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Are there any herbal treatments for depression?

Updated on March 5, 2015
Depression is a potentially serious mental illness that must be treated with compassion and balance.
Depression is a potentially serious mental illness that must be treated with compassion and balance. | Source

Depression can be a debilitating problem. There are many causes for this disorder, but there are just as many treatments available. Because it can lead to deadly consequences, it’s essential to seek help if you notice a loved one acting strangely or you develop symptoms.

There are many medications on the market which are billed to treat depression. However, they all come with a laundry list of harmful side effects, and may not work. Because the problem is so complex, sometimes it takes years to find the correct dosages or therapy to ease symptoms.

If medications don't work for you, or you'd like to supplement your therapies with herbal alternatives, consider asking your doctor or herbalist about the following options. There are many options available, and the best way to manage your depression is to find what works for you with the aid of your support system and proficient medical professionals.

*This article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Always talk to your doctor before trying any type of new treatment.

St. John's Wort in full bloom.
St. John's Wort in full bloom. | Source

St. John’s Wort – Hypericum perforatum

This herb has been in use for centuries to treat emotional problems as well as other medical issues. In fact, its first recorded medicinal use was by the ancient Greeks. There is also evidence that Native Americans used it to induce abortion, reduce inflammation, relieve pain and as a disinfectant for wounds. The herb got its curious name because the distinctive yellow flowers were believed to have first bloomed on St. John’s birthday in June.

How to use it
St John’s Wort is available in pill form over the counter in the United States. Some other countries, like France, require a prescription for purchase. Commission E in Germany has approved it for use for depression and it is commonly added to treatment plans for patients.

Although it’s best known as a tablet, it’s also available as tea, an extract, tincture, as well as oil or lotion, if topical use is preferred. Suppliments are usually taken three times a day, but it can have an effect on sleep. If it does have an effect, it can also be taken only in the mornings.

Always follow your doctor's or herbalist's instructions on dosage and methodology.

There are possible drug interactions, so it’s best to consult your doctor or a certified herbalist before trying it. St. John’s Wort can also reduce the efficiency of birth control, so it’s best avoided for women taking contraceptives. Transplant patients should avoid taking it as well.

However, it’s safe for the general populace. Rarely, there have been some incidences of gastrointestinal discomfort, tiredness, dizziness and increased sensitivity to light.

Lemon balm brewing into tea.
Lemon balm brewing into tea. | Source

Lemon Balm or Bee Balm – Melissa officinalis

Lemon balm is also known as bee balm, because of the plant’s popularity with honey bees. In addition to its plethora of other uses, South Americans used this mint relative to treat stress and anxiety.

How it’s used
Lemon balm is one of the most popular herbs outside of the United States, but with the surge in popularity of natural remedies, it has been growing more popular there as well.

It can be bought in tablet form or brewed into a refreshing tea, and it’s sometimes used as a lemon substitute in cooking. The sweet scent makes it a lovely option for diffusing because of how it relaxes the environment of the room. Using it with a clay dispenser by the bed is a very nice way to take advantage of some gentle aromatherapy overnight.

Lemon balm’s gentle sedative nature is thought to be part of why it is good for depression.

Although it’s generally a safe herb, it can cause drowsiness and concentrate the effects of sleep aids. There is a rare possibility of allergy and nausea. Stop taking if any symptoms of allergy like wheezing or asthma occur when it’s used. Use care when shopping for this herb or oil, as there are quite a few imitations on the market.

Cardamom seeds
Cardamom seeds | Source

Cardamom – Elettaria cardamomum

This spice is very common in cooking, mostly due to the fact it has such a distinct flavor, but also because it encourages digestion and treats problems like IBS. Cardamom shares those qualities with its cousin, ginger.

Because grows naturally in India, where it's also known as the Queen of Spices, it has been used there and in parts of Asia for well over three centuries for depression, as well as many digestive discomforts. Although it's been used in cooking since trade routes opened between India and the west, mainstream western medicine has only recently started to study its medicinal properties.

