Antidepressants are not very helpful and cause many side effects. These herbal remedies have a history of effectiveness and safety in treating depression.
The statistics surrounding depression are staggering.
Over 18 million Americans have a depressive disorder.
One in ten adults takes antidepressants, and for women in their 40s and 50s this number is up to one in four. (1)
Americans lead the way in antidepressant use but other countries with high standards of living, like France and the Netherlands, are close behind.
Some experts believe that our modern lifestyle is making us more depressed, while others think that heavy promotion by drug companies and over-prescribing doctors are to blame.
But however you look at it, more people than ever are taking antidepressants, and natural options that work are needed more than ever.
In this article, we’ll first examine the reasons antidepressants are not right for most people.
Then we’ll take a look at the best herbal remedies to consider instead.
Medical Treatments for Depression: Not Right for Everyone
The usual medical treatments for depression are medication, cognitive behavioral therapy or a combination of both.
But these treatments are far from successful.
There’s evidence that prescription antidepressants work no better than a placebo. (4)
Many users experience unacceptable side effects including anxiety, nausea, headaches, weight gain, insomnia and loss of libido. (5)
One in eight adolescents have clinical depression, but giving drugs to children with still-developing brains is risky. (6)
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most commonly prescribed group of antidepressants, can cause suicidal thoughts in patients of all ages, but are more likely to do so in children, teens, and young adults. (7)
Six million seniors are affected by depression, yet only 10% receive treatment.
The average senior already takes 14 medications each year and adding antidepressants to the mix can be dangerous. (8)
Antidepressants are not safe for pregnant women.
Dozens of lawsuits having been filed by women who had children with birth defects. (9)
Unfortunately, over half of Americans still erroneously believe that depression is a character flaw, so shame and embarrassment keep them from seeking professional help. (10)
For these reasons and more, 80% of people with depression symptoms never get medical treatment.
Obviously, treating depression with prescription drugs has largely been a failure.
But if you have depression, is there anything else you can take?
There’s a surprising array of herbal supplements that may be better than prescription antidepressants.
Herbal Remedies for Depression
You might be surprised to learn that traditional herbal remedies have been used medicinally to treat depression in every culture.
Apparently, depression is not just a modern problem!
There are dozens of herbal remedies for depression.
Here’s a look at some of the best — those with a history of safe use that have been scientifically proven to be effective.
Plus, I’ll issue a quick warning about one herbal antidepressant you should stay clear of.
Arctic Root (Rhodiola rosea)
Arctic root is found mainly in cold regions of the world like the Arctic and mountains of central China. (11)
It’s been used since the ancient Greeks to boost overall physical and mental vitality.
It’s a top-rated adaptogen, a natural substance that increases your resilience to physical and emotional stress. (12)
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It’s been shown to reduce depression symptoms faster than antidepressant medications. (14)
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Indian Ayurvedic healing.
Like arctic root, it’s an adaptogenic herb.
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What makes ashwagandha a standout is its ability to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (16)
Ashwagandha is an excellent choice if you have depression along with stress, anxiety, and insomnia. (17)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita or Chamaemelum nobile)
Chamomile is a cheery, daisy-like plant that’s an excellent multipurpose relaxing herb.
It can be served as a tea, taken in capsule or tincture form, or used as a relaxing essential oil.
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It’s so safe that it’s long been used to treat children’s stomachaches. (18)
Chamomile is particularly beneficial for those dealing with both depression and anxiety. (19)
There are two main species of chamomile used medicinally, German or wild chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman or English chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).
German chamomile is more commonly used but both offer very similar health benefits.
Curcumin (Curcuma longa)
Curcumin is the main active ingredient in the Indian spice turmeric which is renowned for its anti-inflammatory and brain-boosting properties.
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Studies have shown it to be as effective for depression as the popular SSRI Prozac. (21)
Both turmeric and curcumin supplements can be taken for depression indefinitely.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Ginkgo biloba is an ancient Chinese herb that’s now one of the most popular herbal remedies in the world.
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Saffron (Crocus sativus)
Saffron is one of the rarest and most expensive culinary spices in the world.
It comes from the tiny red stigmas of the purple saffron crocus and must be harvested by hand.
A little-known benefit of saffron is that it’s one of the the most promising herbal remedies for depression.
The exact mechanism isn’t fully understood yet, but saffron seems to work by acting on serotonin metabolism. (34)
One other notable benefit of saffron is that it reduces hunger and the urge to snack.
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Saffron is also helpful for anxiety, stress, OCD and PMS.
While generally considered safe, the only caveat is that high doses of saffron should be avoided by women who are pregnant. (35)
When buying any supplement, quality matters but with saffron quality matters more than usual.
Since it’s expensive, saffron fraud is rampant.
Look for a supplement that’s manufactured by a reputable company and contains a standardized extract of Crocus sativus.
Saffron fraud is nothing new. People have been faking saffron since the time of the ancient Greeks. (36)
A Warning About St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
St. John’s wort is one of the most popular herbal remedies for depression, but it’s not one I recommend.
It has a deserved reputation for causing side effects and negative interactions.
A new study on St. John’s wort found that reported side effects were very similar to those of SSRI antidepressants — anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, nausea and spikes in blood pressure. (37)
Compared with other herbal remedies, St. John’s wort is more likely to have negative drug interactions.
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Examine.com, one of my favorite sites for evidence-based information on supplements, calls it “the prototypical adverse drug-interaction herb.” (38)
And it doesn’t just react negatively with drugs, it can also react badly with other herbs.
When taken with mood-enhancing drugs or herbs it can cause serotonin syndrome, a potentially fatal condition. (39)
It should not be taken by women who are either taking birth control pills or trying to become pregnant. (40)
Why take chances with St. John’s wort when there are so many other natural antidepressants with better records of safety?
Homeopathic Remedies for Depression
Compared to prescription medications and even herbal remedies, homeopathic remedies are extremely safe, side-effect free, and affordable.
The key to homeopathy is picking the appropriate remedy and that can be tricky.
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Once you’ve found the right homeopathic remedy, it can work as well as prescription antidepressants. (43)
One way to increase your chances for success is to try a multi-ingredient homeopathic remedy specifically formulated for depression.
Here are some of the most common remedies for depression to get you started.
- Arsenicum album — when depression is accompanied by anxiety and gastric distress
- Aurum metallicum — for depressed workaholics dealing with a personal or business setback
- Ignatia amara — for depression that follows grief, loss or shock
- Natrium muriaticum — for sensitive people who bottle up their anger or grief
- Pulsatilla nigricans — when depression is due to hormonal changes or emotional neediness
- Sepia — for postnatal or menopausal women who have lost their zest for life
Homeopathy is 200-year-old healing practice with millions of followers worldwide, but the medical community largely believes that if homeopathic remedies work at all it’s due to the placebo effect.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that — the power of your mind may be the best healing tool there is!
Herbal Remedies for Depression: The Bottom Line
Depression is a widespread problem but the standard medical treatments are not all that successful.
Sometimes they don’t work and sometimes they are not safe.
But fortunately, there are safer, more natural options.
There are a handful of herbal remedies that work as well as for depression as prescription medications, with fewer side effects.
Depression symptoms can include anxiety, stress, lethargy, fatigue, overeating, suicidal thoughts, and insomnia.
When considering herbal or homeopathic remedies for depression, choose one that best matches your specific set of symptoms.