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herbal alcohol alternatives: friends out drinking

6 Herbs To Help Anyone Live Their Best Sober Life

Given how many people are focused on improving their health, both physically and mentally, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of adults are looking for ways to unwind without the use of alcohol.

A recent survey suggests that Americans are drinking less and trying out more non-alcoholic beverage options, with 41 percent planning to consume less alcohol in 2024 and thereafter. One in three Americans also reported trying a non-alcoholic drink in 2023, including “mocktails,” CBD infusions, and zero-alcohol beer and wine. 

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to sustain a booze-free lifestyle, considering the influx of herbal products that have entered the market promising chill times without the threat of hangovers. 

Beyond CBD (a compound found in the cannabis plant that supports relaxation without the high), a handful of other lesser-known herbs can serve as alternatives to your standard spirits, offering relaxation and enjoyment without the intoxicating effects. You’ll even find some of the most popular choices used as ingredients in a growing array of functional drinks. Read on for a few of our favorites. 

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Dr. Chelsea Azarcon, N.M.D., is a naturopathic medical doctor. Dr. Jolene Brighten, M.D., is a physician who specializes in hormone health.

1. Kava

With natural calming properties, kava has been traditionally used in the South Pacific as a ceremonial drink for hundreds of years. It’s been shown to promote relaxation and help alleviate stress.

“Kava has soothing, muscle-relaxing, and stress-relieving effects,” explains naturopathic medical doctor Dr. Chelsea Azarcon, N.M.D. “It acts on the brain’s GABA receptors, producing a similar calming effect to alcohol only without the drawbacks. Additionally, kava enhances focus while inducing relaxation.” Unlike alcohol, kava doesn’t come with addictive or toxic properties.

GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that plays a major role in controlling levels of vigilance and people’s moods, is often the target of many pharmacological treatments for stress, anxiety, and insomnia. Therefore, herbs that can help increase GABA activity are thought to be ideal for replacing alcohol, according to hormone expert Dr. Jolene Brighten, M.D.

How it’s used: Typically brewed into a drink, kava is commonly consumed as a cold or warm tea or in beverage form. “Kava bars” are even popping up across the U.S., offering alcohol-free mocktails and interesting kava concoctions that can be enjoyed in a fun social setting with a communal atmosphere. 

In terms of how much to take, study dosages range from 100 to 400 milligrams of kava per day. Try it in capsule form (check out plnt brand Full Spectrum Kava) or opt for a tincture (like Herb Pharm Kava Rhizome with Root). DIY a kava mocktail by mixing a serving of tincture (check your product label for specifics) with juice or another tasty beverage.

2. California Poppy

“California poppy is one of my favorite relaxing herbs,” notes Azarcon. The herb offers sleep-promoting activity and has physical discomfort-dulling effects without causing disorientation as alcohol does. 

California poppy’s effects are somewhat akin to opium poppies, as the plant’s compounds bind to the same receptors in the brain, offering natural relaxation support while promoting restful sleep, Azarcon says. It’s also unlikely to cause the types of side effects that are often associated with some sleep aids or mood-stabilizing drugs.

How it’s used: California poppy is often used in tinctures or teas. It can be ingested as a liquid extract or brewed into a soothing herbal tea for its calming and hypnotic effects. There isn’t a standard recommended dosage at this time, so read dosage recommendations on the product you purchase, as potency varies by brand and type. Try it in plnt brand’s Full-Spectrum Hemp Extract CBD + Valerian, which combines CBD with valerian and California poppy.

3. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha offers relief from stress and promotes a sense of calm and well-being due to its cortisol-managing effects and ability to bind to GABA receptors in the brain, explains Azarcon. 

Thanks to its positive effects on the HPA (hypothalamic-ptuitary-adrenal) axis, this adaptogenic herb contributes to greater hormonal balance, sleep, focus, and mood control, according to Brighten. “Adaptogens, as their name suggests, help the body remain in balance and adapt to different stressors,” she says. “Ashwagandha is an adaptogen because it helps the body regulate cortisol, and therefore, it can support the adrenals, support the immune system, improve brain function, and ease feelings of anxiety.”

Read More: The Best And Worst Times Of Day To Take Different Adaptogens

How it’s used: Typically consumed as a powdered supplement or in capsule form, ashwagandha can also be brewed into tea or added to a variety of beverages. (You’ll find some in Hiyo’s Organic Functional Seltzers and Parch Non-Alcoholic Agave Cocktails.) Brighton recommends starting with a dosage of about 100 to 200 milligrams. Vthrive The Vitamin Shoppe’s KSM-66 Ashwagandha contains a highly concentrated form of the herb.

4. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and is prized for its calming effects on the nervous system. Research suggests it may help reduce feelings of anxiety and low mood. Plus, it can support digestion and promote restorative sleep, adds Brighten. 

“As a sleep support, lemon balm and its main active constituent, rosmarinic acid, act on the GABA system in the body to induce relaxation and improve sleep quality,” says Brighten. She recommends that people struggling with trouble sleeping or stress-related symptoms try lemon balm, particularly at night, to help them relax.

How it’s used: Lemon balm is typically brewed into teas or infused into beverages, offering a refreshing and citrusy flavor in addition to calming and soothing properties. (Try it in Teapigs Happy Uplifting Tea with Lemon Balm.) If you opt for a supplement, start with about 100 milligrams of a lemon balm extract that contains three percent rosmarinic acid, Brighten recommends. Or, go the traditional route with a tincture, like plnt brand Full-Spectrum Lemon Balm Extract.

5. Passionflower

Passionflower is known for its ability to promote relaxation, alleviate feelings of anxiety, and support a restful night’s sleep, according to Azarcon. Additionally, this herb boasts sleep-inducing and soothing properties that can help support healthy blood pressure, making it ideal as a natural sleep supporter and for reducing restlessness without the need for alcohol. 

Brighten is also a fan of passionflower for boosting sleep quality and fighting the effects of stress. It’s even safe for women who are pregnant or nursing.

Read More: Steal These Health Experts’ Nighttime Rituals For Better Sleep And Well-Being

How it’s used: Passionflower can be brewed into tea or infused into herbal beverages. Should you choose passionflower in supplement form, try about 100 milligrams of standardized extract containing 3.5 percent flavonoids. Otherwise, add a tincture (like Nature’s Answer Organic Passionflower) to your favorite bev.

6. Valerian

Like other herbs on this list, valerian root interacts with GABA and has strong natural sleep-promoting effects due to its ability to promote relaxation, says Brighten. She explains that valerian is a “nervine herb that’s even stronger than lemon balm and more of a potent sedative.” 

For those looking to unwind more easily before bedtime, valerian has been shown in studies to reduce the time it takes people to fall asleep and improve measures of sleep quality, she adds.  

How it’s used: Valerian root is often consumed as a tea, tincture, or in capsule form, sometimes in combination with other herbs or ingredients such as magnesium (which is also useful for easing muscle tension and sleep issues), according to Brighten. She suggests a starting dose of about 100 milligrams of standardized extract containing 0.8 percent valerenic acid. Check out Toniiq’s Ultra Concentrated Valerian Root capsules or plnt brand Full-Spectrum Organic Valerian Root tincture.

Key Takeaways on Herbal Alcohol Alternatives

Whether it’s kava’s calming embrace, California poppy’s gentle hypnotic effects, or ashwagandha’s adaptogen qualities, nature offers a bounty of alternatives to alcohol that nourish your body and mind. By opting for these herbal alternatives over booze, you can unwind and socialize without the negative effects of alcohol.

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