Herbal Remedies For Mild To Moderate Depression

Updated January 4, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The symptoms of depression can make accomplishing daily tasks difficult and disrupt the functioning of relationships. These symptoms may include a low mood, loss of interest, headache, disturbed sleep, and a loss of energy. While there are many highly effective chemical antidepressants available by prescription today, some people prefer to go a more natural route with treating their depression. In this article, you will be introduced to natural herbs and supplements that have been shown in research to improve symptoms of depression. If you are looking for an affordable, safe, and effective way to treat mild to moderate depression symptoms, then an herbal treatment protocol may be right for you.

Consult with your healthcare provider before taking any herbs or supplements as they may interact with medications you are currently taking or exacerbate a condition.

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What Is The Difference Between Complementary And Alternative Medicine?

The use of natural remedies and dietary supplements is usually associated with alternative medicine. However, some healthcare providers and psychiatrists also include these natural herbs and supplements in their treatment protocol. This known as integrative health or complementary medicine.

Practitioners in complementary and alternative medicine will both use herbal and dietary supplements in their treatment of depressive disorders. However, where alternative medicine practitioners eschew the use of mainstream medicines completely, those in integrative health will use dietary supplements and other natural remedies alongside mainstream medication and treatments. 

A Note Of Caution

The following list of herbs and supplements are those that integrative medical practitioners may use alongside other medications and treatments. Be sure to speak to a licensed healthcare professional before taking any of the herbs mentioned in this article. While most of these herbs are very safe when taken in small quantities to treat depression, it is important to seek advice. This ensures that there are not any contraindications between the herbs and medications that you may currently be taking. 

If you have a particular medical condition or are in a unique medical situation (such as during pregnancy or lactation), you also need to check with your healthcare professional to make sure that these herbs and supplements are safe for you. Lastly, if your symptoms of depression are interrupting your ability to accomplish normal daily tasks or you find the symptoms getting worse, contact a mental health professional immediately. Major depressive disorder is a serious mental health disorder that needs to be treated by a professional to help you get the support you need. 

St. John’s Wort 

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering shrub with little yellow flowers native to Europe and parts of Asia. It has been used for millennia as a medicinal herb to treat a multitude of illnesses and diseases, especially mental health conditions. In fact, St. John’s Wort is currently one of the most used treatments for depression in Germany. It is most often taken in a capsule/pill form or drank as a tea, although other methods such as essential oils or consumption of the fresh herb may also be used. 

2008 study done on St. John’s Wort conclusively showed that the herb is at least as effective in managing depression symptoms as most regularly prescribed antidepressants in the United States if not more effective. The study was able to determine that St. John’s Wort can successfully treat mild and moderate depression symptoms with fewer side effects than those experienced when taking antidepressant medication.

In another trial, St. John’s Wort was administered to patients along with folic acid. The combination functioned by modulating serotonin receptors and assisting in the breakdown of serotonin and noradrenalin, successfully treating depressive symptoms.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has found some support for the use of St. John’s Wort for treating major depressive disorder, but cautions more research is needed.

NOTE: St. John’s Wort may interact with oral contraception, leading to adverse effects. Those taking birth control pills should consult their consult their doctor before taking St. John’s Wort.


Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is an exotic and luxurious spice of the Far East that sports a rich orange-red color and a distinctive flavor. In ancient China, this herb was traditionally used as a treatment for not only depression, but also as an antispasmodic, expectorant, and aphrodisiac.

While saffron can be more expensive to obtain than some of the other herbal supplements on this list, it elicits a surprisingly effective response against depression without the other undesirable side effects of antidepressant medications.

There are three primary bioactive substances in saffron: picrocrocin, safranol, and crocin. These three substances work together to achieve the desired antidepressant activity in the body. Research suggests that crocin and safranol’s inhabitation of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin reuptake receptors in the brain is likely responsible for the antidepressant effects that saffron produces in people who are experiencing depression symptoms.

