Most folks deal with the blues at some point—some of us more persistently than others. Working one’s way out of a funk requires a broader plan beyond simply taking an herb. That said, herbs can be a helpful part of the approach. Here are 5 herbs that have traditionally been used for depression. If trying one, give it time. Use it for 4-6 weeks and have some way of keeping track of yourself. Maybe a 1-5 scale of how you feel that you rank the same time each week. Or choose 2 to combine, though I don’t recommend sticking them all together in a formula, since not every one may be the best one for you.
Vervain (Verbena officianalis, V. hastata)
For more than just keeping vampires away (!), vervain is great for the over-thinkers out there…getting them out of the head and into the body.
Vervain is both relaxing and uplifting—what the late herbalist Michael Moore described as providing a “relaxed sense of wellbeing.”
Some research suggests that Vervain may have nerve-protective activity.
Vervain can be extremely relaxing to some folks, so don’t try your first dose just before getting behind the wheel of your car.
Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Many folks think of this as a women’s herb, but it’s helpful for adults of any gender.
Like Vervain, Black Cohosh is used to get people out of their head and into the body, especially those of the type-A variety.
Black cohosh is reached for by herbalists for “gloom and doom” type of melancholy…the feeling like there’s a black cloud constantly above one’s head.
Another traditional use has been for hormone-related depression, such as that experienced during menopause, and science is starting to back this up (2). (Tradition is what I most rely on, but it’s nice to see some research that may help bring skeptical folks on board the herbalism train.)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
“There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance…”—a quotation from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. Rosemary is useful for more than just memory, though.
Rosemary is traditionally used for folks stuck in a depressive state, especially the elderly and especially when there’s accompanying brain fog and/or digestive issues, and especially in elder folks. But it also helps young people as well (3).
Recent research shows that rosemary may help alleviate the blues at least in part through effects on gut flora and gut inflammation (4), two areas that are hot topics of research currently with respect to brain function. (The gut and brain are linked by the vagus nerve as well as by metabolites produced by gut flora that go into circulation.)
Rosemary may also act by improving blood flow to the brain, by protecting the brain from damage by free radicals and by interacting with GABA, dopamine, and other receptors.
Rose (scented Rosa species)
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” (yup, more Shakespeare).
Rose is traditionally used for when someone falls into a chronic funk following a heartbreaking loss.
Simply the scent of rose was enough to improve symptoms of depression in folks, possibly by influencing nerve cell receptors and the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine (5).
Rose can be used in a material dose (it tastes great as a glycerine extract) or in more of an “energetic” dose…say, a few drops added into a larger formula of supportive herbs.
Albizia (Albizia species)
Sometimes called Mimosa, though Mimosa is its own genus of plants that (confusingly enough) also has anti-depressant properties.
This is another botanical traditionally used for stubborn depression…the kind that doesn’t seem to let go. (Think, Eeyore.)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Albizia is used to nourish the Heart and calm the Shen, reducing depression, tension and anxiety, and it’s starting to be looked at in the research world (6).
Bark, flowers, and leaves all show mood effects, and I’ve seen the plant referred to as “herbal Prozac” in more than one reference.
This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider before beginning any new regimen. aAny information relating to specific medical conditions, health care, preventive care, and healthy lifestyles, is presented for general informational purposes only.
1) Lai, SW, et al (2006) Novel neuroprotective effects of the aqueous extracts from Verbena offinalis Linn. Neuropharmacol. 50(6):641-50.
2) Patel, P (2015) Does Black Cohosh Improve Anxiety/Depression Symptoms in Women Who Are Postmenopausal? PCOM Physician Assistant Studies Student Scholarship. 245.
3) Nematolahi, P, et al (2018) Effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. on memory performance, anxiety, depression, and sleep quality in university students: A randomized clinical trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 30:24-28.
4) Guo, Y, et al (2018) Antidepressant Effects of Rosemary Extracts Associate With Anti-inflammatory Effect and Rebalance of Gut Microbiota. Front Pharmacol. 9:1126.
5) Mohebitaber, S, et al (2017) Therapeutic efficacy of rose oil: A comprehensive review of clinical evidence. Avicenna J Phytomed. 7(3):206-13.