Herbs for Depression

Kathleen Roberts
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
depressed man

Depression is a far more prevalent illness than many people realize. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in ten Americans suffer from some degree of depression, with the majority of those suffering being women. Medications for treating depression can often cause side effects and are sometimes ineffective. Herbs for depression may be the answer for those who choose not to use prescription drugs. Please note that herbal remedies are not FDA approved, nor are they typically covered by health insurance.

Six Herbs for Depression Treatment

There are numerous herbs for depression and its accompanying symptoms. Some people do best by taking a single herbal remedy while others find that their results are better with a combination remedy. Never mix herbs with other herbs or medications without consulting your health care provider. If you are currently taking medications to treat your depression, consult with your doctor before trying any herbs for depression. Herbs and drugs can sometimes interact and cause serious health issues.

1. St. John's Wort

There are more scientific studies on this herb's effect on depression than any other herbal remedy. These studies show that it is as effective on many people as tricyclic or prescription antidepressants. 50 to 80 percent of depressed patients have good results in decreasing the symptoms of depression significantly or about the same percentage as patients on prescription medication. The benefits of St. John's Wort are:

  • Available without a prescription
  • Fewer and less intense side effects
  • Inexpensive

The side effects are mild and few. It is considered to be safer than aspirin, having no recorded deaths from its use in its history of being a medicinal herb. The cautions and side effects listed with it are:

  • May cause phototoxicity, especially if you have a prior hypersensitivity to sunlight, or when taking other photosensitizing drugs such as Chlorpromazine and Tetracyclines.
  • Do not take along with MAO inhibitors, other depression medications, certain medications including indinivir (a protease inhibitor used for HIV), oral contraceptives, theophylline, warfarin, digoxin, reserpine, cyclosporine, and loperamide, or during pregnancy without consulting your doctor or naturopath.
  • May cause stomach upset in some individuals.

As with prescription medications, St. John's Wort takes up to six weeks to make a significant change. The usual dose is 300mg, three times a day, after meals.

2. Kava Kava

Kava has been used to ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It brings on a mild, euphoric state, as well as relaxing the muscles. Patients describe an increase in concentration and the ability to think clearly. The side effects of Kava Kava are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Long term use may result in dry, scaly skin
  • There is some question of liver toxicity, however this is unproven.
  • A dreamy state; in this case the dosage would be lowered.

The usual dose of Kava is 150mg of extract per day.

3. Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm is good for the stomach and digestive system during times of anxiety and stress. It has a calming effect on the entire system, and relieves nervous tension, anxiety and mood swings associated with depression. There are no known side effects. Average dosage for adults is up to 500 mg, up to three times per day.

4. Valerian

Valerian is calming and induces sleep, and so is helpful in cases where depression is coupled with sleeplessness and anxiety. Overuse of valerian, however, has been reported to actually bring on a depressed state in some patients. It does not treat depression directly but only some of the symptoms associated with depression. For this reason, using valerian for depression is usually part of a combination of herbs, such as St. John's wort or lemon balm, rather than a single remedy.

5. Ginko Biloba

Ginko Biloba works by increasing the blood flow to the brain and other organs. It boosts memory and helps to relive symptoms of Alzheimer's. It works best as an antidepressant when used in conjunction with one of the other herbal remedies for depression and has been shown useful in treating generalized anxiety disorder.

6. Scullcap

Skullcap is an excellent remedy for nervous tension due to stress, disease, depression or fatigue. This herb is helpful when a patient is withdrawing from prescription antidepressants. It is used for relaxation and may bring on drowsiness.

Resources for Herbs and Herbal Blends

A Word About Depression

Herbs for depression can alleviate the symptoms and deal with underlying causes of depression. However, wisdom must be used in assessing your condition. Depression can be anything from a mild despondency to a severe, life-altering condition. If your depression seems overwhelming, does not respond to treatment, or you have thoughts of suicide you should immediately consult with a professional. You are a valuable asset to the world, and as such you deserve to treat yourself well.

Herbs for Depression