Another study found that taking saffron supplements for eight weeks led to a reduction of depressive symptoms and improved the resiliency of study participants against the development of other psychiatric disorders.


Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), also known as arctic root or golden root, is in plant native to northern Europe and Russia and was traditionally used to treat poor attention span, fatigue, and memory issues. Rhodiola is known as an adaptogenic herb, one that helps the body build resilience against stressors, including environmental, physical, or psychological. The root is the most commonly used medicinal portion of the plant. 

Rhodiola particularly well suited to managing and treating depression caused by stress and stressful situations. This is due to its ability to increase the body’s resilience against stress reactions and to support healthy mood balancing. For medicinal purposes, Rhodiola is best taken as an extract that contains approximately 2-3% rosavin and 0.8-1% salidroside (both vital constituents in the plant). 

NOTE: Medical experts advise those taking prescription medications for major depression not to take Rhodiola, as taking both can cause a buildup of serotonin levels in the body, leading to serotonin syndrome. It may also trigger manic symptoms in those with bipolar disorder. If you have bipolar disorder or are taking a prescription antidepressant, consult a healthcare professional before taking Rhodiola.


Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is also an adaptogen- a natural substance that brings balance to the body when it is interrupted by internal or external stressors. These unique substances meet your body’s requirement to bring it back to homeostasis and balance by stimulating the body’s systems when fatigued and calming when overwhelmed with stress. It also may have a substantial effect on treating mild and moderate cases of depression. 

This Indian herb, also known as Indian ginseng, has a history dating back over 6000 years and is a central component of Ayurvedic medicine – one of the world’s oldest medicine traditions. In modern western medicine, ashwagandha has also been scientifically proven to have great effects on balancing moods, especially when it comes to treating depression. For example, in a recent study published in Current Neuropharmacology, root and leaf extracts of ashwagandha were shown to have significant anti-stress and anti-anxiety activity and improved symptoms of depression and insomnia in both animal and human studies.

Ginkgo Biloba

Gingko biloba (also known as Maidenhair tree) belongs to an ancient family of trees that date back to with between 150 to 250 million years ago. The leaves of the tree have been used medicinally for thousands of years with its healing properties being first recorded in writing by the healer Chen Yuoung (2767 BC - 2687 BC). Long used in Chinese medicine, in recent decades ginkgo biloba has gained global popularity as an herbal supplement that can be used to treat not only depression, but also attention problems, anxiety, dizziness, tinnitus, and memory loss (among other issues). 

This herb works to treat depression by increasing the uptake of serotonin and dopamine in the brain and by reducing free radicals and blood viscosity.

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NOTE: If you have a severe allergy to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac you may want to avoid gingko Biloba because its constituents can cause an allergic reaction for people who are allergic to these plants.

Maca Root 

Maca root (Lepidium meyenii) is a traditional South American plant used among the indigenous people in Peru and the Andes Mountains to boost brain function, as well as treat a variety of health conditions, including (but not limited to) depression, decreased libido, pre-menopausal symptoms, and more. The root is generally consumed as a tea, in capsule form, or as a powder mixed with water or milk. While the plant can be used to treat depression in both men and women of any age, it’s most often used to treat anxiety and depression in women who have reached menopause because of its balancing effects on the hormonal systems in the body.

In 2008 a study was done for the journal Menopause that analyzed the effects of maca root on depression and other pre- and post-menopausal symptoms in women. The study found that there were dramatic improvements in both mood, libido, and overall energy in the 14 women who participated in the study.


Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) is a fragrant evergreen bushy shrub that is native to the Mediterranean region and Himalayans. It is a popular herb used in cooking but has several beneficial medicinal effects that has been used by folk medicine practitioners for millennia to treat respiratory disorders and even stimulate hair growth. However, current research has proven that rosemary extract is another effective natural remedy for mild to moderate depression and the accompanying symptoms. The plant’s primary constituents, rosmarinic acid, rosmanol, circimaritin, and salvigenin all work together to produce both depression-fighting and anxiety-reducing effects. These constituents are thought to work by working with the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors in the brain – a primary neurotransmitter that elicits a calming response in the brain. Research has shown that people who are depressed have lower circulating amounts of GABA. 

