There are a large number of herbs that are effective in addressing ADHD symptoms. Herbal supplements are, by definition, entirely made from plant material. Many pharmaceutical medications are based on the active agents found in herbal medicines. Although natural, herbal medicine can be toxic, have severe side effects, and interact dangerously with prescription medications. It is best to check with an experienced herbalist or naturopath if you find that you are using herbs on a regular basis or for an extended period of time. Listed below are some of the more promising and clinically effective herbs for ADHD. There are many other herbs, from many different medicinal traditions, which may have calming, sedative, intellect boosting qualities that are not listed here. This is not to say that they do not have benefit. Generally, working with someone who is familiar with the herbs, including their safety and efficacy is best.
LEMON BALM, VALERIAN, PASSIONFLOWER, ST JOHN’S WORT – calming herbs
All of these herbs are commonly found in herbal combination formulas for ADHD. Lemon Balm is reputed to have impact on mental performance, enhancing attention, memory, and focus. Valerian and Passionfruit are considered to be mild herbal sedatives, often combined with each other and/or lemon balm to decrease nervousness, anxiety, and restlessness. Some people find these herbs useful for minimizing the “rebound” effect of medication wearing off in the late afternoon/evening. As calming herbs they can help with sleep difficulties, which are common for children who are medicated during the day. Some people like to make a gentle sedative tea for ADHD children at the end of the day – a good formula typically includes 30% passionflower, 30% lemon balm, 30% lavender flower, and 10% St. John’s Wort. You can ask a herbalist to make this combination for you. It can take awhile for the herbs to be effective – commit to trying this for at least a month before determining if it is effective for your child.
Chamomile tea before bed can be an excellent calming drink to help a high-strung child settle down to sleep. However, use of chamomile tea over time can have the adverse effect, causing heightened anxiety and anger. Use judiciously, and only occasionally.
Pycnogenol is a plant product made from the French maritime pine tree. It is a promising herb in the treatment of ADHD. This herb is a powerful antioxidant, acting as a cellular detoxifier and balancer of stress hormones. Children with ADHD have elevated levels of stress hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure as well as causing hyperactivity, arousal, and irritability. By normalizing stress hormones, such as adrenaline and noradrenaline, pycnogenol can bring about a decrease of ADHD symptoms and an improvement in attention, concentration, and motor-visual coordination.
Ginkgo Biloba, a herb that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese Medicine, has recently become popularized in the west for its purported memory-boosting and brain-power enhancing capabilities, and its use in slowing down the advancement of Alzheimer’s disease. Its use in ADHD is even newer, but has shown promise. Gingko Biloba seems to impact the brain by increasing blood flow to the nervous system. It is also an effective antioxidant, decreasing oxidative stress. These two functions together seem to improve cognitive function. Moreover, Gingko Biloba has been shown to have a positive effect on decreasing irritability and frustration. Oppositional and defiant behaviors as well as seemingly unrelated symptoms such as bed-wetting and auditory processing disorders also respond positively to this herb in some cases. Gingko Biloba may be a natural approximate to non-stimulant pharmaceutical medications for ADHD. It can be used effectively with the next mentioned herb, Ginseng, to boost memory, improve cognitive function, and address other symptoms commonly seen in ADHD.
Ginseng is another herbal remedy that comes to us from the Chinese medical tradition. It is well known to regulate energy levels, stimulate brain function, and improve sleep. There are certain features of this herb that make it especially promising for treating ADHD. There is evidence that Ginseng targets the dopamine pathways in the brain; deficiency in these pathways seems to be prevalent in ADHD. As mentioned earlier, dopamine can help regulate attention span, impulse control, and the ability to filter stimuli. Ginseng may also impact levels of norepinephrine – another neurotransmitter that, like dopamine, is often out of balance in the brains of those with ADHD. Imbalances in these neurotransmitters can lead to difficulties with complex cognitive processes. Many stimulant medications for ADHD work by boosting levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. It may be that Ginseng offers a non-pharmaceutical alternative similar to the conventional medicines used in treating ADHD. Finally, we know that Ginseng offers a degree of neuroprotection for the aging brain, impacting inflammation and neuron cell-death. This offers a promising alternative to the risks of life-long pharmaceutical medication for the treatment of ADHD.