How it’s used
Cardamom can, of course, be found in the spices isle of the grocery store. Naturally, it can be incorporated into cooking for its beneficial effects. Many of herbalists suggest brewing the powdered root into tea for depression. However, it can also be added to honey as a sweet treat, or add a few drops of the essential oil to your bath. The skin will absorb its nurturing quality while the aroma calms the mind.

It may be able to help depression through the fact that it benefits digestion so much. When depression is worsened by poor nutrition, easing the body’s absorption process can help ease symptoms through its own natural chemical reactions.

Although cardamom is generally safe, when too much is taken internally, it can lead to irritability and a slightly elevated temperature. Gallstones can also develop if you take too much of this herb over a long period of time. That said, if you already suffer from gallstones, it's best to avoid taking cardamom.

Have you ever used herbs to treat depression?

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It's vitally important to remember that while herbs are generally safer than the more concentrated medicines favored by mainstream western medicine, they can still be harmful. The best ways to avoid suffering from inadvertent side effects are to do the following:

  • Research and discuss potential medication interactions with your doctor or therapist before adding any herb to your treatment routine
  • Follow recommended doses exactly
  • Take the herb as suggested. If you are prescribed tablets, take them accordingly. If you're prescribed tea, drink that as directed.

Like with drugs, the effectiveness or toxicity lies in the dosage. That said, it is still generally harder to suffer harm from taking too much of a certain herb than it is to do the same with medications. That's because the active elements in herbs are more dilute, and at lower levels than prescription medication.

As with all things, allergy is always a possibility. With herbs, this can manifest as skin irritation, but if you experience difficulty breathing, swelling of the mouth or throat and tightness in the chest, seek emergency medical attention immediately. If you already have any sort of allergy to these herbs, or plants in their families, it may be wise to either avoid them, or bring the issue of safety up with your doctor.

When shopping for your herbs, ask for advice on reputable sources from a trusted professional.

Herbalism is an ancient practice, and many herbs have stood up to scientific scrutiny as being effective. Working with them under the guidance of doctors familiar with herbalism and certified herbalists could help you manage your depression symptoms more easily.


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    • ESPeck1919 profile image

      ESPeck1919 5 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Unfortunately, allergy is always possible when it comes to pretty much anything taken internally. I tend to have that problem with antibiotics. Either I end up with welts all over the place or my stomach rejects everything I eat.

      If you remember, ask your doctor about vitamin B3, vitamin D and fish oil supplements. The Omega 3s in fish oil have helped me get through some extremely nasty situations without the anxiety tearing me apart. If you're vegan or can't tolerate fish products, flax seed is another option. There's another, too, but I can't remember what it is off the top of my head. I think it's based off of some sort of seaweed or herb.

      Best of luck with finding the right treatment!

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Interesting hub. I remember trying St. Johns Wort, and for a while it seemed to work, but then I started to get skin rashes and the doctor told me to come off them. At the moment I'm on Venlalic, which also deals with extreme anxiety, but if that fails, I shall certainly bear your hub in mind. Thank you.

    • ESPeck1919 profile image

      ESPeck1919 5 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Thank you for the input, aDayInMyLife! That's a great link. I might go back and add the bit about B3 in there with the St. John's Wort section.

    • ESPeck1919 profile image

      ESPeck1919 5 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Thank you! Agreed on all points.

    • aDayInMyLife1 profile image

      Amanda S 5 years ago from CA

      Thanks for the info. Niacin or B3 is also a longstanding herbal treatment for depression. You should look into this and possibly include information about it in this great Hub.

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Good hub ESPeck, the naturals are definitely effective for some people who suffer from depression. Well done and very useful. St John's wort is a very good remedy. Also, many people without health insurance will appreciate the information on natural remedies they might benefit from. Well Done!