Teenage boy at a therapist office sitting with his head down with the therapist reviewing his chart to consider treatments for his ADHD

ADHD – Alternatives to Ritalin


Question: I am desperately trying to avoid giving my 9 year old Ritalin for ADHD. Her behavior, impulsiveness and distractibility have caused all facets of her life to suffer. Of course the “mental health” professionals have an easy answer, a little green pill twice a day. We have switched to a whole foods diet but I don’t observe any marked difference. Any suggestions? I’m pretty much willing to try anything (except Ritalin!) at this point.


Answer: Thank you for your email about alternatives to Ritalin. I sure would be of the same mind as yourself if it were my child. The whole food diet is very beneficial in many ways and has long term, far reaching effects.


If it were me, I would use both herbs and essential oils. Here are what some of the most respected herbal authorities are suggesting:


James Duke author of Doctor Duke’s Essential Herbs says there is some indication Hawthorn may be useful in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He speaks of an East Coast Herbalist, David Winston, who uses Hawthorn Berry and Flower for this condition. Winston’s “Focus Formula” consists of Oats, Melissa (Lemon Balm), Hawthorn, Ginkgo Leaf and Scullcap Herb. This sounds really good to me. It is a well rounded set of herbs of which I would use the liquid extract form. Liquid extracts are so easy to take. You can add drops into water, juice or some other beverage.


I know of mothers who successfully use our Cheryl’s Herbs Guarana for ADHD. They give it to their child in the morning and again in the afternoon. Some of them have the school nurse give it to the child at lunch time. The powder can be made into a tea, capsules are a convenience for many users and the liquid extract is available as well. Guarana is a mild stimulant and a tonic to the adrenal glands according to research reported by J. P. Scott in an article of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. He includes in his description of uses: improving mental stamina for prolonged mental work, such as long periods of driving or studying for exams and a suitable tonic for old people. He indicates it may be taken on a daily basis. Scott concludes that it is one of the safest tonic herbs he has come across. When taken on an occasional basis, some of the effects may be noticed right away but the real benefits of improved ability and optimism develop over a period of days and continue to increase as the herb is taken for a month or more.


For thousands of years the native people of the Amazon believed the seed of Guarana, now known as a Brazilian herb, to be a tonic and a physical stimulant. Brazilian Indians considered it one of the most beneficial plants known and thought it prolonged life, warded off exhaustion, satisfied hunger and cured all manner of ailments. The late Dr. Luiz Pereira Barreto, a Brazilian medical doctor wrote “Guarana is a gentle stimulant which acts on the adrenal system to prevent fatigue. It also stimulates the brain functions and promotes intellectual activity.”


There is very little information available today about the outstanding benefits to health and well-being attributed to the use of Guarana Seed. Nearly all of the easily available information about this herb dismisses it as a stimulant containing caffeine. Most of the modern research on this plant was for the purpose of the pharmaceuticals and drinks industries, as a source of caffeine, after the seed was roasted. Roasting changes the form of the naturally occurring chemical xanthine component and transforms it into caffeine. Ingesting unroasted, good quality Guarana Seed is not at all like ingesting caffeine. Most of the Guarana on the American market is roasted or processed so harshly it may as well be roasted. Cheryl’s Herbs Guarana  is a more naturally, gently processed herb material of superior quality. It is very carefully grown, responsibly harvested, shade dried and stone ground by hand by people whose ancestors have been respectfully handling Guarana for many generations.


I think the mothers I have known found Guarana to be successfully used for ADHD partly because it is a stimulant and partly because our quality of seed offers much more than just stimulating properties. Ritalin is a stimulant drug and Michael Castleman, author of The New Healing Herbs states it’s not clear why stimulants calm hyperactive children, but they often help. He also reports that “Researchers at the University of Chicago analyzed 12 studies of caffeine and behavior in children. None found any increase in hyperactivity, and a few even concluded that caffeine has calming benefits.”


