The 10 Best Herbs for Depression

Depression can have a deep, distressing effect on mental and physical health and often causes debilitating symptoms. Using herbs and natural remedies for depression may support common symptoms and act …

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Written by: Siobhan Mendicino
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Medical Review by: Daniel Powers, MS
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Depression can have a deep, distressing effect on mental and physical health and often causes debilitating symptoms. Using herbs and natural remedies for depression may support common symptoms and act as a natural mood booster.

This article reviews some of the most effective clinical research behind the best herbs for depression.

the best 9 herbs for depression

Overview:

Depression is a mood disorder that is often characterized as persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in previously rewarding activities.

As many as 14.4% of the US population struggle with symptoms of depression.

Depression can be broken up into a variety of different categories. It can range from mild to severe. It can also be brought on by different causes, including postpartum.

The 10 Best Herbs for Depression:

Below are the best research-backed herbs for depression. These herbal antidepressants have been shown to support mental health through a variety of different mechanisms.

1. St. John’s Wort

Numerous studies have shown that St. John’s wort is a safe and effective natural herb for depression. It’s typically used for moderate depression.

A 2017 review article summarizing 27 studies compared St. John’s wort and Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in a participant pool of 3,808. SSRIs are common antidepressant drugs that are often prescribed for those with depression disorders. The studies found that St. John’s wort was as effective as SSRIs in alleviating depressive symptoms. 

In a double-blind study, St. John’s wort extract was compared to fluoxetine (an SSRI) in a group of elderly subjects with mild-to-moderate depression. Researchers found that St. John’s wort was just as effective as fluoxetine and elicited no adverse effects on cognitive performance. 

Another clinical trial comparing St. John’s wort extract to imipramine (an antidepressant drug) found that both treatments were effective in improving the quality of life in subjects with depression. Although they were comparable, St. John’s wort was found to be better tolerated among participants. 

Two different types of St. John’s wort extract were examined in another double-blind study. Researchers discovered that the content level of hyperforin, the primary chemical component in St. John’s wort, was responsible for the effectiveness of the extract. The higher the hyperforin content, the more effective the extract was found to be.

In a trial observing those with depression, St. John’s wort extract was found to be effective for treating mild-to-moderate forms of depression. However, the extract was found to not be helpful for those suffering from major depression. 

The Commission E, a German government health agency, mentions that St. John’s wort is appropriate to use in cases of depressive moods, anxiety, and nervous unrest.

The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) also reports that St. John’s wort is useful for mild-to-moderate depressive states, restlessness, anxiety, and irritability. 

Summary:

Research shows that St. John’s wort is a beneficial herb for moderate depression.

2. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is known to be one of the best herbs for postpartum depression. As such, it’s especially helpful for pregnant or nursing mothers.

In a clinical trial, 60 women who underwent cesarean sections were observed for postpartum depression. Lemon balm was administered at 500mg, 3x/day for 10 days. The lemon balm was shown to significantly reduce the occurrence of postpartum depression.  

An 8-week study found that lemon balm was helpful for reducing symptoms of depression in participants with sleeping issues and anxiety. The results also showed improved sleep quality as well as a reduction in stress and anxiety levels.

In another trial, lemon balm tea, taken 2x/day was found to ease anxiety and depression in hospitalized burn patients. The tea was also able to improve sleep quality.   

A combination study found that lemon balm and Persian lavender had the ability to improve depression and anxiety symptoms in those suffering from severe insomnia. 

Summary:

Not only has lemon balm been found to improve sleep and anxiety, studies demonstrate that this herb may be able to reduce the occurence of postpartum depression.

3. Bacopa

Bacopa is generally well-known for its cognition-enhancing abilities, but clinical studies have found that bacopa may also be a beneficial herb for depression, anxiety, and mood.

In one comparative clinical study, participants with anhedonia (lack of pleasure) were either treated with a common antidepressant called Citalopram or a combination of Citalopram and 300mg of bacopa. The Citalopram-bacopa combination treatment group displayed significant improvements in both depression and anhedonia when compared to the group only treated with Citalopram.

In a placebo-controlled trial, 48 elderly patients were treated with either a placebo or 300mg of bacopa extract every day for 12 weeks. The group treated with Bacopa monnieri extract experienced lower levels of depression and anxiety when compared to the group treated with a placebo, who, interestingly, saw increases in depression and anxiety.

In one clinical trial involving 100 individuals experiencing poor sleep, it was found that participants treated with a standardized bacopa extract had significantly better well-being, mood, and overall health when compared to the group given a placebo. It should be noted, however, that neither group experienced significant increases in sleep quality.

In one stress-induced animal model of depression, administration of bacopa extract in rats seemed to lower stress and have antidepressant actions, much like common antidepressant medications.

And finally, in an animal study conducted on mice exposed to chronic stress, it was found that supplementation with bacopaside, a beneficial constituent in bacopa, lowered cortisol levels and increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor, an important compound for overall brain function that is often reduced in individuals with depression.

Summary:

Clinical research has found that bacopa may be beneficial in reducing depression and anxiety.

4. Chamomile

Chamomile is considered one of the best herbs for depression as it is highly supportive of the nervous system. 

An exploratory study found that chamomile was able to significantly reduce depression scores in subjects with only depression, only anxiety, and those with both. These effects were seen in all subjects. 

A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that 1,500mg of chamomile extract daily had an antidepressant and anxiolytic effect on those with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. Researchers believe this effect may be due to chamomile’s ability to regulate the body’s stress response. 

The flavonoid, apigenin, is thought to be the phytochemical behind chamomile’s natural antidepressant effects. This constituent is known to reduce anxiety, so researchers believe there may be a tie to depression symptoms as well. 

