark).
      One remaining issue for me is that when I can’t sleep, I take 25mg Diphenhydramine.
      Any thoughts on a healthier option?

      1. I use melatonin and an eye mask. I start with 3 mg and sometimes take 6 mg.

      2. I don’t think diphenedhydramine is worth taking. I’ve exeeded the recommended dose and it resulted in me having to stay awake in uncomfortable, sluggish deleriurium.

      3. I’ve found that taking a 500 mg magnesium supplement with dinner really, really helps me both get to sleep and stay asleep.
        Melatonin also works, but you need to take it regularly for it to have an effect (i.e. the first few times you take it, you probably won’t feel a difference). I save melatonin for times when I know I’ll be very stressed and busy.

        1. Be careful with melatonin, if not used correctly it can create a long term boomerang effect, and the vast majority of users use it incorrectly. Only in rare circumstances should it be taken in the evening, and even then only once or twice. In order to be helpful in adjusting sleep cycles, it should be taken in the morning, carefully timed based on preferred sleep schedule. A Board Certified Sleep Medicine doc is most likely to have accurate info on this. According to the AASM, the vast majority of medical and alternative medical professionals in this country are prescribing it inappropriately, creating more sleep problems than it is solving, and it can have long term implications.

      4. buy paul mckennas book
        “I can make you sleep”.
        Better than any medication.
        Changed my life !!!!!!!
        DO THE EXERCISES and reap the results

  8. This was so not the article I anticipated! Lol.
    I drink a cup of black tea every single morning like others reach for the coffee cup! I thought Mark would be discussing teas that actually taste good, such as green, black, white, matcha, etc.
    I consider the herbals he mentions medicines, not an enjoyable cup of tea. Valerian smells like dirty feet or smelly socks! Blech.

  9. I love tea!! I have not tried the above teas/roots, aside from green tea, but I may have to look into this since I tend to take a long time to relax from my day. Some of these before bed might work well. 🙂 Thanks for posting Mark.

  10. Right now I drink Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer. Can anyone recommend some teas that have any or all of these? Thanks. 🙂

    1. My favorite tea is Yogi Calming tea with licorice root, *chamomile*, gotu kola, hibiscus, fennel, lemongrass, cardamom, orange peel, rose hips, and lavendar.

      Another good tea is Tazo Rest which contains rose petals, honeybush, orange peel, lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon peel, licorice root, *valerian root*, ginger, and lavendar.

      1. Will these teas work in the morning, relax and calm you but NOT make you feel really tired?

  11. What about cannabis? Not just seeds, but the plant itself is supposed to be edible. Also, there is growing evidence that many early cultures used psychedelic plants to enhance their consciousness and creativity and so on… Yeah, article about that would be great on this site. Great.

    1. 🙂 That to me has always been the giant elephant in the room that no one talks about here. To be honest if they did it would probably be very disappointing because there is so much mis-information out there about it I doubt you’d ever see anything worthwhile. Even in this thread one guys said it makes you sleepy, well it *can* make you sleepy if it’s a sleepy strain, it can also make you wide eyed and powerfully energetic if it’s another kind of strain.

      1. Exactly! A giant elephant in the room. 🙂 And yeah, different strains for different “pains”…. Hehe..

        1. I agree there is a lot of misinformation, but you have to admit there is also a lot of misuse of the herb that has caused such a stigma. which is too bad, I think in its more natural form, and breed for the proper qualities, it can be a very healing plant, especially when taken in extracted form.

          I am fully on board the entheogenic train to higher consciousness though, with my utmost respect for the medicines and research for the benefit of others in mind of course :)!

        2. Generally illegal psychoactives that have some purely pleasurable effects may not be a good topic for Mark to discuss. He’s very influential in the field of health. I think if he wrote about the potential benefits of eating hash brownies, drinking cannabis tea, using a vaporizer, eating shrooms etc. some readers inexperienced in, ignorant of, or wary of that field might be appalled by his apparent acceptance of drugs. Others might just not like altering their state of mind and look at the information as a suggestion to do something stupid, or even worse, people who do like altering their state of mind might interpret the information as a suggestion to do something stupid.
          “Reefer Madness” is still out there. I’ve faced it full-on from multiple sources: family, cops, acquaintances, social workers. My parents harangued me about my pot habit, even after showing them thoughtful assignments I wrote for school while high and got decent marks on, which impressed them, and confused my grandma.
          I do a lot of my best thinking and acting while affected by drugs.
          I’m high as a kite in my Youtube videos. I’ve done things on drugs that I don’t think I could do sober. I don’t recommend developing addictions but drugs can be helpful.