I found the information on Valerian Root given by Daniel Mowrey in Herbal Tonic Therapies quite hopeful. Valerian is most famous as a relaxing herb helping many people with insomnia but what is most interesting is Valerian’s tendency to increase concentration ability, reasoning skills, energy levels and improve motor coordination. Daniel Mowrey says “More recent research has shown that Valerian sedates and regulates the autonomic nervous system in patients and children with control disorders, to help regulate psychosomatic disorders, and to relieve tension and restlessness. Childhood behavior disorders and learning disabilities are particularly susceptible to the positive effects of Valerian Root. In Europe, for about the last 20 years, it has been used in the treatment of childhood behavior disorders including hyperactivity and learning disabilities. In one study, Valerian extract was given to 120 children with a variety of behavioral disorders. Length of study was at least 3 weeks in each case…these results are extraordinary, given the lack of toxicity observed. Valerian Root would make a very good addition to the therapy of childhood behavior problems.”


Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils which has proven to be very useful for relaxing mind and body as well as stimulating the mind and improving focus. There was a study done in 1991 in which inhalation of Lavender Essential Oil caused significant decrease in motility and hyperactivity in caffeine injected mice. Those who study and work in the field of aromatherapy know that we don’t need studies on mice to be certain of the soothing, relaxing qualities of Lavender Essential Oil. Aromatherapists are also quite familiar with the mental stimulating qualities of Rosemary and Basil Essential Oils. Vivian Lunny, qualified as an MD in 1973 but went on with extensive studies in alternative medicine and is now a well known international aromatherapy and holistic medicine educator and facilitator. Dr. Lunny suggests aromatherapy treatment of children with ADHD include essential oils with the following properties: anxyoltic, antidepressant, uplifting and soothing, attention and concentration enhancers, neurotonic and immunotonic. I am not a doctor and cannot give you advice but if it were me I would use Lavender Essential Oil as well as our Concentration Mixture (Basil & Rosemary) and for a soothing, antidepressant uplifting benefit I would use our Orange Spray which can be used like a room fragrance or personal cologne. With this set of essential oil products you will cover most if not all of her suggestions.


I’m not going to go into the details now of the many ways to easily incorporate these essential oils into your daughter’s life because you may already be familiar with aromatherapy. If not and you are interested in this, please do not hesitate to visit more of our website for these details or write me back and I will be happy to help you some more. The same goes for the method, dose and details of use of the herbs listed above. Please do not hesitate to ask for more assistance. At least you have this information for now and can consider all the possibilities. You may want to purchase some of these books too.


I’m very glad you wrote to us about this topic because so many parents are facing the same situation. I hope this helps you! Please make note of the botanical and safety information below.





Ginkgo Leaf

Ginkgo biloba

Safe to consume when used appropriately, possible concern with ingestion of blood thinning medications but inconclusive.


Guarana Seed

Paullinia cupana

Not recommended for excessive or long-term use.


Hawthorn Berry, Leaf, Flower

Crataegus laevigata/spp.

Safe to consume when used appropriately. May have a potentiating effect with digitalis which may necessitate a smaller dosage of digitalis. Consult a physician when symptoms continue unchanged for longer than 6 weeks or in cases of swelling of the legs. Medical diagnosis is absolutely necessary when pains occur in the region of the heart, spreading out to the arms, upper abdomen or the area around the neck, or in cases of respiratory distress (dyspnea).


Melissa Herb (Lemon Balm)

Melissa officinalis

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Oat Grass Seed Extract

Avena sativa

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Scullcap Herb

Scutellaria lateriflora

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Valerian Root

Valeriana offinalis

Safe to consume when used appropriately.





Basil (Sweet)

Ocimum basilicum

Not for small children. Avoid sensitive skin. Possible carcinogenic, hepatoxic.



Lavandula angustifolia

Tested non-toxic at low levels.



Citrus sinensis

Tested non-toxic at low levels. Potentially sensitizing, phototoxic.


Rosemary (Cineole)

Rosmarinus officinalis

Should not be used when pregnant, with epilepsy or by small children. Possible neurotoxic.




Castleman, Michael. The New Healing Herbs. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press. 2001.

Duke, James A. Dr. Duke’s Essential Herbs. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks. 2001.

Harris, Bob. The Aromatherapy Database. Jersey, Channel Islands: Essential Oil Resource Consultants. 1998.

Hoard, Jeffrey S., and Victoria Gough, Ed. Proceedings of The World of Aromatherapy II. Boulder: NAHA. 1998.

Mowrey, Daniel B. Herbal Tonic Therapies. New Canaan: Keats Publishing Co. 1993.

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