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This is a guest post from my friend Tashenna Lawson, who blogs at Holistic Health Herbalist. She is one of my favorite Wellness Warriors! (You can read more about that here). I was thrilled when Tash offered to share her expertise about healing depression with herbs and her insights into the different types of depression were completely new to me! I hope you learn something too! -Kelley
Tashenna Lawson is a student at the East West School of Planetary Herbology where she studies diagnostic Chinese, Western, and Ayurvedic medicine. She’s an artist, herbalist, and daydreamer on a journey to health, happiness, and clear skin! Connect with her on Facebook!
**Note, while Tash knows her stuff, nothing in this post, or any post on this blog, is intended as a replacement for medical advice. If you think you have depression, talk to your doctor. Do not start taking any herbal supplements without consulting a medical professional. They can have negative interactions with prescription drugs you may be taking. **
Depression-How to Find Healing With Herbs
Herbs are incredibly powerful allies to have when dealing with depression. It goes without saying that everyone experiences the blues from time to time. However, when depression doesn’t let up, it can be quite serious. If this is what you’re experiencing, I would really suggest seeing your physician.
In the meantime, there are a number of wonderful herbs that can help those with relatively mild depression who are ready to explore alternative healing.
First though, I want to go over a few of the many different types of depression as it will better help you decide which herbs will work best for your unique situation.
Different Types of Depression
The list below is a breakdown of the different types of depression and the herbs that are best suited for each. You might feel like all of them apply to you and it might seem hopeless to pinpoint the type of depression you are experiencing. Don’t worry!
Think about what bothers you most symptom-wise and go from there. It is normal for a few different types of depression to overlap too, and that is perfectly normal.
So, here we go!
Gastrointestinal Inflammation Based Depression
It may sound a bit crazy to consider that inflammation in the gut has a lot to do with depression, but it actually makes perfect sense. Low grade inflammation in the gut directly affects the brain. When the gut feels sick, those same symptoms could be manifesting your depression as it’s often found alongside gastrointestinal inflammation.
The Symptoms of GI Based Depression include:
• Loud intestinal gurgling
• Chronic diarrhea
• Chronic constipation
• Leaky gut
• Celiac disease
• Crohn’s disease
The best herb for this type of depression include St. John’s Wort.
Hepatic (Melancholic) Depression
If you’re dark, dreary, and gloomy feeling, this may be your type of depression. It is characterized by chronic anxiety and low spirits that affect normal everyday activities like sleeping and eating.
• Loss of Appetite
This type of depression usually occurs during periods of hormonal fluctuation whether it happens during puberty, menses, or menopause.
• Puberty associated depression
• PMS-based depression
• Menopausal depression
• Andropausal depression ( aka grumpy old man syndrome)
I would like to mention, aside from herbs, that L- Carnitine is wonderful for men to use if they have andropausal depression.
This type of depression occurs after the birth of a child and can bring a whirlwind of contradicting and very powerful emotions. Postpartum depression is related to the rapid readjustment of hormones in the mother’s body after birth and is similar to Hormonal Depression.
• Powerful mood swings
• Frequent crying
• Strong joy, fear and anxiety
• Lack of appetite
You can get all of these herbs in this tea blend.
Coined by herbalist David Winston, this type of depression stems from specific situations that have caused a person to spiral into deep and chronic depression. This might be from a death of a loved one, unhealthy relationships, or when something terrible has happened. These individuals feel stuck in the moment of tragedy for many years afterwards and often experience flashbacks.
• Chronic situational depression
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Chronic unrelenting grief
• Broken heart that lasts for long periods of time, even years
• Obsession about what happened
Old Age Depression
Getting older can be scary for some individuals and they may become obsessed with staying young or living as long as possible. It can also stem from life’s ups and downs.
• Fear of aging and death
• Loss of a loved one
• Lack of exercise
For this type of depression, use damiana or ginko biloba.
Thyroid Induced Depression
Common in those with Hashimoto’s or other Thyroid illnesses as well as those with iodine deficiency.
• Feeling cold within and without
• Weight gain
• Low libido
• Mood swings
• Dry hair and skin
• Thinning or loss of hair
• Poor memory
• Muscle cramps
I would also suggest L-tyrosine and selenium to help those with Thyroid Induced Depression as well to help further nourish the body.
For more on dealing with Thyroid Induced depression, check out this article.
HPA Axis Dysfunction-Induced Depression
This type of depression is correlated most with those who have an over-reactive response to stress who also experience chronic pain. These individuals can go from zero to sixty emotionally in just a few seconds, aka flying off the handle. They may also develop nervous ticks from chronic stress whether it be from life at home or a stressful work environment.