        3. Here’s some links to check out regarding hemp herbs and friendly fungaliments.
          http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/01/03/cannabis-is-key-to-good-health-when-we-eat-it-vs-smoking-it/
          http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/04/08/marijuana-controls-seizure-activity/
          http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/04/06/the-healing-power-of-psychedelic-mushrooms/
          I haven’t even read the last two articles fully. I’m pressed for time. Psilocybin-containing mushrooms have given me some of my best experiences though.

        4. I should add.. some bad thinking, acting, feeling, and experiencing have come from drugs too.

      2. i think an article about the benefits /side effects of marijauana would be great reading

  12. I’ll stick with my coffee. I think tea tastes like dirty dishwater. The Kava Kava sounds interesting.

    1. Kava powder is often ‘steeped’ in cold water ( actually wrapped in a cloth and hand washed/wrinced out into the water in a large bowl). The resulting drink tastes like you’ve taken a mud puddle, stirred it with a stick and fill a small bowl with this dirty water ( in fact dirty mud water wouldn’t be as distasteful as kava) – having said that over time you can get used to it and maybe even enjoy it 🙂

      Lips go mildly numb but it takes quite a few bowls to get a mild relaxing effect when accustomed to it.

  13. I actually do some design/web work for a tea company, (one of the perks is getting an unlimited supply of tea!) and this caught my eye as their approach is very much focussed on ‘rebalancing’ yourself with tea, making the most of the natural nutrients it provides.

    It is a bit of a plug, but if anyone does fancy trying some new teas, http://attictea.com is the site. Genuinely lovely people too 🙂

  14. Not for nothing, but none of those are teas. They are actually tisanes. Teas are thing that come from Teas leaves.
    Lavender is a great calmer as well.

  15. Teavanna has some excellent flavors of oolongs, green and white teas

    1. My favorite tea company and tea experts are Tea Gallerie a San Diego company…… they have enhanced my desire for excellent tea…. I no longer drink coffee because of all the choices they have Maria and John the owners are VERY tea knowledgeable
      Their Cherry Rose Tea is a relaxing blend.

  16. I drink green tea everyday, and am now curious about combining it with rhodiola rosea. Are there any side effects I should worry about if/when combining these two herbs, and can RR be found in tea or capsule form. Also, how much RR should I consume in one day? Thanks!

  17. I had been told by a Hormone Specialist to avoid Chamomile because it could cause a heart attack in Peri and Post menopausal women. I’m typing this during my lunch at work so don’t have time to research but maybe someone else has heard of this?

  18. This is pretty good stuff! Thanks, Mark, for including primal medicine in your blog 🙂
    I’m a professional herbalist, and my partner and I run a clinic and a school in Boston. The Cochrane studies are useful for what they are, but they don’t staff professional herbalists, and so the information that they’re working with isn’t always complete. also they’re not always using herbal preparations – often they’re using isolated compounds in capsules, etc… So here are some extra thoughts:

    Herbs don’t work across the board like pharmaceuticals do. They work best when you match them up with the right body-type. Some herbs are drying, for example, so even if the internet tells you that that herb is good for xyz, if your body is already fairly dry, it might not be good for YOUR xyz – some other non-drying herb would be better for you. This is a big part of the reason that the data comes back inconclusive much of the time: herbs that work for one person might not work for another person, because they have different types of bodies.

    So some things to keep in mind for this list:

    Kava-Kava: it’s pretty awesome for a lot of people. But if you’re super Type-A, or a person who pushes emotions down to “deal with them later” (which may or may not ever come!), probably you won’t like Kava very much! Often for these people, Kava is just enough to let them let go of their tight grip on things, and they end up flooded with the emotions they’ve been stashing. That’s a very useful tool, because stashing emotions isn’t particularly healthy, and if you’re someone who does it, you might need help letting them go. But you’d rather do that in private, when you have time to do it – and not when you’re trying to relax a little bit before you go to a party!
    On the other hand, if you have social anxiety, or if you’re shy in groups, etc, Kava might be quite nice for you before the party!

