Almost everyone experiences depression at one time or another. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, more than 18 million Americans are affected by depression each year. A mood disorder characterized by feelings of hopelessness, anger, sadness, loss, despair and frustration, depression can become severe enough to interfere with daily life. Many doctors consider the disorder a chronic illness that requires long-term treatment. Because the many prescription drugs available for treating the condition often cause serious side effects, many people turn to natural herbs for depression.
A few herbs and natural remedies have been scientifically proven to reduce symptoms, and some work just as well as harmful drugs without the unwanted side effects. If you suspect you suffer from depression, however, always consult a qualified medical practitioner before self-treating the problem with herbs. With your doctor’s okay, herbs can provide relief when used as part of a long-term treatment plan. Do not take herbs for depression if you currently take prescription medications without talking to your doctor first, as side effects could occur.
St. John’s Wort
Perhaps the most widely used and studied herb for depression, St. John’s Wort has been proven effective by numerous double-blind placebo controlled clinical studies. One study, published in 2006 in the scientific journal BMC Medicine, found that patients treated with 600 to 1200 milligrams of St. John’s Wort extract daily for six weeks experienced significant improvement compared to those taking a placebo. More than 40 other studies have come to the same conclusion – St. John’s Wort works for treating and alleviating mild to moderate major depression. According to current research, it appears to work as well as the most common antidepressant drugs in about 70 percent of cases.
The herb is generally considered safe for long-term consumption, and a standard dosage consists of taking 300mg standardized extract two to three times daily for mild to moderate depression. Keep in mind that it may take four to six weeks of consistent use before you begin to notice results. St. John’s Wort is available in capsule and liquid extract form. Individuals taking blood-thinning medications, birth control pills or prescription antidepressants should not take St. John’s Wort. In rare cases, mild eye and skin sensitivity to sunlight and mild fatigue have been reported after taking the herb, though this is uncommon.
Of all the herbal remedies for depression, ginkgo biloba is best suited for older adults. Traditionally used to treat diseases of the cardiovascular and nervous system, ginkgo improves function of the nerve cells and increases blood supply to the brain. Recent studies examining ginkgo for treating memory problems in the elderly found that it also improved depression symptoms. It appears to counteract age-related decreases in serotonin receptors in the brain.
Ginkgo biloba is exceptionally helpful for treating depression in two groups: older adults who have a mild decrease in intellectual function, and those with a history of diseases of the nervous system. In younger people, ginkgo may provide some benefit if problems with memory or concentration are prominent. A typical dosage consists of 40 to 80mg of ginkgo standardized extract three times daily. The herb is considered safe for long-term consumption.
Although not scientifically proven, vervain has a long history of use as an herbal treatment for depression. It nourishes and balances the entire nervous system, and promotes gentle relaxation. Many herbalists consider vervain an especially beneficial herb for depression when the condition is related to a chronic illness. Additionally, vervain also helps heal any damage done to the liver.
A typical dosage of vervain for depression consists of drinking 1 cup of tea three times daily, or diluting 1 tsp. tincture in juice or water and drinking three times a day. To make vervain tea, steep 1 tsp. of the dried herb in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, and then strain. Sweeten with honey if desired, and drink warm. You may be able to find vervain tea bags in some health food stores or through online retailers. Prepare according to the package directions for the best results.
The same plant that you eat for breakfast (oatmeal), has a healing effect on the entire nervous system. Traditional herbalists use oats for treating depression, anxiety, stress and fatigue because of its general soothing and nourishing qualities. The seeds have the strongest and most beneficial medicinal properties, especially when harvested during the “milk” phase. The “milk” phase is characterized by milky sap that emerges from the fresh green seeds when they’re lightly squeezed.
You can buy dried oats for tea, however, but look for pale green- to yellow-colored seeds rather than oat straw, which looks like chopped straw. A typical dosage of oats for treating depression consists of drinking 3 cups of tea per day, or 1 tsp. tincture three times daily. To make tea from oat seeds, steep 1 tsp. of the dried seeds in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, strain, sweeten and drink immediately while still warm.
Lavender, the beautiful herb valued for its enticing fragrance, also has a positive effect on the nervous system. One of the most widely used herbs for depression, lavender can relax the nerves, nourish the mind, lift the spirit and ease depression. The herb also promotes easy, restful sleep, which makes it ideal for treating depression accompanied by insomnia. Simply inhaling the scent has a mild antidepressant effect, and it is most commonly used externally in conjunction with internal herbs as part of an overall natural depression treatment plan.
Add dried lavender or lavender essential oil to baths water, directly to the body or inhale when needed. Additionally, you can consume the herb. A typical dosage consists of taking 1 cup of tea three times daily, or ½ tsp. tincture three times daily. Do not ingest lavender essential oil, however, as it may cause serious illness. Externally, it’s completely safe for regular use. To make lavender tea, steep 1 tsp. of dried or 2 tsp. fresh lavender flowers in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes, strain, sweet and drink right away for best results.
Rich in antidepressant compounds, some herbalists believe licorice may work as well as St. John’s wort for treating depression. The herb contains at least eight different monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, compounds capable of strong antidepressant action in the body. Add a ½-inch chunk of licorice to any herbal tea during the steeping process, particularly a tea made with one of the herbs for depression listed above, for the best results.
Although considered safe for normal internal consumption (about three cups of tea daily), excessive use of licorice may cause headache, lethargy, water retention, loss of potassium, and/or high blood pressure. Do not exceed three cups of tea made with licorice daily, and you should be fine. To prevent problems, however, ask you doctor about a safe dosage for you, and do not take if you are currently on prescription medications for high blood pressure.
Kava kava has the ability to alleviate the anxiety accompanied by depression without causing sedation or decreasing mental function, according to Linda B. White in her book “The Herbal Drugstore.” Although the herb is not a traditional herbal treatment for depression, it may help in cases of anxiety caused by the disorder. Because excessive or long-term use may cause liver damage, it’s always best to consult your doctor before taking kava kava. If you doctor approves, take up to six 400 mg capsules of standardized extract daily, or ½ tsp. kava kava tincture three times a day.
Other Herbs for Depression
Following are other herbs that have been used traditionally for the treatment of depression. Many of these herbs do not have scientific backing, but have been suggested in old-time herbals or by well-respected herbals for the treatment of the condition. Use at your own risk, and only after consulting a qualified medical practitioner. Most of these herbs can be used in herbal tea or tincture blends.
- Siberian Ginseng – This herb may help reduce depression caused by stress and anxiety by protecting the adrenal glands and allowing them to withstand stress more easily. The recommended dosage of Siberian Ginseng for treating depression is 250 mg of standardized extract taken twice daily. Take consistently for two months, then take a two week break before resuming the treatment.
- Gentian Root – Gentian is often suggested as a treatment for depression caused by failure, humiliation, menopause or other known causes. It is believed to help restore optimism. Take as a tea up to four times daily before meals for best results. To make gentian tea, steep ½ tsp. coarse gentian root powder in ½ cup boiling water for five minutes, strain and drink. You may also prepare commercial tea bags according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Borage – Although little scientific proof exists, borage is one of many traditional herbs for depression, and is suggested most frequently for treating depression caused by menopause or mid-life crisis in men. In 1597, John Gerard, the famous English herbalist, said that a syrup made from borage flowers helped with depression. A typical dosage consists of 20 to 30 drops borage tincture up to four times daily.
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