The Best Teas For Stress Relief & How To Brew Your Perfect Cup
From waking you up to getting you ready for sleep, there's a healthy tea for every point in the day. If you're looking for a sipper that will help you get through stressful moments, the following calming teas come expert-recommended.
How tea can help with stress relief.
- Nervines/nerve tonics: "Nerve tonics are usually herbs that are nutritive and nourishing," says McBride. These are gentle herbs that gradually nourish us over time. After drinking them daily for three to four weeks, you should find that you start to feel more resilient to the inevitable stresses of life. Oatstraw is a good example. Nervines like these can typically be enjoyed any time of day or night.
- Relaxing teas: "These herbs have a more immediately relaxing effect," McBride explains. Think lemon balm and lavender. These are the herbs that you'd want to brew for in-the-moment stress relief. It's best to sip these teas at night as you're winding down from the day—though McBride notes that you don't want to drink them too close to bed, as all that liquid could wake you up in the middle of the night.
McBride adds that the scent of particularly fragrant herbs like lavender can further add to the relaxing effect.
There hasn't been much research on how sipping tea can ease stress, though Dana Cohen, M.D., an integrative medicine physician and co-author of Quench, is now seeing more scientific studies on how specific herbs can calm down the body. (More on those below.)
The simple ritual of sitting down with your herbal brew of choice can also be therapeutic. "Slowing down, breathing in the fumes (which by the way is a hydrating act), savoring the aroma and taste...it can be considered a form of meditation," Cohen tells mindbodygreen. "Whatever herbs are inside the tea are a bonus!"
7 best teas for stress.
As for the best types of herbal teas to sip for stress relief, these seven come science-backed and expert-recommended:
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Best for: Relaxing at the end of a long day.
Chamomile is an herb that has been shown to help support a healthy nervous system in many ways. "When I lived in Germany, I heard people call this plant 'zutraut,' meaning the herb that can do anything," says McBride.
Cohen notes that a rigorous (randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled) 2013 study1 on chamomile extract found that the herb can ease various signs of anxiousness when consumed for eight weeks. While she personally doesn't love the taste, she understands why floral chamomile tea is a popular choice for bedtime.
"Chamomile is calming, relaxing, and soothing," McBride says. "[It] is one of the great teas to drink after dinner to help you unwind from the day." Though it does have diuretic qualities, she adds, so you'd be wise to take your last sip a few hours before bed.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Best for: Easing nerves.
If you're nervous about an upcoming task or about what the future might hold, lemon balm could be the herbal companion for you. In one small clinical trial in 20042, those who took 600 milligrams of lemon balm before being exposed to a psychological stressor were able to maintain a more positive and calm mood than those who took a placebo.
"Lemon balm is a cooling and restorative herb that helps to calm the nerves and enhance your mood. It is known as a stress reliever that uplifts the spirit," says McBride. She adds that the herb's cooling qualities can also support healthy digestion3.
Cohen adds that lemon balm is an easy herb to cultivate, making it a good pick for a home-grown tea. Like chamomile, it's best enjoyed in the evenings as some people find that it makes them sleepy.
Rose petals (Rosa spp.)
Best for: A soothing ritual.
Delicate rose petals can make for a refreshing, relaxing tea. "Roses are known for their ability to nourish the heart and lift the spirit. They are soothing, calming, and particularly restorative to the nervous system," says McBride.
While more research is needed, a 2017 review of rose oil4 found that its signature smell does seem to promote physiological and psychological relaxation. So if you do brew this tea, be sure to inhale its fragrant smoke as you go.
You can steep petals from any color rose under the rainbow, but McBride says you'll want to first make sure they don't have any herbicides or pesticide residue. Organic is best!
Oat straw (Avena sativa)
Best for: Sipping daily for more resilience.
Oat straw is made from the rough grass that surrounds oats, and McBride says it makes one of her go-to teas. While research on the plant is limited, oat straw's sweet, mild flavor is a favorite among herbalists. And as a nervine, McBride says its stress-easing effects will become more apparent if you sip it daily.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Best for: Falling asleep faster.
No surprise here: The luxurious scent of lavender can make bedtime infinitely more relaxing. One 2005 study in the journal Chronobiology International6 found that smelling lavender oil before bed increased the amount of time young, healthy people spent in deeper sleep stages, while more recent research in 2011 concluded that it improved self-reported sleep quality7 in a cohort of midlife women.
When enjoyed as a tea, McBride says that "the aroma of lavender relaxes the nervous system and produces a calming and soothing effect on the body."
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Best for: Promoting balance throughout the body.
With deep roots in ancient Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha remains a popular adaptogenic herb today. As an adaptogen, it's thought to promote balance throughout the body and support our ability to come back to baseline after a stressful event.*
"It contains withanolides, compounds that help activate GABA receptors8 in the brain to decrease activation of our nervous system and stress response,"* integrative physician Cindy Tsai, M.D., previously told mbg. Like oat straw, ashwagandha tends to be more effective when consumed regularly.
Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Best for: Supporting a good mood.
Schisandra is another plant with a rich history, and it's been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Originally thought to "calm the spirit," it can be useful, Cohen notes, for those who are looking for all-around mood support.
Research on humans is limited, but schisandra has been shown to promote a more positive mood9 and support healthy cognition in mice. It makes for a bright, sweet, sour tea that can be enjoyed at any time of day.
If you're tired of one-note teas and looking for a blend, McBride says these stress-relieving herbs complement each other beautifully:
- Chamomile, lavender, and rose
- Lemon balm and chamomile
How to prepare:
Once you've landed on your herb(s), here's McBride's pro routine for blending them into a tea. While you can of course use prepacked tea bags, she says that loose tea tends to be fresher and more potent.
- If you're making an herbal for the first time, use a ratio of 1 teaspoon of leaves to 1 cup of water. This is usually enough plant material to reap the benefits but not so much that the flavor is overpowering.
- Place loose herbs and water into a pot and put the lid on it.
- Bring water and herbs to a boil and then immediately turn off the stove.
- Let herbs steep for a full 15 minutes to allow their properties to come through.
- Using a fine-mesh strainer, remove the herbs from the tea and pour the tea into a teacup or pitcher.
- Add milk, alt-milk, and/or the sweetener of your choice to taste (optional).
- Turn your tea into a ritual by sipping it with a favorite candle or a good book. "Make it beautiful. Make it pleasing. Make it so you really enjoy it," says McBride.
Other tools for stress relief.
Once the last sip is taken, here are a few other tools that can help ease stress daily.
McBride notes that many of the aforementioned herbs can also be incorporated into bathing and beauty routines (her book is a treasure trove of ideas for these). Add them to a warm bath or rejuvenating facial steam for a relaxing ritual at the end of a long, stressful day.
Supplements featuring calming plant ingredients like lavender, ashwagandha root and leaf extract, rhodiola, full-spectrum hemp oil, and lemon balm can also be helpful for easing stress.* Most can be taken on a daily or as-needed basis. Be sure to always ask your doctor before trying a new supplement, and look for one that uses science-backed ingredients and doses. (Here's a list of mbg favorites.)
In addition to herbal allies, a paper and pen can also support you on your journey to stress less. Cohen likes to spend the first bit of her morning writing in her journal for three to five minutes to get down any lingering thoughts or worries. Don't worry about making it perfect. You never have to go back and reread what you wrote if you don't want to; just get it down on the page so it's off your chest.
The bottom line.
Sipping on herbal tea can be a great way to calm down and blow off some steam in more ways than one. If you're looking for a new brew to sip during stressful moments, chamomile, lemon balm, rose, oat straw, lavender, ashwagandha, and schisandra are all great options.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.