    Bottom line on Kava: try it once on a day that you don’t have to do anything before you use it in a stressful time – if you’re a “kava person”, you’re going to LOVE it. If you’re not, better to find out when no one is watching!

    If Kava isn’t for you, try Wood Betony (Stachys off), or Tulsi/Holy Basil. Or try both, blended with Rose petals – yum!

    Valerian: Valerian, as another herbalist noted, has the inverse effect in somewhere between 5-20% of the population. It also has the inverse effect in cats 🙂 It’s traditionally used with people who run cold, so if you’re usually a hot-type, try it some Sunday afternoon when it doesn’t matter whether you take a nap or have a lot of energy. If Valerian works for sleep for you, you still will need a fairly high dose – we recommend “pulse dosing”, which means that you’ll take a dose (usually 2-3 droppers full of the tincture) 90 minutes before bed, then 60 minutes before bed, then 30 minutes before bed, then at bedtime. If you only take one dose, you are likely to find that it won’t get you to sleep.

    If Valerian doesn’t help you sleep, you could also try Hops, which I find to be more strongly sedative, or go in another direction – try Skullcap and Passionflower, which are not sedative, but do relax an overworking brain, or in otherwords, if you’re laying in bed with the mental hamster wheel running, Skullcap and Passionflower can help you put the rat race aside until morning.

    Rhodiola: Rhodiola is a very strong stimulant. It can be the “happy herb” for the kind of person who has depression and is stuck listless on the couch. But if you have some depression due to anxiety and feeling overwhelmed by what’s going on in your world right now, Rhodiola is NOT the plant for you. For this person, Rhodiola is likely to make the situation worse – you’d find your anxiety and overwhelmed all stimulated and amped up.
    Rhodiola is also quite drying, which is fine if you’re not dry, and it does keep you up at night, so don’t take it too late.

    Rhodiola doesn’t yet have a lot of data about drug interactions, but it is very potent, so we do go carefully with it.

    Bottom line on Rhodiola: If you need a stimulant to get off the couch and get back to life, Rhodiola might be good for you. If a stimulant would make your situation worse, consider Tulsi/Holy Basil or Codonopsis instead. Another nice blend would be Eleuthero, Licorice, and Ashwagandha – all of these herbs are also Adaptogens, to help you deal with stress better, but they are not as intense as Rhodiola (“intenser” is not always better!).

    If you’re looking for a good place to get herbs, or you don’t have a local herb shop/health food store, you can try Mountain Rose Herbs online – they’re very reputable.

    1. thank you for this great summary, katja! I tried Kava Kava in capsule form on two separate occasions. Both times I had the most vivid, terrifying nightmares of my life. Needless to say, I threw it away, so I don’t know if it might have included leaves and stems. Not willing to give it another try. If I am one who keeps the lid on tight, I certainly don’t want to take it off like that again!
      Marijuanna also keeps me awake, and gives me strange ideas. I don’t get the allure of that one.
      I get great results with chamomile, valerian, or melatonin for help with sleep. I think I will try the RR for daytime stress.

    2. Thank you for the information. I agree, very helpful synopsis. I have spent close to 300 smackers on different combos for mental focus/anxiety/ and mild depression. Some of these do the reverse on me or not much at all. So far, Chamomile tea is effective for sleepiness, not for focus. I am trying to find a combination of Chamomile, L-Theanine, 5htp and a little Rhodiola. I know the Rhodiola can be activating, so I will cut back on my caffeine even more during the day. Im tired of trying things, and not having much luck. I can’t fall asleep, my mind needs to focus and be calm to do my homework. Thanks for all your helpful feedback.

  19. While I know it’s just my personal experience I will say valerian root had done wonders for me with sleep!

    1. I have had the same experience with Valerian root capsules. It helps me relax, fall asleep and stay asleep. I used to use it a lot. I like camomile tea but I don’t drink it all that much. It is a useful essential oil.

      In 2004, I started using brainwave meditation audios which put my brain in delta brainwave patterns. It helps me relax quite a bit and I have not relied on valerian. A lot of my frequent headaches went away as well. I used to carry aspirin my purse. Last week my husband asked me for some and I realized I haven’t carried it for years. Over time the use of this meditation technology has taught me to handle stress a lot better.

