No one is immune to depression, but that fact doesn’t help if you don’t know how to deal with it or move forward.
Because depression (and anxiety) is like playing the freeze game, except in this version, you’re on both ends standing still. And defrosting into “normal” isn’t always easy.
Trust me, I’ve had more than my fair share. When I was younger, I spent a considerable amount of time locked away in my room, feeling so anxious I couldn’t even pick up the phone. Depression was like carrying around invisible weights from dawn ’till dusk. And my choices for relief left me with some serious addiction habits that spiraled out of control.
However, this post isn’t about me. It’s about you.
If you’ve been feeling stuck, or even cycling in and out of bad spells, please know that there are alternative therapies that can help.
Using plants as natural healers can not only be effective, but it’s a safe and gentle way to address issues with depression, anxiety, and even insomnia. All it takes is a little patience and willingness on your part.
And this post couldn’t come at a better time, for me and perhaps you too. So many people nowadays silently suffer, afraid or embarrassed to voice the problems that are going on inside. Our society does not seem equipped to be able to handle something so delicate as depression, because after all, aren’t so many of us depressed too?
Those that do speak up may find that they become slaves to prescription meds, which isn’t *always* the best choice. I’m not here to bash anti-depressants, and I realize there are people that have benefited, however, I am not one of them. My time on prescription drugs was short lived and made me feel detached and shut down.
Which brings me to the most important point: there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to mental health.
What works for one person may not work for another, and that’s ok. The important thing is that we keep trying to find an answer. Because if we don’t…well, the flip-side is scary.
But back to the good news: the plants!
Herbs for Depression & Anxiety
Below I have listed a few of my favorite herbs to use for managing stress, anxiety, and insomnia- all of which are symptoms of depression. Please take it upon yourself to do more research if you decide to start taking a specific herb. I have also provided affiliate links to amazon to make it easier for you to find them for purchase.
If you are taking ANY prescription medication, please consult your doctor before experimenting with these herbs- especially when dealing with the nervous system, we need to proceed with caution.
Lastly, make sure you are drinking plenty of water, following a healthy diet, and incorporating physical movement into your daily routine (like yoga!). I cannot stress enough how doing just those three things helped my mental health.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Botanical name: Ocimum sanctum, Ocimum tenuflorum.
Holy Basil, not to be confused with culinary basil, is one of my favorite herbs to recommend for reducing anxiety and stress-related issues! Studies have shown that holy basil can reduce general anxiety, as well as depression that can accompany anxiousness.
This makes sense because holy basil is considered an adaptogen, which is an herb that will help your body handle stress better when consumed daily. Considered sacred, holy basil was once available to only monks and holy men, hence its name. You can also find it under the name “tulsi”, which means “beyond compare” in Sanskrit.
One of my favorite memories of holy basil was harvesting it last summer with one of my herbal mentors and fellow interns; after picking and sorting this herb (and drinking a cup) for over an hour, we found that our once chatty environment had turned quiet and serene. Breaking our “zenned out” silence, my teacher commented, “Looks like the holy basil is working!” and we all started to laugh, because YES, it had worked its magic!
I highly recommend drinking holy basil (tulsi) tea once or twice daily if you’ve been experiencing high stress recently- it will definitely mellow you out!
You can get yourself a box of holy basil tea here.
Botanical name: Passiflora incarnata.
Traditionally used as a sedative and nervine, passionflower is an excellent choice for those who can’t seem to turn their brains off at night due to anxiety and/or depression. As another adaptogen, passionflower will help your body adapt to stress-related issues and regulate blood pressure.
It seems the most common ways to take passionflower medicinally is in the form of a supplement or tincture (which is an extraction of the medicinal properties in alcohol), but personally I enjoy using powdered passionflower for “Sleepytime Chocolates”, an herbal edible I started making for my daughter who was suffering from insomnia. After giving her daily dosages of passionflower consistently for a couple of months, her body was able to adapt to the stress/anxiety she was suffering from. I can now say with confidence that she is no longer a victim of insomnia and sleeps soundly every night!
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own herbal edibles though, I would suggest taking 30-60 drops of passionflower tincture daily. If you’ve never been exposed to passionflower before, I recommend taking it at night the first time, to see how your body reacts to it. You may become drowsy- and that’s not something you want to happen before you go to work in the morning!
As mentioned above, if you are taking any medications, please consult your doctor first, as passionflower can conflict with certain pharmaceuticals.
To get a passionflower tincture, click here.
To get powdered passionflower, please click here.
Botanical name: Valeriana officinalis.
Did you know that when they created the famous pharmaceutical “Valium”, they were trying to recreate the sedative effects of valerian?
I learned that little snippet at the “Spanish Military Hospital” on a trip to St. Augustine, Florida. I also learned that valerian was one of the go-to herbs they would give patients following an amputation! But you don’t need your limbs removed to experience what this powerful herb has to offer, because truly, valerian is the perfect remedy for insomnia, depression with anxiety, migraines, PMS, and even arthritis.