Summary:

Several studies show that chamomile’s regulative abilities may be the cause behind its ability to benefit depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

5. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an herb that is highly revered as an adaptogen for both depression and anxiety. Research shows that ashwagandha may be useful as a natural remedy for depression due to its ability to support stress management. 

In a clinical study, ashwagandha proved to be promising for treating depression symptoms in individuals with schizophrenia. The participants’ depression and anxiety scores improved significantly after taking 1000mg daily for 3 months. 

In a research review published last year, researchers mention that ashwagandha was able to alleviate depression and insomnia symptoms in both humans and animals. They also noted that they believe this was a result of ashwagandha’s ability to regulate the HPA axis (the body’s stress command center).

Summary:

Due to its adaptogenic stress-reducing properties, ashwagandha may be useful for individuals with depression.

6. Lavender

Lavender has been clinically proven to be a supportive herb for depression and anxiety.

A study involving 93 participants with high levels of stress and anxiety discovered that lavender aromatherapy was able to improve mood and reduce anxiety. While the short-term anxiolytic effects were significant, these effects went away after the aromatherapy stopped. 

In a pilot study, researchers found that the lavender essential oil blend administered via aromatherapy was supportive for women with postpartum depression and anxiety. The essential oil was administered in 15 minutes/session (2x/week for 4 weeks) and helped to lower both depression and anxiety scores. 

Summary:

Lavender aromatherpay has been shown to improve depression and decrease anxiety levels.

7. Hops 

Hops is an herb known as a natural mood booster for mental health issues.

A study observing healthy young adults with mild depression, anxiety, and stress discovered that hops extract was able to reduce symptoms after 1-month. Those taking the hops extract saw a significant reduction in depression scores.

Hops has also been used as a traditional herb for depression and anxiety. It’s popular in US and Germany for its anxiolytic properties.

Summary:

Hops has been used clinically and traditionally to alleviate mild depression and anxiety. Larger scale studies are needed to verify these findings.

8. Passionflower

Passionflower is an herb that is historically known to reduce insomnia, a common symptom of depression. This makes passionflower a very powerful natural sleep aid.

A placebo-controlled study observing subjects with insomnia found that passionflower extract was able to improve sleep efficiency as well as decrease depression, anxiety, and stress levels. This research shows that passionflower extract may have a positive effect on depression through its ability to improve sleep.

Another trial found that passionflower tea was able to improve sleep quality in participants suffering from insomnia. Due to the relationship between depression and poor sleep quality, passionflower tea may help those suffering from depression-induced insomnia.

The European Medicines Agency mentions that passionflower is safe and effective for those that suffer from mild anxiety and/or insomnia. 

A review of passionflower notes that passionflower has therapeutic properties that help reduce and regulate stress and therefore may be helpful for the treatment of depression, insomnia, and anxiety. 

Summary:

Passionflower has been commonly known to improve sleep quality, which may help those who suffer from insomnia stemming from depression.

9. American Skullcap

Skullcap is a natural herbal remedy for depression that is well-known for its ability to promote sleep and reduce anxiety.

A placebo-controlled study discovered that skullcap extract has the ability to improve mood in those with mild anxiety. Researchers believe that the extract may be helpful for enhancing mood in those with anxiety and co-morbid depression since there was no reduction in energy or cognition (a common side effect of antidepressant drugs).

An in vivo study of skullcap extract found that its antioxidant properties may be helpful for those struggling with stress-induced depression. Skullcap is able to reduce oxidative stress, which may have a powerful effect on the body’s stress response.  

The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP) notes that skullcap is certified to support against stress and insomnia which may be stemming from depression. 

Summary:

Studies show that American skullcap may help treat depression by promoting sleep and relaxation.

10. Blue Vervain

Blue vervain is an herb traditionally known as a natural antidepressant. 

David Hoffman, AHG, a well-known herbalist, mentions vervain as helpful for alleviating depression. He also mentions that it can act as a gentle anxiolytic. 

Dr. Aviva Romm combines blue vervain with ashwagandha, St. John’s wort, licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) for postpartum depression and irritability. 

Summary:

Traditional usage indicates that blue vervain may be a beneficial herb for depression. Human clinical trials are needed.

Common Symptoms of Depression:

Depression can be highly disruptive to quality of life. Depressive symptoms can be persistent and steadily grow worse over time. Nearly 60% of those suffering from depression may not seek medical help due to misunderstanding their symptoms. 

Some common symptoms of depression include: 

  • Sadness
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Change in motivation to exercise
  • Irritability and decreased energy 
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Poor sleep
  • Guilt or anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation

The Development and Effects of Depression:  

There are a number of factors that may trigger a depressive disorder. Some of these factors include: 

  • People with major medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung or renal disease, cancer, and chronic pain disorders
  • Genetics
  • History of eating disorders
  • History of anxiety

Education-level and social status can also be factors that lead to depression.

Depression can also be episodic in response to a major change in someone’s life.  The following events have been linked to depression: 

  • Adolescence
  • Pregnancy
  • Postpartum pregnancy 
  • End-of-life

Serious cases of depression or re-occurring depression can lead to psychotic symptoms, suicide ideations, and/or suicide. 

Modern medical support and lifestyle changes are options that may affect and help manage depression. Including natural herbs and remedies for depression in a daily routine may help relieve symptoms.   

Conclusion:

Depression is a disorder that affects both mental and physical health. 

Numerous natural herbs have been clinically and traditionally proven to reduce depression symptoms and increase the quality of life. 

Just like all supplemental changes, it is important to consult a medical practitioner should you consider altering your standard healthcare routine. 

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About Siobhan Mendicino

Siobhan is a herbal researcher and writer. She has a bachelor of science in communications as well as having completed a post-baccalaureate certificate in herbal studies.

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