  20. A few years back I sought Traditional Chinese Medicine for tennis elbow, and the practitioner (accurately) diagnosed my high stress level and prescribed a Chinese herb mix translated as “Free and Easy Wanderer.” Between that, the acupuncture treatments, taking up daily t’ai chi, and switching from coffee to green tea, there was a huge calming effect (my employees were the first to notice, ha). I always wondered which of those four was the biggest influence…

  21. as an herbalist, this list seems odd to me, because there are stimulants (green tea, rhodiola) listed next to sedatives (kava, chamomile, etc).

    a couple notes:

    chamomile is not going to negatively impact a pregnancy; this implication is frankly ridiculous. chamomile is a very mild herb and its effects are relaxant in nature. the reason these cautions around use of herbs in pregnancy turn up is because many herbs, via many different actions, can aid in bringing on a stalled period. this action is referred to as emmenagogue. in some herbs this is due to a stimulation of blood flow, or of contraction in the uterine tissues, but in chamomile this is due to relaxation of those tissues (and others).

    here is an article from an MD herbalist who includes chamomile in her list of herbs safe during pregnancy:
    http://avivaromm.com/5-safe-herbs-for-a-more-comfortable-pregnancy-and-better-birth

    valerian is well known among herbalists to act as a stimulant, rather than as a sedative, in approximately 10% of the population. valerian is classified in Eclectic and Physiomedicalist textbooks as a cerebral stimulant, and its usefulness as a sleep herb is most effective in those who are experiencing constriction or depression (hypofunction) in that area; the stimulant action restores normal function there and allows easier sleep. my recommendation for people interested in valerian is always to try it on a Sunday afternoon first, so that if you find yourself in that stimulated portion you’re not kept up all night cleaning your house when you needed to get some decent rest.

    on a similar note, rhodiola is stimulating for everyone! its status as an adaptogen is up for debate; like ginseng, it is prone to abuse by those looking to be able to pile on more stress with an herbal boost, rather than using these herbs in a supportive way while they work through a crunch time. rhodiola is often useful in people who have AD[H]D, but it’s functioning in much the same way as Ritalin does (though certainly, it’s a preferable choice!)–it gives them enough energy that it allows them to focus. this is not a good long-term strategy!

    Jim McDonald has an extensive writeup on Kava, here:
    http://www.herbcraft.org/kava.html

    see his notes and references on the purported cases of hepatotoxicity.

    get to know your local herbalist! there are a lot of us out here, and we can provide not only lore & legend, but direct contemporary clinical experience with plants, both our own and that of our colleagues. this is a store of practical information that is missing from scientific studies–they don’t staff herbalists on the research teams, and a lot of errors and misconceptions come out of that.

  22. What about magnesium – it has relaxed me so much, helps me sleep and calms anxiety. Just recently started a supplment (about two weeks now) and my life has changed.

      1. Maybe that’s why my chocolate meals produce a muddy slop pile.

    1. What type of magnesium do you take ? I find magnesium makes my dreams vivid so it feels like I haven’t slept. Even after decreasing the dose it hasn’t helped.

      1. I mix my magnesium: half Natural Calm with half Pure Essence Labs Magnesium Plus.

  23. That’s funny, because Valyrian steel is known to actually cause anxiety and insomnia.

    1. Not to the one wielding it, but certainly to the one it’s pointed at.

  24. I usually prefer coffee (with melted dark chocolate, grass-fed butter and Agave nectar), but I’ll give these a shot!

    1. Sounds pretty good Jack, but watch out for the agave nectar, it is very bad for you!

    2. good lord that sounds awesome! i’m gonna have some kava tonight and chase it with a decaf-chocolate-butter drink. 🙂

  25. Can’t live without my Rhodiola. I don’t seem to feel stimulated as mentioned by Katja. I take a dose in am and pm before bed. I tend to be depressive and this is my go to supplement for that, as well as my regular weight training which I feel makes a huge difference in my recovery.

  26. +1 about Valerian tasting like smelly feet! 😛 I had to hold my nose when I took those herbal capsules!

    I bought Yogi brand Kava Kava tea and was very surprised it worked. Tastes awesome with a little stevia and heavy cream, like dessert! I also drink tension tamer and it is calming. And I drink green matcha tea. I mix them up, so I don’t drink any one every single day, but I should probably try, since things around here have been a bit tense.

