Natural remedies for depression and anxiety 

Depression is a very common condition which affects more than 450,000 people in Ireland (one in ten) at any one time. Any of us, irrespective of age, gender or background, can be affected at some point in our life. Our mental health is under constant attack from the stress associated with the expectations of others, in relationships, family, work and society. For men in particular, we are not supposed to express our emotions, which puts us under further stress, leading to anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks and many other forms of mental stress.

So you decide you need help, but in a mental health system dominated by the medical model of disease, the most popular and least effective treatment is psychiatry and the prescription of anti depressants, anti psychotics and sleepers! Not only are they ineffective, they can often cause you harm. As a herbalist I take a different approach and prescribe a combination of herbs depending on your individual circumstances and medical history.

Recently on my Youtube Channel I did VEDA, which means to vlog (make a video) every day in August. I chose the topic of mental health and did 30 videos on 30 herbs for better mental health. I this article I will give you a summary of the benefits of each of these herbs and links to the videos on YouTube.

1. Passion Flower

Discovered by the Jesuits in South American gaining its name as the flower of this herb resembled the crown of thorns of Christ. Passion flower contains a plant chemical called harmine, which gives it the tranquillising effect, for which it is known. Other actions include; sedative, hypnotic and anti-spasmodic. Passion flower calms the spirit, nervous system, heart, liver and digestion. It lowers blood pressure, improves concentration and can be used to treat; alcoholism, anxiety, depression, headache and hyperactivity. Research has found passion flower to be as effective as a natural replacement for diazepam. It can also be used to treat nicotine withdrawal, benzodizapine withdrawal and insomnia. Passion flower can be taken as a tincture or an infusion. It combines well with valerian.

2. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm was used in ancient Greece and Rome as a topical treatment for wounds. The 17 century English herbalist Culpepper claimed it could improve mood and stimulate thinking. Avicenna, the great Arabic physician (980-1037) sad that lemon balm caused ‘the mind and heart to be merry’. Lemon balm clears heat, calms the heart and improves concentration. Lemon balm is used in the treatment of Anxiety, Asthma, ADHD, Fatigue, depression, heart palpitations, hyperactivity, insomnia, menstrual cramps and migraine. Its actions are; anti depressant, anti spasmodic, sedative, and digestive.

3. Valerian

The use of Valerian dates back to the father of modern medicine Hippocrates. It has been used in folklore in love spells and to bring fighting couples back together! The part used is the root. Its key actions are; antispasmodic, tranquilliser, and analgesic (pain killer). Valerian is most commonly used to treat anxiety and nervous tension. It also eases the symptoms of tension headache, palpitations, tensed muscles. It can also be used to treat insomnia, menstrual cramps, rheumatic aches and irritable bowel syndrome. I love this herb.

4. Chamomile

Chamomile is known more for being a pleasant tea or infusion than a plant medicine! But it has a range of medicinal benefits, and can be used to treat; travel sickness, cramps, inflamed skin and poor sleep. The part used are the dried flowers. Its key action are; anti inflammatory, relaxant, digestive and wound healer. Chamomile can be used safely to treat; mouth ulcers, stomach ache, chronns disease, insomnia and menstrual pain. It combines very well with ginger.

5. Californian Poppy

Californian poppy is a close relative of the opium poppy, but it does not contain opium and is safe to use and non addictive. It encourages the restoration of the nervous system. Native American Indians used it as a sedative for babies. Today it is used in the treatment of insomnia, headache, pain, restlessness, stress, toothache and bedwetting in Children. Its herbal actions are; analgesic, hypnotic, and sedative. It can be taken as a tincture or an infusion. Californian poppy combines very well with passion flower.

6. Oats

Oats is well known as a food in the form of porridge oats. Oats proves a good source of B vitamins and vitamin E. Oats has many medicinal benefits. The key actions of oats are; anti depressant, nutritive and tonic. It can be used to help lift depression, reduce anxiety and calm exhausted nerves. Oats can be used to support someone withdrawing from tobacco and drug addiction. The dried seeds can be used to make a bath decoction to relieve the symptoms of eczema. Oats combines very well with damiana for nervous exhaustion and stress.

7. Hawthorn

Hawthorn known as a food for the heart and for that reason I see it as a herb to support our mental health. The heart is central to good mental health, as without love, how can we be well mentally? Hawthorn improves overall heart health as it helps to improve the up take of oxygen, improves pumping efficiency, treats palpitations, and mild angina. Hawthorn is an excellent heart tonic to prevent early heart disease, which kills up to ten thousand per year in Ireland. The part used are the flowering tops and the berries. Talk to your doctor if your prescribed heart medications before taking hawthorn.

