Get Happy Herbs: Top 5 herbs to boost your mood & keep your mind healthy

herbs for depression and mood problems, herbal remedies for depression and stressLife can be hard. Sure, it’s beautiful, but let’s not pretend its always easy. Shit can hit the fan and sometimes we forget where the ‘off’ switch is. Or it doesn’t work. Or we know where it is and it does work, but we just cant muster the energy to turn it off and stop the shit from splattering. I’m sorry for the extended analogy but you get the (sometimes shitty) picture.

There can be a lot of reasons why our mood and mental health can plummet. Stress is a big one – it can deplete our body of vital nutrients necessary to make key neurotransmitters and it also activates the ‘old’ parts of our brain – those involved in our fear response. Let’s just do a quick study into the  prevalence of stress…so…Hands up who’s not stressed? Mmm, I thought so. Of course there are many other reasons too – such as poor diet, lack of sleep (or poor quality sleep), hormonal imbalances and also just plain life; the things that happen which are out of our control, that we wish wouldn’t happen, that leave us feeling sad, frustrated, disappointed….And all the rest.

herbs for depression, herbal remedies for depression and low moodAll of these things can take their toll on our mood and mental health. Our once optimistic mind can begin to feel weary, our mental energy falls and with it, our motivation, confidence and focus. I’ve been there and it sure ain’t much fun.

Having suffered from depression myself and being a qualified medical herbalist, I want to share with you some of the best tried-and-tested herbs for depression and low mood that can help lift the dark cloud and act like a buffer to help your brain stay in the feel-good-zone and keep you thinking (and feeling) well. Nature has given us these gifts so lets use them…

Lemon Balm {Melissa officinalis}

This member of the mint family was used by the Ancient Greeks to give strength of mind and it was a very popular remedy in Europe in the Middle Ages. The famous physician/botanist/alchemist Paracelsus (1493–1541) held it in very high esteem, stating that it could be used for ‘all complaints supposed to proceed from a disordered state of the nervous system’(1). (That’s ticked the box for most things then).

Lemon balm has a long history of traditional use as an antidepressant, anxiety-reliever and mood enhancer, as well as being a potent antiviral and easing digestive upsets. – two important actions, as immune compromise and digestive problems go hand in hand with stress and depression. Recent research has backed-up the mood enhancing and calming effects of lemon balm, in addition to showing it can help increase cognitive performance (2, 3) These effects may be explained by a number of possible active constituents in lemon balm, notably essential oils, phenolic acids, and flavonoids.

St John’s Wort {Hypericum officinalis}

The infamous St John’s Wort has a rich history of use as an antidepressant – a use that has been scientifically validated and personally experienced by many. It has been shown to be effective for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder, particularly when combined with Lemon Balm (4). Studies have shown that St John’s Wort boosts levels of serotonin in specific parts of the brain and may be comparable to synthetic antidepressants such as citalopram and sertraline (5, 6).  However there is mounting evidence that St John’s Wort also works on other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, dopamine and GABA, which are all implicated in mood disorders. This may explain why St John’s Wort can be such an effective therapy for mild to moderate depression. 

Brahmi {Bacopa monnieri}

Brahmi {gosh don’t you just love that name?!) is one of the best tonic plants there is. It has a rich history of use in India and Ayurvedic medicine, commonly prescribed for nervous disorders such as anxiety and stress. It is known as an ‘adaptogen’, meaning that it increases the overall resistance of the body and reduces the negative effects of stress (including on memory, blood pressure and the immune system).  Studies have supported the traditional use of Brahmi, showing its effectiveness for anxiety, nervous breakdowns, nervous exhaustion and depression (7). Big-up Brahmi.

Gotu Kola {Centella asiatica}

This member of the parsley family and native Indian plant has been used for thousands of years in Chinese, Indian and Indonesian herbal medicine. It has a pretty kick-ass reputation in Ayurvedic medicine as a calming and rejuvenating nerve tonic, in addition to being used as an anti-inflammatory and wound healing herb. These traditional uses still continue in western herbal medicine with Gotu kola being used to provide relief from anxiety and depression. It also helps to reduce stress and fatigue and improves memory and concentration – actions particularly attributed to the presence of  compounds known as ‘triterpenoids’ (I know, I know, they sounds like some kind of three-legged space alien) in the leaves and stem of the plant.

Golden Root {Rhodiola rosea}

This is a plant I have a lot of personal experience with. A well-known and potent adaptogen, Rhodiola rosea is a truly amazing plant. The Vikings were dependent on the use of Rhodiola to help keep them strong and healthy, and in ancient China emperors would send men on long expeditions to Siberia to bring back some of this revered ‘golden root’. (Luckily we don’t have to go that far to get our hands on it anymore – but I probably would). Scientific research into the effects of Rhodiola started in the Soviet Union during the Cold War era as part of their aim to rival the West in the spheres of medicine, science and industry. There is a whole heap of scientific literature to show that Rhodiola can help to combat fatigue, low mood, depression and poor concentration (8), in addition to improving immune function, decreasing inflammation and helping to regulate poor thyroid function. It seriously deserves the name ‘golden root’.

[now for the disclaimer…]This information is not intended to be a substitute for seeking professional medical help. If you are interested in the use of herbal medicines for mood problems please consult a trained and licensed Medical Herbalist. If you are suffering from severe depression please contact your doctor immediately. For a list of depression helplines click here. 

If you are interested in a holistic approach to depression or mood problems please get in touch


1. Grieve. (1931).
2. Ballard et al , 2002
3. Kennedy et al, 2003
4. Winston & Kuhn, 2006
5. Gastpar et al, 2005
6. Brenner, 2000
7. Winston & Maimes, 2007
8. Brown et al (2002)

Photo courtesy of Matilda Rose

Got questions? Or experience with natural approaches to depression and mood problems that others might benefit from? Share your thoughts in the comments section below – I’d love to hear from you. 


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