    Although if I drank them all, I would have to work in the “facilities”, as I would be drinking so much liquid!

  27. What about Passionflower? The Natural Medicines Database speaks well of it for anxiety, without the possible safety issues associated with kava kava. (Can you tell I’m a worrier?)

  28. I think the best thing about any tea (my preference is Rooibos Vanilla) is taking the time to taste it – switch everything else off, sit quietly and enjoy it. If you take tea on the run, nothing is going to work too effectively!

  29. Thanks for this article! I’ve been under a lot stress lately and that is probably affecting my weight loss efforts too. Personally I’ve been drinking Melissa tea or Lemon Balm as some people call it. It is said to have calming effects and I’m not sure how much it works, maybe it has a placebo effect but I drink it to get more relaxed before sleep. It has a very nice smell too.

  30. Rhodiola has the complete opposite effect on me. It makes me sleepy and groggy. Perhaps it somehow reacts to the claritin and asthma medication I take or perhaps I’m just “one in a million.”

    1. A small dosage will act as a tonifier, a larger dosage can have a sedative effect. I started with a 300 milligrams daily capsule, affected me as you described, starting cycling (one month on one month off) 100 milligram capsule once daily and it works great for me.

  31. I really enjoy the Yogi Bedtime tea. A cup in the evening as I’m winding down is comforting and definitely helps me sleep.

  32. Tulsi Tea (Holy Basil) is very effective. But please be careful if you decide to try it. It’s powerful stuff!

    1. Agree with this. Worked brilliantly as I was very stressed at work for the first few cups but after that it gave me mood swings that I have not been able to get rid of and have thrown the rest out. Any ideas about how to get my old stability back?!

  33. Tea does have one mystery ingredient.

    Manufacturers don’t tell you how much fluoride is in your tea, or your green tea extract capsules.

    http://poisonfluoride.com/pfpc/html/green_tea___.html

    “Tea is very high in fluoride content. Fluoride in tea is much higher than the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) set for fluoride in drinking water.
    Tea leaves accumulate more fluoride (from pollution of soil and air) than any other edible plant (1,2,3). Fluoride content in tea has risen dramatically over the last 20 years, as has tea consumption (4).
    ………
    Many available green tea/cancer studies last only a few months, and do not take into account the cumulative effects of fluoride, which is a known cancer promoter, and has the ability to transform healthy cells into cancerous ones (1,17,35,36). For any conclusive evidence to be obtained this must be considered, for long time fluoride ingestion has been shown to _cause_cancer, especially osteosarcomas and uterine cancer (31,32).

    Dean Burk, for many decades Chief Chemist at the National Cancer Institute, testified at congressional hearings in 1981 stating that over 40,000 cancer deaths in that year were attributable to fluoridation (33). He has said that no chemical causes as much cancer, and faster, than fluorides (34).”

    ron

  34. I get kava root from my local hippy co-op in bulk…chew it, like how it numbs me…good stuff…I take chamomile, valerian root and mate…my friend calls it an “herbal speedball”…make it super strong….drink it all the time…my aunt advised me to mix skullcap w/ valerian…makes a nice sedative too!!!

  35. Am I the only one who’s ridiculously happy that Mark Sisson reads Chuck Palahniuk?

    PS I was in the book!

  36. l-theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, magnolia bark are all important parts of my supplementation regimen (I cycle the RR on one month, off one month). I used to take anti-depressants to control panic attacks (they were NOT environmentally / socially triggered) but for several years have been off it thank heavens by using these supplements. Good call by Mark to put these three in his product.

  37. Thank you for sharing these, especially L-Theanine. I was struggling with postpartum anxiety (yeah, that’s a thing) for so long but refused to ingest the antidepressant (?!) the doctor wanted to prescribe, and this amazing amino acid has been exactly what I needed. A real lifesaver for me. Although I’m sure more potent chemicals are necessary for some people, I too highly advocate trying more natural substances first.

    1. “I was struggling with postpartum anxiety (yeah, that’s a thing)…”

      I was hit hard with PPA after the birth of my son, and like your comment implies, was constantly met with strange looks and responses like “You mean post-partum DEPRESSION?” any time I would tell people about it. It is most definitely a thing, and could use a lot more awareness and understanding.

