The Top 7 Best Herbs for Depression
Updated February 17, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW
Depression is something that afflicts almost everyone at some point in their lives as either a mild or severe emotional issue. Because it’s so common, it’s no surprise that there are so many cultures and medical traditions that have used herbs to treat depression throughout time! 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. If you’re looking for an affordable, safe, and effective way to treat mild to moderate depression symptoms, then a herbal treatment protocol may be right for you.
Make sure to speak to a licensed healthcare professional before taking any of these herbs. While most of these herbs are very safe when taken in small quantities to treat depression, it’s important to seek advice. This ensures that there aren’t 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 are safe for you.
- St. John’s Wort (Hypericumperforatum L.)
This is a relatively well-known herb that has been used for centuries as a successful treatment for depression. In fact, St. John’s Wort is currently one of the most commonly 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. The recommended dosage of St. John’s Wort is 450mg two times daily; more or less can be taken depending on the precise situation of the individual taking the herb (for example, if the person is also battling other health issues or is on medication the dosage may need to be altered accordingly).
A 2008 study done on St. John’s Wort conclusively showed that the herb is at least as effective 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.
- Saffron (Crocus sativus L.)
Saffron is an exotic and luxurious spice of the Far East that sports a rich orange-red color and a distinctive flavor. But did you know it can also be used as an antidepressant? 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 herbs 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 effects 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.
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
Because Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb, it’s a fantastic treatment for not only depression but also for other kinds of mood disorders! Rhodiola is particularly well suited to managing and treating depression caused by stress and stressful situations, or that caused by PTSD. Rhodiola is also sometimes called Arctic Root or Golden Root and its main purpose is to help the body fight off stress reactions and to support healthy mood balancing. The herb has been used for generations in northern Europe (where it originates), and it’s still extremely popular in Russia as a tea to treat poor attention span, fatigue, and memory issues.
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). Experts recommend that individuals with mild to moderate depression start by taking 100mg of the extract one time per day for one week, and then to increase the dosage by 100mg for each week thereafter until 400mg daily is reached.
Ashwagandha is another adaptogenic herb with a substantial effect on treating mild and moderate cases of depression. This Indian herb, otherwise known as Indian ginseng, has a history dating back over 6000 years and has been used as a part of numerous ayurvedic cures throughout the world as traditional Indian medicine has spread. 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 the treatment of depression, patients are advised to obtain full-spectrum ashwagandha extract for daily use. A dosage of 300mg (in capsule form) taken twice per day is adequate to treat most depression cases. When taken in the proper dosage, most patients taking ashwagandha for depression only notice minimal side effects.
- Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is native to China, but over the past two decades, the plant has gained popularity around the world as a supplement that can be used to treat not only depression, but also attention problems, anxiety, dizziness, tinnitus, and memory loss (among other issues). Actually, ginkgo Biloba is so effective as herbal medicine that doctors in Germany regularly prescribe it as a medication! The herb is also available as an OTC treatment in Germany and other countries around the world.
This herb works to treat depression by increasing the uptake of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, and also by reducing free radicals and blood viscosity. Individuals with mild to moderate depression can take ginkgo Biloba in doses of 40mg three times daily (for a total dose of 120mg). Up to 240mg can be taken each day.
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 (Lepidium meyenii)
Maca is a traditional South American plant used among the indigenous people in Peru and the Andes Mountains to treat a variety of ailments, 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 all of the 14 women who participated in the study.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis)
This might be a surprising remedy for depression, but rosemary is actually quite effective in treating nearly all forms of mild to moderate depression and the accompanying symptoms. The plant’s primary constituents, 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 receptors in the brain.
Rosemary is an important healing herb, but it’s also a great spice to keep in your kitchen. The plant can be used with most Italian dishes and also 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).
BONUS SUPPLEMENTS: Amino Acids and SAM-e
Amino acids and SAM-e are related supplements that are often taken together to combat depression. Although not herbs, amino acids are present in all of the foods that we eat, including herbs, and they’re vital for our survival and well-being. 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), so taking amino acids and SAM-e together can be particularly effective.
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, it’s smart to seek the knowledge and advice of an expert to make sure that you’re doing the best thing for your body and mind. Some of these herbs have powerful effects, so their use must be carefully monitored to achieve the desired results.
Our therapists at BetterHelp are experts in their field and are dedicated to helping people overcome their emotional struggles and live a better life. If you or someone you know is depressed and needs help, contact us today to speak to a licensed professional!
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