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 Herbal Medicine: The Natural Pharmacy: Herbal Medicine for Depression  

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile is an important sedative herb and nerve tonic. In Europe, it is widely used as a digestive aid in the treatment of heartburn, nausea and flatulence; as a mild sedative helpful with insomnia; and as an anti-inflammatory. Chamomile is licensed in Germany as an over-the-counter drug for gastrointestinal spasms and inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract often associated with nervous disorders.

Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Hops, with both calming and sleep-inducing properties, is used in Europe for nervous tension, restlessness and excitability, as well as sleep disturbances. This helpful herb has also been licensed in Germany for sleep disorders and states of unrest and anxiety. However, unlike other sedatives, hops does not lead to dependence or withdrawal symptoms, and there are no reports of adverse side effects.6

Linden Blossom (Tilia europea)
Linden blossom has been used for centuries by Europeans in the treatment of nervous tension. It is also believed to reduce hardening of the arteries. Linden blossom is commonly prescribed throughout Europe for patients with anxiety and cardiovascular history.

Anti-Depressant Herbs
St. John's wort is the best known of the anti-depressant herbs, although many Chinese, Ayurvedic and Native American herbal combination remedies can also sustain anti-depressant effects. These combination remedies, however, are best prescribed by a health professional who is knowledgeable of herbal medicine.

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is an effective nervine tonic with an anti-depressive action that has been used by Europeans as an anti-anxiety remedy for centuries. It actually has a 2,400 year history of safe and effective use, and, in fact, Hippocrates himself used St. John's wort. In Germany, more than fifty percent of depression, anxiety and sleep disorders are treated with hypericum. This herb also has anti-viral properties, and is commonly used for PMS, menstrual cramps, as well as menopausal stress that triggers irritability, anxiety and depression.

St. John's wort has traditionally been taken internally to treat neuralgia, anxiety, tension, and depression. Indeed, convincing research has demonstrated that St. John's wort is an effective remedy for mild to moderate depression. The therapeutic effectiveness has been shown to be often similar to that of the SSRI anti-depressant drugs Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil, however, St. John's wort, has far fewer side effects and is available over-the-counter for a fraction of the cost of prescription anti-depressants.

Depression is believed to stem from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Depressed levels of the three neurotransmitters: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine leads to what we know as depression. Conventional, allopathic medicine has solutions for low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine but dopamine deficiency is still not clearly resolved. Recent research has implied that hypericum acts somewhat like a combination of serotonin, norephinephrine, and dopamine. Currently there are psychiatrists who are actually using St. John's wort conjunctively with serotonin re-uptake inhibitors such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft and weaning their patients off of the prescription drug. The prescription drug that hypericum should not be mixed with is any MAO inhibitor. This could possible result in elevated blood pressure, increased anxiety, muscle tension, fever and mental confusion. If you are wanting to try St. John's wort, please do not stop or alter any currently prescribed medication without consulting with your physician.

It should be noted that St. John's wort must normally be taken for two to ten weeks for the herb to take hold and help to regulate and balance mood. I have seen it work as quickly as three days, but like conventional mood regulators it is best to give it some time to be substantially effective.

The common dosage for St. John's wort is 300-400 mg. two to three times daily depending upon the severity of the depression. I have begun treatment with as little as 150 mg. three times daily depending upon the sensitivity and body weight of the patient. Obviously, serious, chronic depression should not be self-diagnosed or self-treated.

Restorative Herbs
Restorative herbs help to renew the vitality of the nervous system and are thus commonly used in treating depression and its associated symptoms. Nervous system restoratives include: St. John's wort, oatstraw, vervain, motherwort, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, Siberian ginseng, lemon balm, borage, rosemary, Fo ti, and dong quai.

Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus Sentiocosus)
I have used Siberian Ginseng in my practice for many years for a wide range of physiological and psychological problems. Although it is not a true form of ginseng, it has many of the properties of ginseng and is such a powerful adaptogen that it was given the name "Siberian" or "Russian" Ginseng. Siberian Ginseng has been used extensively in Russia to improve performance and resistance to disease. Russian cosmonauts used Siberian Ginseng prior to and during their space flights to help them stay awake and alert. Russian Olympic athletes were required to take Siberian Ginseng during training as well as during the Olympic Games.

Siberian Ginseng is noted to effect kidney function, adrenal function, and thyroid function. It helps to increase the good (HDL) cholesterol, and is a blood pressure regulator. It has also been shown to increase biological resistance. and has a tremendous capacity to reduce side effects of numerous allopathic medications, including chemotherapeutic agents. In my own practice I have found this herb in conjunction with milk thistle seed and pycnogenol to be very effective in reducing the side effects of cortisone: weight gain, swollen face, depression, and swelling throughout the body; as well as the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

Siberian Ginseng is also specifically used to control stress. This herb can reduce the activation of the adrenal cortex in response to stress as well as preventing stress-induced lymphatic congestion. Siberian Ginseng is an effective herb for chronic fatigue as many people suffering from this syndrome have a good deal of lymphatic congestion in addition to being depressed. It is also useful when fatigue is associated with insomnia, agitated depression and nervous exhaustion.