  38. I would love some feedback from anyone who has taken Mark’s Primal Calm. Interested in hearing what type of results (if any) were experienced with regards to helping with stress, focus and cortisol issues. =) I went ahead and ordered some but am curious to hear from others who have used it as I wait for it to arrive. Thanks! =)

  39. After 50 years of study I’ve become an expert in my own anxiety and depression and over the last winter finally managed to kick the worst of it to the curb. Yay, me! Anyway, I’ve used a number of techniques and supplements over the years and here are my favorites:

    Emotional Freeing Technique and Tapas Acupressure Technique: free to learn from the net but best used with professional guidance. My current therapist uses these two techniques and EMDR. We have been extraordinarily successful over the last five months and I am thrilled with how I feel these days. I have used EFT since about 2005 very successfully on my own but adding in the other two techniques plus a gifted therapist made all the difference. I went from despondent and near-suicidal to hopeful and eager to get to work in one session and have only gotten better with every visit since.

    Diet: Everyone here knows how important what you eat can be for mood! I find I need just a little carb with my “paleo” to be happiest and that’s a simple, easy thing to do.

    My favorite supplements are GABA and a combination Theanine/GABA/Relora though I don’t dismiss magnesium, B vitamins and Vitamin C as part of the whole. I take a fair amount of GABA as directed by my doctor (MD, ND and endocrinologist all in one package) and it really, really helps with anxiety. This is great when I don’t have an hour or more to use the physical techniques above.

    I took rather a lot of melatonin over the last few years and ended up having difficulties sleeping without it. Apparently, if you take it for too long your body stops making its own melatonin. I got around this by taking GABA and the Theanine/GABA/Relora with a homeopathic remedy called Calms Forte. I’m sleeping better and better all the time now without melatonin.

    I like Kava Kava a lot but it doesn’t last very long. I’ve heard it’s very useful for pain management. A friend took a lot of it during a long tattoo session and she said it worked very well, better than over the counter pain killers. Valerian is great but after a few days I end up with the most amazing nightmares so I don’t take it any more at all.

    Passionflower and skullcap are both wonderful for me, too, but I get tired of all the tea so I take it in capsules when needed.

    One thing that really helped me, though, was finally getting correctly diagnosed with low thyroid. Getting on Armour Thyroid made a huge difference. Then, I discovered that my adrenal glands were also compromised. I spent a lot of last year in bed resting. As my adrenal glands have healed I find I am far calmer and much better able to deal with stress. Last year a moment of stress would put me in bed for days. Now, not the case, thank heavens! I was able to go for a 2 mile walk last Saturday which was just wonderful. I am so grateful to be feeling well enough to exercise again and I hope to be back on horses again really soon.

    I just have to say I LOVE this site and always find so much neat stuff both in the articles and in the comments. It’s wonderful to find so many thinking, caring people in the world.

  40. I have tried many teas and pretty much go with an organic chamomile now, but what works absolutely the best for me is a HOT Epsom salt bath (the magnesium relaxes muscles). If using marijuana for sleep, you have to know your smoke but be careful, it changes the brain chemistry and you may become dependent on it for sleep. What also has helped me over the years (particularly if I wake around 2:00 AM and can’t get back to sleep) is to drink 3 oz. of Tahitian Noni.

  41. Hi,

    Having travelled to Fiji on a couple of occasions I have participated in the Kava ritual many times and if you can handle the taste (kind of like muddy water) then it definitely has calming effects. Tread carefully though as too much will make you numb and hazy. Thanks for the post!

  42. I wonder if we can make tea from the bark of the common Southern Magnolia Grandiflora like the one growing in my yard. I’m searching. So far I’ve found a site that included in the botanical details that no part of the plant is poisonous.

    Another site says that the plants are edible and lists medicinal uses of the bark. http://www.iron-clay.com/herbal_remedies/magnolia.html
    “iaphoretic; Hypotensive; Salve; Stimulant; Tonic.

    The bark is diaphoretic, stimulant, tonic. It is used in the treatment of malaria and rheumatism. A decoction has been used as a wash and a bath for prickly heat itching. The decoction has also been used as a wash for sores and as a steam bath for treating dropsy. An alcoholic extract of the plant reduces the blood pressure, produces a slight acceleration in respiration but has no action on the heart.”