As a known sleep-aid, valerian will help induce heavy sleep, without the result of hangovers or grogginess the next morning. Perhaps it’s because valerian is also a muscle-relaxant, making it a safe option for those experiencing back pain and/or arthritis, cramping due to PMS, and migraine headaches.
I can tell you from personal experience, valerian WORKS and it’s a tincture I will always keep on hand!
Of course, if you are already on sleep-medication, please do not use valerian in addition; consult with your doctor to see if you can try valerian as a safer (and cheaper!) option. The recommended dose (for insomnia) is 30-60 drops an hour before bedtime. If using for daytime anxiety OR physical pain, please test out your valerian at night FIRST to check your tolerance level. And if you are taking passionflower, please do not mix the two, as they both effect the nervous system and should be used separately.
Get your tincture of valerian by clicking here.
Botanical name: Scutellaria lateriflora (American).
Just like its name suggests, skullcap is a calming nervine that can help with brain-related issues, including anxiety and depression.
Eliminating toxic free radicals, skullcap has the ability to treat and eliminate oxidative stress- a key factor in many who suffer from depression, anxiety, and even Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease*. Studies show that this herb is also anti-inflammatory, helping those who suffer from arthritis.
If you’re having a hard time relaxing or falling asleep, skullcap can also aid in restlessness. While I’ve heard that the benefits of fresh skullcap outweigh others, personally I take skullcap daily in the form of a tincture (approximately 30-60 drops) and feel that it’s really helped over time. You can also drink it as tea or take herbal capsules.
Once again, if you are taking any medications for anxiety or to aid in sleep, please consult your doctor prior to taking skullcap.
For a skullcap tincture, please click here.
While chamomile is probably one of the most popular herbs in the United States, many people overlook its relaxing qualities! In fact, studies show that drinking chamomile tea can help eliminate insomnia, while improving our mood and treating anxiety.
And it’s true- after drinking a nice hot cup of chamomile tea, most people would agree that they immediately feel relaxed and soothed. Turns out this has to do with the way in which chamomile works on the brain, which can be compared to anxiety-reducing drugs such as Xanax*. Paired with other calming herbs, such as lavender, you will have yourself a powerful concoction that should chill you out at the end of a long day.
One of my favorite ways to use chamomile (and lavender) is to infuse it in chocolate. Children especially love this! You can check out the recipe for my Harry Potter Vegan Chocolate Frogs with Chamomile by clicking here.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for mental health, and so I’d like to point out that there are a select few who will experience the opposite of calming chamomile (and become hyper-active). If this is the case for you, I highly suggest trying valerian, and vise versa.
To get my favorite brand of chamomile (with lavender!) tea, click here.
Depression and anxiety are serious conditions which should be treated with care, and so I hope this article has shown you that there are alternative forms of treatment available that are both gentle and cost-effective.
While these are only a select few, if you are still wanting to learn more about herbs that can help with depression, please research the medicinal properties of lemon balm, damiana, mullein, and lavender. And of course, if you’ve had any experience with the herbs above, I’d love to hear your thoughts. ♥
Thank you for taking the time for your health and happiness!
This post was shared on I Am Pinnable and Urban Naturale
Thanks for this. Aside from valerian & passionflower are the others safe to mix? Thanks
You’re very welcome Jennifer! Generally speaking, the others should be ok, but I always recommend working with one herb at a time. That way, you will really be able to see how your body reacts to it over the course of a few weeks. If you are taking multiple herbs at once, you’ll never be able to pinpoint which one is helping the most. Thank you for asking, and I hope that you find what works for you!
Just came across your blog this is such a beautiful article. I will definitely start incorporating some of these plants into my routine, and test the results.
Thank you Jasmine! I hope you do- I would love to hear what works for you!! Using herbs has been such a life-saver for me over the years. Wishing you all the best!
I must try and grow some of these in my garden to help as I suffer with depression too
Oh yes, you should Amber! Especially holy basil, it’s such a nice addition to any garden and fun to harvest!
As always Randi your post is a wealth of knowledge. Nature is the most amazing thing, many years ago I had an instructor who was working on a drug for alzheimers. He was very excited because he found a certain rare moss that he was able to cultivate in the necessary quantities. Its likely sold as a medicine capsule now, but the help is plant based.
Knowing the natural plants and their purposes in their natural form has to be a better way. Well done.
Thank you very much Leanna, I really appreciate that. It’s amazing what plants can do, and as you shared, can sometimes be surprising (I’d love to hear what moss he was talking about!). Learning about plants has been very rewarding and valuable over the years. Thanks again for your thoughts:)
Great info on the herbs! Very well written article. that will help many! I blog about adrenal fatigue recovery and will pin this to the treatments board!
Thank you Tuula!! I have read about adrenal fatigue and have some herbs in my back pocket for that, mainly adaptogenic plants (like the holy basil or passionflower). I will have to come visit your blog and see what you recommend!