Rosemary is an important healing herb, but it is also a great spice to keep in your kitchen. The plant can be used with most Italian dishes and in some Middle Eastern foods to “supplement” an anti-depression herb or medication protocol. If you want a more concentrated form of the herb, consider buying rosemary in capsule form or as an essential oil (food grade).


Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a fragrant purple flower native to Europe that has been used therapeutically and cosmetically for hundreds of years. It may also be another natural remedy for depression. The European Medicine Agency has approved lavender essential oil as an herbal medicine due to its properties of acting as a mild sedative that promotes relaxations and sleep. A small, recent study from 2020 revealed that lavender oils can successfully reduce depressive symptoms in healthy individuals. One hypothesis as to why lavender oil relieves anxiety and depression is due to its action in .

Supplements: Vitamin D, Acids, And SAM-e

Acids and SAM-e are related supplements that are often taken together to combat depression. There are two kinds of acids are body needs: amino acids and fatty acids. Although not herbs, amino acids are present in all of the foods that we eat, including herbs and are vital for our survival and well-being. 

The amino acids L-tyrosine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are connected to brain health and mood control. L-tyrosine consumption was shown in animal studies to lead to enhanced cognitive performance and defense against depressive symptoms. Meanwhile a deficiency in GABA is theorized to be a risk factor for major depressive disorder (and other depressive disorders).

Fatty acids are excellent for your body and brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are well-known for their health benefits and are frequently present in fish and other seafood, 

Research is more mixed on whether Omega-3 fatty acids are helpful in easing depressive symptoms. Most studies which have looked at Omega-3 fatty acids have done so as part of their use in conjunction with other medications. 

Those trials where the dietary supplement was used alone have yielded more limited results, suggesting that they have the most impact in those who are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has noted that more research is needed before Omega-3 fatty acids can be recommended as a primary treatment for depressive symptoms.

Meanwhile, SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine) is a supplement that has been proven to relieve the symptoms of not only mild depression, but also of severe depression. SAM-e is essential for the production of certain amino acids (including methionine and cysteine). Taking amino acids and SAM-e together can be particularly effective.

One of the best dietary supplements for people with depression to take is vitamin D. A systematic review found that levels of vitamin D in the body were inversely correlated with clinical depression. However, it did also say more research was needed before recommending universal vitamin D supplementation for depression treatment. The study authors suggested that people with depression were more likely to benefit from vitamin D supplementation if they already were deficient in it.

Getting Professional Help

Always remember to talk to a doctor before starting to take any herbs or supplements to treat depression symptoms. While most of these herbs and supplements are extremely safe when taken on their own in low doses, first seek the knowledge and advice of an expert in complementary and integrative health to make sure that you are properly supplementing in the appropriate amounts. 

The FDA is yet to endorse the use of herbs and supplements for reducing depressive symptoms. Likewise, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has also noted that more research is needed on these approaches. In addition, a study has implicated a wide variety of natural remedies on this list with the potential to cause manic symptoms in those with bipolar disorder. Some of these herbs have powerful effects, so their use must be carefully monitored to achieve the desired results.

Online therapy can be a welcomed option for people who are dealing with heightened stress and anxiety because they can get the support they need from the comfort of their own home. Research also supports the efficacy of online therapy as being equally effective as in-person therapy for people managing depression with the added benefits of convenience and accessibility. Our therapists at BetterHelp are experts in their field and are dedicated to helping people manage symptoms related to depression and improve the quality of life.  If you or someone you know is depressed and needs help, contact us today to speak to a licensed professional.

Additional questions

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