  43. When I was younger, my mother would always give me Chamomile tea when I was sick so that I would sleep better and recover faster. By far it is one of the most relaxing herbal (not counting drugs in this mix haha!) spices I have ever used.

    Drinking chamomile during the cold season is even better!

  44. using herbs and plants in various ways (medicinal and recreational) is definitely primal…i mean, if you’re going to *cook* your food, you might as well admit that our human ancestors probably figured out a few “good plants” before they figured out fire.

  45. I have a question for those of you who drink matcha tea. I think perhaps I’ve bought some which might not be the best quality (even though it’s organic). Mine has a strong somewhat bitter taste, is this normal?

    1. This post may be old but if you are drinking any green tea you should not add boiling water to the tea as this will make the tea bitter. The water temp should not exceed about 80 degrees. Therefore boil your water and leave the lid of the kettle open for about 5 mins prior to pouring over the tea. This should encourage a sweeter tea rather than burning the leaves and creating a bitter taste. Hope this helps!

  46. I had some Kava when i was in Hawaii. Wouldn’t put it in the same category as Chamomile myself. Found it to be a heavy sedative, made feel grogy and numbed my mouth i was surprised it was legal.

    Sticking to the add glass of wine myself.

  47. LEMON BALM! not only is it amazingly delicious, it can help you get into deeper cycles of sleep. its extremely easy to grow and will do well in most climates.

    I suggest 1-4tbsp dried lemon balm to about 1/2-1 quart of water. boil water, pour over leaves, cover, infuse for 10-15 minutes and drink up before bed.

    its super gentle and effective, and has also been shown to help treat coldsores as it is h igh in lysine and an immune stimulant…….do this, you will thank me 🙂

    other then that I would suggest milky oats(the herb, not a bowl of em!), skullcap(especially for the weekends!), California poppy tincture, passionflower….

    I have brewed up valerian before, the only thing it effected was my nose, it smells horrible, I think it may be some kind of old herbalists joke on all of up

    A WARNING ON KAVA: high doses in pill form can be harmful to your liver, especially if you already have any issues

    1. Thanks, Jessica– great to hear about lemon balm! I’m constantly cutting it back in my garden since it’s a bit over-vigorous, but I have been using just a fresh leaf or two as a drink garnish, never thought to make a proper tisane of it. And the deeper sleep is exactly my issue. Now my garden will be neater & my sleep better!

  48. Excellent post Mark. I love the information you give for each tea and the efficacy. I’d have to say my favorite is the Rhodiola Rosea- huge fan!

    Be well 😉

  49. I love kava tea. I broke my neck and jaw a fews years ago, and nothing helps me sleep better and deal with the pain than kava. I also have used valerian, in pill form, and it’s a good one as well.

  50. I use Calms Forte with some success…seem to need double the recommended dosage for bed…but otherwise for just de-stressing a couple work fine. They are also OK for dogs. When ours is really worked up during bad storms it helps her. I would have to go check the label, but it contains at least a couple of these ingredients.

    Also – try making a dream pillow and insert in yours or next to your pillow. Lavender and Hops

    There are a couple sleep and meditation apps that have wonderful 20min sleep wind down exercises before bed. I also use that sleep cycle app in conjunction to monitor how deep I sleep…been trying to take sleep seriously, or as a growth project after Primal Connection

  51. With the pressures that come with modern life, I’ll definitely try some of these.Kava kava seems like a good start,and I believe everything ought to be done in moderation,including meds- natural or artificial.The chilling out part sounds okay…heck it’s medicine,not weed (not that I’m against the latter). And why the hell would someone need to mix their medicine with alcohol,why take it in the first place?Just the recommended dose would do fine,but these are my thoughts.

  52. I’m a little disappointed to see you recommended chamomile tea in teabags rather than buying it in bulk (loose-leaf).

    Teabags usually use poor quality herbs, often ground into dust. They turn stale much faster because of the added surface area, and it’s hard to adjust the dosage to your liking. They’re also much more expensive per gram of herb.

    Loose-leaf herbal tea is where it’s at. Teabags are a poor substitute – and they’re certainly not primal!

  53. I have just started with marksdailyapple and Monday (4/15/2013) will be my one week anniversary. So far, I am feeling good and optimistic. I can already feel the impact.

