There is a lot of information – and misinformation – circulating about natural, herbal antidepressants. Depression is not an insignificant disorder, and should be approached with care and with the expertise of a physician. Be sure to check with your doctor if you are pregnant or nursing as well.
There really are legitimate, herbal antidepressants out there. Some of them contain MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors, which are antidepressants found in commercial drugs. Here is a list of some of nature’s antidepressants and just how and why they can help.
St. John’s Wort
You’ve probably heard about this herb. St. John’s Wort has become the subject of much attention in recent years, but it is really a very old herb. It was even used by knights in the Crusades to heal wounds. One of its best-known active compounds is hypericin, and some clinical studies show that it alone has a positive effect on depression.
Hypericin has also been shown to be more effective than the drugs Elavil and Tofranil. And that is just one of its antidepressant compounds! Its MAO inhibitory effects are debatable, but treat this herb as if it were an MAO inhibitor and avoid alcohol and foods that are smoked and/or pickled when you are taking it.
Kava Kava root
Sleep disturbances are a significant factor in depression. Kava kava’s main contribution to relieving the symptoms of depression is promoting a restful sleep. The calming effects of this South Pacific herb also help relieve anxiety, which often accompanies depression. Interestingly, kava kava enhances mental clarity as well, helping relieve the mental “fog” that depressed people often experience.
This sedative herb induces restful sleep, and also relaxes muscles. It is called a “nervine” in Western herbalism, which refers to its effect on the central nervous system – it helps relieve nervousness and irritability, both common components of depression. The active constituents of valerian are called valepotriates. It is best taken in capsule form, as the tea has an unpleasant odor (not unlike dirty socks).
Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
This little-known treatment for depression is actually quite effective – it has more antidepressant compounds than St. John’s Wort, but it has not enjoyed the same press. Many of its compounds are, in fact, MAO inhibitors. Better known for its role in candy flavoring, the root contains glycyrrhizin, which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce hydrocortisone in the body. Interestingly, adrenal gland dysfunction has been linked to depression and related disorders.
Licorice root can be drunk as a tea, up to three cups a day, or taken in capsule form. But be cautious about taking licorice for prolonged periods of time (more than 4 weeks) as it can cause water retention and high blood pressure.
Wonderfully safe, rosemary essential oil stimulates the central nervous system. The dried herb can be used in pillows to help sleep and calm nerves. Rosemary herb can also be made into a piney-tasting tea and drunk to soothe nervous feelings that can accompany depression.
When depression occurs as a result of circulatory problems, ginkgo can help. The elderly in particular benefit from ginkgo’s circulation-enhancing qualities. Ginkgo increases blood flow all over the body but particularly in the brain, making a good choice for depression caused by decreased blood flow.
As long as you check with your doctor, using natural means to control your depression may be right for you. There is certainly a wide range to choose from, and you can pick whichever herbs fit your lifestyle and needs.