The most extensive research on Siberian Ginseng, however, relates to its brilliant ability to regulate blood sugar. I have observed people in my practice with serious hypoglycemia, a common cause of depression, make tremendous strides with the use of this herb, especially when combined with small amounts of the trace mineral chromium.

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
American Ginseng, a true form of ginseng native to the United States, contains significant amounts of trace minerals which are increasingly difficult to obtain today in our mineral-depleted soil. This herb is effective in enhancing physical and mental performance as well as mood. Any long-term use of this herb should be supervised by a knowledgeable health professional.

Chinese Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
Ginseng has a long history of use and a wide range of possible therapeutic applications. Thus, the term "Panax" which derives from the Latin word panacea meaning "cure all." A powerful adaptogen, Panax Ginseng helps the body to cope with stress through its effects upon the functioning of the adrenal gland.7 Other important properties include antioxidant, antihepatotoxic (liver protecting), and hypoglycemic effects.8,9

Panax ginseng is very effective in small doses, especially in men over forty-five who may be experiencing mild depression due to a drop in hormone levels. However, some people who take Chinese ginseng for depression become anxious and irritable due to its stimulating nature. Proper dosage for an individual must be determined as serious side effects including headaches, skin problems, and other reactions can occur if ginseng is abused. Any long-term use of this herb should be supervised by a knowledgeable health professional.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba)
Ginkgo trees are the oldest living trees on earth, first appearing about 200 million years ago. The leaves of the ginkgo tree contain several compounds called ginkgolides that have unique therapeutic properties. A standardized ginkgo extract has been developed in Germany to treat cerebral dysfunction with the accompanying symptoms of memory loss; dizziness, tinnitus, headaches, and emotional instability coupled with anxiety.

It has been commonly found that older individuals who are suffering from insufficient blood flow to the brain are especially susceptible to depression. In fact, many individuals over the age of fifty who are diagnosed as suffering from depression but are not responding to antidepressant medication, may be suffering from cerebrovascular insufficiency.10 One study reported that older patients suffering from depression who received 240 milligrams of Ginkgo biloba extract daily experienced significant improvements in mood, motivation and memory after only four weeks, and even more marked improvement by the conclusion of the eight week study.11

Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis)
Dong Quai, an adaptogenic Chinese herb that is excellent in treating numerous female health problems. In China, women begin taking Dong Quai when they start menstruating and then tend to continue taking for the rest of their life, often incorporating it into their diet. Dong Quai is normally taken in combination with other herbs, as it is a strong herb.

Dong Quai also has a sedative-like effect on the central nervous system and can also be useful in influencing mood. This herb is also helpful in depression as it has a protective affect on the liver, and in Chinese Medicine depression results when the liver becomes toxic or overburdened. For example, I have observed many patients suffering from acne whose dermatologists have prescribed Acutane, which often has a negative effect on the liver. Acutane causes an elevation of liver enzymes causing the individual to become very depressed. People with hepatitis also have elevated liver enzymes, which can lead to feelings of depression. The treatment plan in Chinese medicine for such cases is to detoxify and strengthen the liver, and Dong Quai can be effective as part of this treatment and alleviating depression.

Fo Ti (Polygonum multiflorum)
Fo Ti is a rejuvenative herb which, according to Chinese medicine, helps to normalize or strengthen the Earth (Pancreas and Stomach), Water (Kidney), and Wood (Liver) elements. According to Chinese medicine Fo Ti is also a "blood builder," helping to fortify the blood. A good deal of depression is due to what Chinese medicine refers to as "blood deficiency," a condition that is not only significant for women, as it is possible for men to have "weak blood." Fo Ti is also used in Chinese medicine to stimulate vital energy (qi) promote fertility, enhance longevity and to increase overall vigor, and is beneficial for neurasthenia, insomnia, dizziness, and hypertension.

Borage (Borago officinalis)
Rich in minerals, especially potassium, borage has historically been used as a tonic, as it gently improves energy. Long ago I worked in an herb room with a master herbalist. People would visit and I would watch the herbalist prescribe various herbal preparations. I cannot remember one prescription for fatigue and depression that did not include borage. And each time he would prescribe it he would say, "I love borage."

Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)
Lemon balm is known to be antibacterial, antidepressant, antihistaminic, anti viral, carminative, and mildly sedating. Traditionally, it has been used for anxiety and depression as well as the common cold, indigestion, headache, flu insomnia and nervousness.

Oatstraw (Avena Sativa)
Oatstraw has been shown to be very effective as a sedative and has proven useful for some kinds of insomnia and nervous disorders. Oatstraw is especially effective for debilitation associated with anxiety or depression. In Europe it has been used for centuries to treat nervous exhaustion. This herb is used clinically in cases of drug withdrawal, such as stimulants, narcotics, tranquilizers, coffee, nicotine and alcohol. It is especially effective for depression associated with drug withdrawal. Oatstraw is high in silica and helps to enhance calcium absorption, which along with magnesium is very important in mood.

(Excerpted from Natural Healing for Depression: Solutions for the World's Great Health Traditions and Practitioners ISBN: 0399525378)
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 About The Author
Janet Zand LAc, OMDJANET ZAND, O.M.D., L.Ac. is a nationally respected author, lecturer, practitioner and herbal products formulator whose work has helped thousands of people achieve better health....more
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