    My plan is to try it for a month (May 08, 2013) and will decide whether to continue. With the first few days so far, something good is happening and thanks to a friend (Joe) at work who introduced me to the wonderful world of Mark Session.

    Meanwhile, I am still doing coffee and looking forward to switching to tea. If anybody knows a good tea that taste good, please let me know.

    Thanks

  54. Passion teas is relaxing too. Also potatoes (potassium) Those with low blood pressure should probably be careful with them.

  55. With the pressures that come with modern life, I’ll definitely try some of these.Kava kava seems like a good start,and I believe everything ought to be done in moderation,including meds- natural or artificial.The chilling out part sounds okay…heck it’s medicine,not weed (not that I’m against the latter). And why the hell would someone need to mix their medicine with alcohol,why take it in the first place?Just the recommended dose would do fine,but these are my thoughts.

  56. Valerian root is an excellent muscle relaxer. My chiropractor says it works just fine, as good as prescribed muscle relaxers, and I find that it does, without the side effects. It has never made me drowsy. Yes, it does smell like sweat socks, but if you look around you can find brands that don’t reek as bad as others. I can’t imagine drinking it as tea. (Shudder!)

    I find most kinds of tea are relaxing, whether it’s white, green, black or herbal. Just the ritual of making the tea, and then taking the time to sip it, is relaxing.

    There was no mention of St. John’s Wort, and excellent antidepressant, and it helps control the anxiety that goes along with depression. It’s also good for insomnia. A good overview of this herb, also known as hypericum, is at http://www.hypericum.com/blog. It works for me.

    While on the subject of herbs & such, for anyone who suffers from motion sickness, plain old ginger is the best treatment, without side effects. I use capsules and tea. It’s also great for morning sickness. I wish I knew about it when I suffered with it during all 3 of my pregnancies. (And all the kids I had to ride the school bus with when I was younger would have appreciated it if we’d known about it, seeing that I frequently got violently ill on the school bus.)

  57. You know, the zen behind real tea (as any good Japanese or Chinese person will tell you), and a good part of its calming effect is taking the time to brew it properly!

    This means stopping your life for several minutes to measure out the proper leave amount, warm the water to the exact temperature needed (very few teas ACTUALLY want boiled water), savoring the aromas of the tea as it is brewing, and finally, slowly sipping and enjoying the liquid and NOT gulping it down. Done correctly, this can be very relaxing and satisfying. You take a few minutes to forget about your cares and worries and to concentrate on brewing your cup properly. And a properly brewed cup has more medical benefits than an over-boiled, scorched cup that overcooks the leaves and makes you lose a lot of the beneficial compounds anyway.

    Another random fact: For those looking to increase their intake of l-theanine without supplements, look for “shade grown” teas, particularly good examples are the shade grown gyuokuro and matcha (as Mark says, but not why) teas from Japan (as opposed to Japanese Sencha, grown completely in the sun most of the time). The shade growing causes the tea leaves to hoard as much chlorophyll as possible (so as to be able to still produce enough energy despite the shade). This also results in fewer antioxidants in the overall tea (sun-grown teas have more catechins by weight) but FAR more l-theanine which is the relaxing component. The only reason matcha outshines most teas for antioxidants is because you consume the whole leaf instead of just steeping it. If you ate sun grown tea leaves (and you can, the Chinese do it!), you’d likely beat even the illustrious matcha for catechin content.

    PS: Brewing a PROPER cuppa gyuokuro or matcha in the Japanese style is EXTREMELY difficult. Be prepared to ruin your first few cups. 😀

  58. My wife is a vegetarian and everything has to be natural . She has me off coffee and now drinking only green tea. And I’m sure if she reads this article I will have things floating in my tea too

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  61. I know this is an old-ish post, but I thought I should point out – you shouldn’t add kava to HOT tea. I’ve read that water the temperature that tea is steeped at will break down most of kava’s active ingredients. Won’t hurt you, but it’s a huge waste of kava. XD

    If you get the dried shredded kava root instead of capsules, proper preparation is to squeeze it out of the root wrapped in cheesecloth in a bowl of water – no heat required. 🙂

  62. Lots of comments here.

    Having a nightly tea ritual is also a great way to sync the mind and the body.

    Having your cup of chamomile, or valerian root, or your choice of relaxational herb, and follow that with the same process every night eventually your mind will automatically go into “sleep” mode.