• Blood sugar fluctuations
• Endocrine dysfunction
• Chronic stress and fatigue
The best herbs for this type of depression include nourishing adaptogens and nervines like cordyceps, schisandra berry, ashwagandha, milky oats, and scullcap and gynostemma. I also recommend taking a good magnesium supplement.
As you can see, there are many classifications for depression and you might be experiencing symptoms from several different ones. That’s okay!
Think about which symptoms affect you most. It is also important to try and pinpoint the root cause of your depression, and perhaps try to make some healthy changes in your life.
Some root causes may include:
• Personal health
• Perhaps your depression is a learned behavior
• Family relationships
• Emotional or spiritual issues
• Financial stress
• Unrealistic expectations
• Desperation and hopelessness
When I suffered from depression, and at times I still do, my root causes stemmed from a terrible relationship, financial stress, and a career that felt pointless.
As my depression progressively got worse, it began to really affect my gut health too. So for me, I suffer from GI based/stagnant depression.
I know this may sound complicated, but don’t worry! The herbs I’m about to discuss below will help most people whether they know what type of depression they have or not. The list I made of the different types of depression is really to just help you identify and become familiar with the unique type of depression you may be experiencing.
Now, you may be wondering, what does all of this have to do with herbs?
Well, let me explain!
There are many people who suffer from depression who say that St John’s Wort; a well known herb for depression, doesn’t work for them at all while there are others who claim that is works wonders.
How can this be? Shouldn’t it work well for everyone?
Not exactly… however, there’s actually a really simple answer for this.
The people who use St John’s Wort without success were NOT using it for the right TYPE of depression. Crazy right?
So yes, herbs have their specific uses for specific types of depression.
So are you ready? Let’s talk about the herbs so that you can get some healing!
Herbs for Depression
There are MANY herbs to choose from when recovering from any type of depression. The ones that I have chosen below are easy to find, easy to take as well as effective.
Though often not thought of as an herb for depression, it really should be! Licorice is known to have 8 different anti-depressant compounds, known as MOA inhibitors. These inhibitors are capable of potent anti-depressant activity and show significant improvement for all types of depression.
Licorice Root is also very nourishing for burned out adrenals and is best used during times of chronic fatigue and tiredness that usually results in frequent illness.
To use licorice root, simply get the tea and have 2 cups of licorice tea a day. Try this out for 1 week and see how you feel! Keep in mind that this herb is not meant for long term use, but is generally safe for use off and on.
The Sunshine Herb- St. John’s Wort
In medieval times, this flowering plant was used to ward off evil spirits by hanging it in doorways, so it’s no wonder it’s great for depression right? That aside, St. John’s Wort is the most extensively researched herb as an anti-depressant, and for good reason as it is known to show significant improvement in depression, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, and trouble sleeping.
To use St. John’s Wort, all you really need is the tea, 1-2 cups a day for 4-6 weeks. For some individuals, doing this alone helped relieve mild depression in a pretty short period of time. If you would rather take capsules, these are the best ones.
St John’s Wort works best when there is consistent “GI Based Depression” symptoms. So if you have constant gut issues, this is the herb for you! You can also use it for Hepatic Depression.
One of the lesser known properties of rosemary is its ability to ease nervous exhaustion and uplift those with depression, moodiness, and restlessness. It will also stimulate the appetite which was quite helpful in my situation. Just the smell of rosemary made me hungry and less disgusted with food. It was even better when I used rosemary in my daily cooking or wore a drop of rosemary essential out on my wrists. It’s a very cheerful herb to have around.
Rosemary can even be made into a tea taken in 1 cup doses twice per day and works best for those with Hepatic (melancholic) Depression.
Now, you may be thinking that black cohosh is only used for menopausal symptoms; which is actually kind of silly considering how ineffective it can be for that, but let me assure you, this herb is one of the best to use for hormonal depression.
One of my all-time favorite herbs is holy basil. It’s nourishing, tastes great, and just so happens to be really wonderful for all types of stress.
Holy Basil is also indicated for those who have experienced a traumatic event in their lives who cannot get past it many years later.
Holy Basil is best used for stagnant depression.
I love taking holy basil as a tea but if you’re not a fan of the flavor, try a capsule instead.
For those of us who can’t get all of those constantly circulating, unhealthy thoughts out of our minds, passionflower would be you herbal ally of choice. While it doesn’t necessarily treat depression itself, it will certainly help quite an overactive mind, especially when used before sleep.
I have found this herb to be essential in my healing journey as a lot of relapse occurs when I think too much about the past.
I like to take passionflower as a capsule because the tea can be quite icky tasting.
So there you have it! A breakdown of the different types of depression and the best herbs to use for them!
Have you ever used an herb for depression that helped you on your path to healing and recovery?