We call herbs that work with the nervous system "nervines." Though some of these herbs are stimulating, we usually use the word to apply to herbs that sedate or calm the nervous system. Naturally, you use these herbs for anxiety and sleep (and other weird things like itching!). I'm going to detail some of my favorites here for you, so check them out!
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
This easy to grow mint-family herb is my favorite gentle nervine for anxiety. In fact, if i were to pick a single herb for everyone in our over-anxious society to take, this would be it. It's usually the first thing I recommend to people with mild anxiety issues, and can also be used for milk insomnia. It's a commonly used herb for children as well, and is usually used as a delicious glycerite (an alcohol-free liquid extract with a sweet taste). For adults, I like to use it as a tincture (liquid extract), but you can also make a tea from the dried herb (available at herb stores and some health food stores.)
Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia)
This is another mint family nervine, which I find similar in immediate effect to lemon balm, but has the added benefit of training the nervous system to be less reactive in the long term. I've met herbalists who use skullcap for addiction cases where extreme emotional reactions are common. Though skullcap doesn't taste as good as lemon balm, it's one of my favorites for those who get hot and bothered about things. You can grow it easily in your garden here in the PNW, and it spreads and readily re-seeds itself. Harvest the above ground parts when they are in full flower.
Valerian (Valeriana spp)
I find Valerian to be one of the most reliable sleep-aids. It is a much stronger sedative that lemon balm and skullcap, and therefore can also be used for acute pain (though not without feeling a little sleepy). Most herbalists claim it has no long term effect, though I strongly believe that Valerian can actually train your body to sleep better. I also recommend valerian occasionally for acute panic attacks or extreme anxiety.
Luckily, Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) grows incredibly well here in the PNW. Harvest and wash the roots in the fall, and replant the eyes for the next year. We also have a few native species, including Valeriana sitchensis, which can be found in subalpine places in the Cascades and Olympics. again, harvest the roots of these after flowering in the late summer/ fall. Make sure you have a 120% positive ID.
Most people don't like the taste of Valerian, so I recommend making or buying a tincture, or getting capsules. If you do find Valerian pleasant, you can make a cold or hot infusion of the dried roots (1 tsp per cup). Some people feel groggy in the morning after taking valerian at night, which is one downside. Also, about 5% of the population experiences stimulation when they take valerian, so pay attention when you take it. If that happens to you, try another herb!
Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Hops has a very similar effect to valerian, including the morning grogginess. I often use hops in larger doses for acute pain (can also cause some sleepiness), such as tooth pain. Hops is also incredibly bitter, and thus also stimulates digestion. You can put Hops in your bitters formula! Hops can be taken as a tincture, tea or infused honey. I don't recommend capsules for this one.
Oat Buds / Milky Oats (Avena sativa)
Oat buds are harvested before the oats come to maturity, leaving an immature, milky seed inside. This is used as a tonic (general improver of health) for the nervous system. Research has been done to suggest that it's helpful to reduce cravings for cigarettes, and is used for other addictions as well. Oat buds are best used over a long period of time, as there is little noticeable benefit in the moment. I recommend oat buds for nervous, jumpy, worrier types. I love to combine this one with Skullcap!
Thanks for reading!