8. Wild lettuce 

Wild lettuce in latin is lactuca virosa meaning milky juice as the plant is rich in a this milky substance, which is full of medicinal benefits. Wild lettuce has traditionally been used as a sedative and hypnotic. It can be used to treat insomnia, restlessness and excitability. It can also be used for painful periods. Wild lettuce combines very well with valerian for insomnia. Can be taken as an infusion or in tincture form.

9. Wood betony

Wood betony was a highly regarded here in the middle ages. An Italian proverb states that ‘sell your coat and buy betony’. The herb has a pike of pink or purplish flowers and is common to Europe. Its actions are; as an astringent, sedative and nervine. The glycosides found in wood betony are reported to possess a hypnotic effect, that helps to lower blood pressure, alleviate headaches, and reduce anxiety and stress. It can be taken as an infusion or tincture.

10. Brahmi

Brahmi is an Ayurvedic herb with a reputation to protect against many neurological disorders such as Alzheimers, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. It can also be taken in the form of a powder in capsules. The oil can be used to treat insomnia by massaging the scalp with Brahim oil. Brahim is also a useful herb in the treatment of depression, anxiety and stress. The oil of Brahmi used externally is a useful treatment for hyperactive children. Brahmi oil has a refreshing effect on the mind and helps to improve mental alertness, concentration and memory.

11. Catnip

Catnip also known as catmint or catwort is found in Europe and Asia. Catnip can be used to treat insomnia and restlessness. Catnip is commonly used as an aromatherapy oil for external use or internally as an infusion. It has a sedative effect that slows down the body cycle to a more relaxed state. Catnip can also be used to treat digestive disturbances, cramping and bloating. Its also a useful treatment for menstrual cramps, mood swings and depression. It can also be used to treat headaches and chronic migraine.

12. Hops

Hops has been used medicinally in Europe for centuries. Hops is a strong sedative and common ingredient in many over the counter sleep remedies. Its key actions are as a sedative, bitter tonic and oestrogenic herb. Hops works by balancing the hormone estrogen in the body. Hops can be used to treat; irregular menstrual cycle, reduce the symptoms of once, improve sleep, improve digestion, prevents cancer, helps with weight loss, and acts as an aphrodisiac.

13. Boldo

Boldo is a native plant of South American and is primarily a herb to treat the liver (hepatic). As the liver is a central organ to treat when treating depression, we need good liver herbs like boldo. Its main actions are as a sedative, hepatic and diuretic. As a sedative Bolded helps with stress and anxiety. As a hepatic its ideal for treating liver condition associated with mental health including hepatitis C. I find Boldo a great herb to treat people who are in recovery from addiction and need a lot of liver support.

14. Vervain

Verbena Officinalis or vervain is used by both Chinese and western herbalists to help restore the nervous system. Its key actions include being a mild anti depressant, nerve tonic and relaxant. Vervain can be used to treat long term anxiety and stress. Its a useful remedy for migraine and headache, pre-menstrual problems and anorexia nervosa. Vervain has been poorly researched but its an important herb to traditional herbalists.

15. Siberian ginseng

Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen herb, that helps the body cope with stressful situations and recover. Its helps to increase stamina and vitality to respond better to the stress. Its an important herb in the treatment of depression and exhaustion. It can be taken as a tablet, powder or tincture.

16. Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis or Rosemary as it is known today is traditionally used to strengthen memory and aid at times of exam stress where mental exhaustion is the problem. Its an anti inflammatory, digestive and nervine tonic. Rosemary brings quick relief to headache caused by over work and nervous tension. Rosemary also stimulates digestion and blood flow through the body increasing energy levels.

17. Peppermint

Peppermint is one of the most popular infusions in coffee shops and cafes as its a ideal herb to aid in relaxation as its comforting and soothing to digestion. Peppermint is an anti spasmodic, analgesic and nervine. One of its main actions is to relax the digestive system. Digestion is central to good mental health. Peppermint reduces the symptoms of nausea, travel sickness, migraine headaches and painful periods. It combines well with Yarrow. Best taken as an infusion, but can also be used as a tincture.

18. Mullein

Mullein is one of my favourite herbs and so makes it into the top 30 herbs for mental health. As a respiratory herb, Mullein is good for treating all things to do with the lungs, including grief and loss, which very much have an impact on our mental health. At a physical level Mullein is good to treat bronchitis, inflammation of the chest and coughs. In Eastern philosophy the lungs are the organs of acceptance and letting go. However when we hold pain in our heart our whole chest is affected. The lungs are a symbolic gate way through which we take experiences and let go. So if your holding on to emotions in the chest Mullein is a great herb to support you to let go. Best taken as a infusion or tincture.

19. Jamaican dog w00d

This is a small tree, native of the West Indies, and known as Jamaica dogwood. It is rarely found in southern Florida. The flowers are in lateral clusters, appearing in profusion before the leaves. Jamaican dog wood is a sedative. It is a good herb in the treatment of neuralgia, migraine headache, insomnia and painful periods. For the treatment of insomnia it combines well with hops and valerian. It can be taken as a decoction or tincture. 

