The Top 7 Best Herbs for Depression

Updated August 22, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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.

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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 and supplements are safe for you.

  1. St. John’s Wort (Hypericumperforatum L.)

St. John’s Wort 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 in managing depression symtoms 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.

  1. 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 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. 

  1. Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

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

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.

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.

  1. Ashwagandha

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.

  1. Ginkgo Biloba

Long used in Chinese medicine, in recent decades Ginkgo Biloba has gained popularity around the world 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). 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.

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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.

  1. Maca Root (Lepidium meyenii)

Maca 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 all of the 14 women who participated in the study.

  1. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis)

This might be a surprising remedy for depression, but rosemary is actually a very effective in natural remedy for 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).

Lavender  

Lavender may be another natural remedy for depression. A small, recent study from 2020 finds that lavender oils can successfully reduce depressive symptoms in healthy individuals. The main Aside from benefitting people with depression lavender oil can also treat anxiety by calming the parasympathetic nervous system.

BONUS SUPPLEMENTS: 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 they’re 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).

There’s also fatty acids, particularly Omega-3’s. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are frequently present in fish and other seafood, are excellent for your body and brain. They have long been well-liked as dietary supplements for their physical health benefits. 

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’’s. 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), so taking amino acids and SAM-e together can be particularly effective.

What is the Difference Between Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

The use of natural remedies and dietary supplements is usually associated with alternative medicine. However, it’s not true that all doctors who use natural remedies and dietary supplements in their treatment of mental disorders. Many, instead, are fall under what is known as integrative health, also known as complimentary medicine.

Practitioners in complementary and alternative medicine will both use herbal and dietary supplements in their treatment of depressive disorders, but 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.

Conclusion

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 in complementary and integrative health to make sure that you’re doing the best thing for your body and mind. 

The FDA is yet to endorse the use of herbs and supplements for reducing depressive symptoms. ILikewise, 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.

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!

What herb are good for depression?

There are a variety of natural supplements which can improve depressive symptoms. Some of  the most popular include St. John’s Wort, Saffron, Rhodiola, Ashwaganda, Gingko Biloba, Maca Root, Rosemary, and Lavender. While none of these may necessarily cure depression on their own, scientific evidence supports their use in reducing depressive symptoms, especially if taken in conjunction with more traditional antidepressant medication and combined with therapy. Best of all, unlike prescription antidepressants, they can be easily obtained over the counter, making them a welcome source of relief for people with depression who may be waiting to obtain their prescriptions for other drugs.

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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.

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