Herbal Remedies for Depression: Mood Enhancing Herbs and Supplements 

By Val Silver

Feeling blue? Natural supplements and herbal remedies for depression can help. Herbs such as Saint John's Wort and rhodiola rosea have a long history as folk remedies for mild to moderate symptoms of depression. In recent years, studies have backed up these claims and proven that they are just as effective as medications with fewer and less serious side effects.

Please note: If you have been diagnosed with clinical depression, always consult your physician before using herbs or natural supplements for depression. They can cause undesirable interactions with your medications. If you feel severely depressed for more than a week or two, please consult your doctor as you may have a medical condition. Herbs are not usually effective for severe mood disorders.

Five Herbal Remedies for Depression

The following five herbs are popular herbal remedies for depression. Most have some clinical research and anecdotal evidence supporting their benefits as well as years of use by people around the world.

Saint John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Studies indicate that St. John's wort works just as well as anti-depressants with fewer side effects.

Users report a significant improvement in mood, sleep patterns, and self-esteem.

The active constituents work by reducing serotonin and dopamine absorption by nerve cells. When these neurotransmitters remain between the nerve cells, they promote feelings of calmness. 

Possible side effects include sensitivity to light sensitivity, dry mouth, dizziness, digestive disturbances, and fatigue. St. John's Wort can block or intensify the effect of certain medications, herbs or supplements. Avoid if pregnant or nursing.

Allow four to six weeks of regular use to experience full effects.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm is a popular folk remedy for soothing your nerves and lifting your spirits. Although not scientifically studied as a depression herb, it has a history of use for melancholy, hysteria, reducing mood swings, heart palpitations, nervousness and anxiety.

If you experience the blues, irritability and cramps during PMS or your menses, lemon balm may be an herb for you. It may also help if your anxiety and depression is associated with heart palpitations or upset stomach and indigestion.

Lemon balm has a cheery lemon scent and makes a lovely herbal tea. It combines well with other herbs for depression.

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is a well-researched superstar herbal adaptogen with recognized health benefits.

Rhodiola, like other adaptogens, makes you more resilient during stressful times.

It also enhances brain function, and eases mild to moderate depression. Rhodiola prompts the brain to make neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

A Swedish study showed that one or two 340 mg doses a day of Rhodiola rosea extract provided statistically significant improvement on depression assessments over a four week period.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo is sometimes used for mental and cognitive health concerns including depression and anxiety. Clinical trials show that when elderly people with insufficient blood flow to the brain use ginkgo biloba, memory and mood are both improved. This improvement is a positive side effect of increased blood flow to the brain. The constituents in gingko protect and expand blood vessels.

Preliminary studies in test tubes and rats suggest that Ginkgo increases dopamine secretion. People with low dopamine levels can experience loss of pleasure in things once found enjoyable, apathy, and lack of motivation. 

Users may experience a variety of side effects including constipation, diarrhea, stomach upset, dizziness, and forceful heartbeat. 

Kava kava (Piper methysticum)

Kava kava is a favorite social herb in the Pacific Islands. In Fiji they drink it nightly as a tea to ease anxieties and promote restful sleep. It helps people loosen up so socializing is easier. Unlike alcohol, kava keeps you clear-headed and alert while it relaxes you, and doesn't give you a hangover.

Kava is one of the best herbal remedies for depression if you also suffer from anxiety. The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study of 60 adults showed that Kava significantly reduced anxiety and depression, even in individuals experiencing both symptoms. It is important to get good quality kava for best results. You will know it by the temporary numbing you feel in your mouth when you drink it.

Kava has no negative side effects when used in moderation. Using too much can make you feel euphoric or dreamy. Excessive use can cause high blood pressure, jaundice, rash, shortness of breath, and changes in red and white blood cells.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center you should only use kava for up to three months to avoid possible liver trouble. Take a two week break before resuming usage. 

And a spice...


Curcumin is an active constituent in turmeric. A large number of research studies show that it has a variety of positive health effects from being an effective pain reliever to fighting cancer and easing depression. 

A nеw ѕtudу published in Phytotherapy Research fоund thаt curcumin compares to Prozac when reducing the symptoms of depression. Patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder were given 20 milligrams of fluoxetine, 1000 mg of curcumin, a combination of both, or a placebo.  The combination group scored best on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale.  Curcumin and fluoxetine rated equally well on their own but the patients taking curcumin did not experience the toxic side effects or suicidal thoughts like those in the Prozac group.  

Curcumin appears to work its magic through multiple pathways. It inhibits brain inflammation, increases dopamine, serotonin, and norepinehrine levels, and promotes neurogenesis (nerve cell growth in the hippocampus).

The body has a difficult time absorbing curcumin. That is why large doses are often required. Black pepper aids absorption, as does combining it with a phosholipid.  A new formulation called BCM-95 is seven times more bioavailable than curcumin alone, and is the form used in  clinical study. 

Natural Supplements for Depression

The following natural supplements naturally lift your mood. 

  • CoQ10 supercharges the effect of herbs and supplements known for promoting serotonin production. Low serotonin levels are linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
  • There is a correlation between lack of Vitamin D and depression. Ask your doctor to perform a blood test to see if your levels are in the optimal range.  My doctor advises almost everyone over the age of 40 to supplement Vitamin D regardless of where you live.
  •  SAM-e is a naturally occurring compound in human cells. It is also available as a supplement. SAM-e boosts serotonin and dopamine levels.  Research suggests that its effectiveness as an antidepressant compares to prescription drugs.  One study showed it to be as effective as imipramine for treating severe depression. It also enhances the effectiveness of mood drugs. 
  • 5-HTP is an amino acid that your body uses to produce serotonin. Suggested starting doses are 50-100 mg twice a day. If you are already taking serotonin boosters, ask your medical provider if this supplement for depression is appropriate for you and go for the lower dose Raising serotonin too high can cause side effects such as agitation, nausea, diarrhea and heart problems. 
  • Magnesium deficiency is common among people eating the standard American diet. This mineral is involved in over 300 body processes so not having enough can cause symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and muscle cramps. Ironically, Prozac and other fluoride containing drugs such as nicotine, diuretics, cocaine, and birth control pills deplete magnesium, which can make your depression symptoms worse if you are deficient. Magnesium supplements come in a variety of forms. One of the most bio-available forms is magnesium glycinate. This makes it a good option as a sleep aid and for easing headaches, anxiety, and PMS symptoms. Magnesium citrate is another good option, especially if you want a bit of a laxative effect.  It is usually suggested that adults take around 350 mg of elemental magnesium a day divided into two doses. It may take several weeks for depression symptoms to improve.
  • Preliminary research shows that fish oil, magnesium, L-theanine, berberine from certain plants, caffeine, and probiotics raise dopamine levels and improve mood. Harmful gut bacteria decrease dopamine production. 

Supplements and herbal remedies for depression are useful allies for beating the blues. They help improve your mood when you're feeling down. For best results, use them along with other depression natural remedies and techniques as part of your holistic wellness plan for beating depression naturally.

Herbal Remedies for Depression was updated 12/2020

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For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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