20. Cramp bark

Cramp bark has a reputation as a relaxing herb of muscle tension and spasms. When the body is stressed and tense, the muscles can cramp easily. Cramp bark also relieves painful cramps associated with periods. For relieve it combines well with prickly ash and wild yam. It can be taken as a decoction or tincture.

21. Ginkgo biloba

The Ginkgo tree is one of the oldest surviving trees in the world. The leaf extract from the Ginkgo Tree has been shown to improve blood flow through the arteries of the brain to protect the central nervous system an enhance mental health performance, memory and concentration. Its actions are as a circulatory stimulant, protector of nerves and improver of mental performance. Research supports Ginkgo’s use to strengthen memory and cognitive function. Ginkgo helps to slow down deterioration in mental function associated with the conditions of dementia and Alzheimers disease. Ginkgo can also be used to control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. By improving blood flow to the brain Ginkgo is also a good herb to treat deafness, tinnitus, dizziness, and vertigo. If your on medications talk to your doctor before using Ginkgo.

22. St John’s wort

St Johns wort has been used medicinally for thousands of years and was used by the father of modern medicine Hippocrates. Today it has been used to treat neuralgia, anxiety, neurosis, and depression. The name St Johns wort is related to its yellow flowers, traditionally gathered for the feast of St John the Baptist. Its a very popular herb in Europe as a natural anti depressant (Schrader, 2000). There is also evidence for improved cognitive function (Kiewert e al 2011) as a neuroprotective herb (Griffith el al 2010) and to reduce the symptoms associated with opium withdrawal (Feily and Abbasi 2009). Precaution as St John’s wort interacts with other medications, so avoid if your prescribed other medications.

23. Lavender

We all know the smell of lavender oil, as its a common aromatherapy oil in most homes, and associated with states of relaxation and lifting depressed spirits. Its main actions are as an analgesic, anti depressant, and sedative. Its commonly used to treat anxiety, tension, stress and migraine headaches. It is also known to reduce the risk of fits and convulsions. Lavender combines very well with Rosemary. Its a mild sedative and anti depressant and a supportive treatment to lift mood and increase vitality.

24. Scull cap

I love skull cap as its a herb for thinkers and philosophers like me! For people to think too much and where their over thinking is part of their stress and anxiety. Skull cap is used as a nerve tonic, as it soothes a tense and tired nervous system. Its also a useful herb in the treatment of shock, dizziness, tinnitus, chronic fatigue, and pre-menstrual syndrome. It combines very well with valerian.

25. Lime flower (Linden Blossom)

The linden tree is common in many parks and known for the sweet perfume it gives off on summer evenings. So romantic! An infusion made from these flowers soothes the mind and relives tension, migraine and sinus congestion. Lime flower is anti spasmodic, mild sedative and nervine tonic. Lime flower is a gentle remedy with a tranquillising effect similar to that of benzodizapine tranquillisers. It can be taken as an infusion or tincture lime flower helps to cool and relieve anxiety. Its a valuable herb for treating agitation in children.

26. Mother wort

Mother wort is a good remedy for palpitations, irregular heart beat and anxiety. It can also be used to treat angina, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Mother worth is an effect herb to promote a regular menstrual cycle. Its key actions are as a heart tonic, nervine tonic, relaxant herb and aid to menstruation. Precaution: avoid if pregnant, or where there is heavy menstrual bleeding.

27. Damiana

Damiana helps strengthen the nervous system. It can also be used as an aphrodisiac! It can be used to treat anxiety, and depression where there is a sexual factor. As a tonic for the nervous system damiana combines well with oats. It can be taken as an infusion or tincture.

28. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is known India Ginseng! It has been used for thousands of years to rejuvenate physical, emotional and spiritual well being. Ashwagandha translates into English as ‘smell of a horse’! So that gives some indication of what this herb is about! Medical researchers have been studying this herb for years. There are over 200 studies showing its healing benefits. Its helps to protect the immune system, combat stress, improve learning and memory, and reduce brain cell degeneration. Its best taken in the form of a powder capsule.

29. Schisandra

Schisandra is a berry, that has a along history in traditional Chinese medicine for calming the heart and mind. Schisandra is a great brain tonic as it helps to improve concentration and memory. Its an adaptogen herb and so its good to help with stressful conditions. Its a supportive herb to the liver and so can be an aid in the treatment of depression. It can be taken as a capsule or as an infusion.

30. Gotu kola

Gotu kola is regarded as one of the most spiritual herbs in India. Used by Yogis to improve mediation, it is said to help balance the crown chakra. Its an adaptogen herb with the following benefits; boost central nervous system, helps to treat epilepsy, improves memory, reduces the symptoms of stress and depression, boosts libido and vitality, reduces high blood pressure, and protects blood vessels.