By: Amanda Gawrysz, L.Ac, MSOM
Fall is here and along with that comes seasonal affective disorder (SAD) creeping in the shadows of our daily existence. Not all of us experience lower moods in the cooler months, but many of us feel more lethargic with the days growing increasingly shorter. The sun is at a different angle and we are receiving less Vitamin D which is an important factor in keeping our moods uplifted. There are numerous herbs that can help us battle the sadness, grief, anxiety, and stress we are experiencing during this time. If you are suffering with severe depression and are on antidepressants or antipsychotics prescribed by a healthcare professional, please be aware that certain herbs are contraindicated with these drugs. If you are on medications, speak with your doctor before adding herbs to your regimen.
Herbs have a leg up in cognitive health. Try one or more of these options to help boost your mood this fall season.
Cacao: Yes, chocolate! Organic, untreated or raw cacao is what we want in this case. Raw cacao is a great source of magnesium which can benefit those of us suffering from depression, irritability, and anxiety. This amazing superfood contains numerous phytonutrients that stimulate the production of our “feel good” hormones dopamine and serotonin and give us a sense of well-being, contentment, and peace of mind.
Ginkgo Biloba: Containing antioxidants which help with cellular stress and damage, this common herb helps support brain function including memory and blood circulation to the brain. It is also known to increase oxygen and glucose metabolism. One of its active compounds is known to help regulate the exact amount of dopamine we need in the brain providing us with increased mood and increased energy levels while maintaining a sense of peacefulness.
Lemon Balm: This perennial herbaceous plant that is part of the mint family is known for its anti-anxiety effects. It contains an active compound that helps stimulate GABA production in our brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps reduce or inhibit the activity of the neurons which help us attain an emotional balance. Lemon balm benefits our sleep cycles and keeps us feeling calm and collected with its sedative effects. Lemon balm is known to emotionally cleanse us so think of this herb as a mental purge of toxic thinking and stress.
Licorice: is a potent antidepressant containing 8 active compounds that benefit all types of depression. The root of this herb is known to nourish and regenerate the adrenals from chronic prolonged stress and enables the body to deal with existing stress.
Passionflower: Similar to lemon balm, passionflower has also been found to increase GABA activity in the brain. This herb is best used for menopause related depression. Due to its tranquil effects, it is beneficial for those of us experiencing restless sleep due to anxiety, depression, and menopausal-related symptoms. Tincture form is the best way to get the potency needed to experience its calming properties.
Schisandra: known to reduce both mental and physical stress. This berry contains adaptogenic qualities and is able to balance out the body. Schisandra is a powerful anti-anxiety herb and helps reduce adrenal fatigue by reducing cortisol levels and controlling adrenaline and serotonin levels. In Chinese medicine, Schisandra is known as “the herb that does it all.” It is a tonic herb that protects the primary energies of life nourishing the energies of the kidney, lung, and liver. It sharpens our memory and improves other mental functions. It can be taken in capsule or powder form or brewed as a tea.
St. John’s Wort: This herb has been found to be as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants, but with less side effects for those suffering with mild to moderate depression. It contains hypericin, an active phytonutrient, as well as flavinoids and xanthones which work together to make dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine more available. It is known to increase GABA, a natural tranquilizer, and decrease levels of cortisol. This herb is best taken in a capsule or tincture form to treat depression. It is contraindicated if taking prescription antidepressants as it can interact and be too potent when combined.
Rose: Rose is known to soften the heart and helps with emotional unhappiness usually caused by anger or bitterness. This sour fruit calms the nervous system and helps induce sleep. It contains high amounts of Vitamin C which benefit cell-to-cell communication and basic neurotransmitter synthesis. Due to its high Vitamin C content, it may cause thinning of the blood and should be consumed with caution with other blood thinning medications. Make sure to use rose hips when brewing your tea, not the rose petals. The oil can also be used in aromatherapy for its sedative properties.
Ashwagandha: This adaptogenic herb has been called “nature’s miracle stress fighter.” This shrub is known to protect the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys regulating the release of our fight-or-flight hormones. It protects the body against chronic stress, decreases anxiety, and improves sleep. This herb can be taken in powder, capsule, or tincture form. It is a fat-soluble herb and is best taken with food to help with absorption.
Rosemary: Aromatic with a piney scent, rosemary is known to improve memory and promote healthy brain function. It is beneficial for those having to work long hours or for students who need to be mentally clear, quick, and sharp. The oil of this herb can be diffused for its aromatic memory boosting properties and to promote a sense of calm. It is known to activate a relaxation response and lower cortisol levels. Rosemary can also be sprinkled during cooking for its immune boosting effects, for detoxifying the body, and for decreasing inflammation.
There is no need to suffer or watch your loved ones suffer. Check out your local herb store or visit a herbal practitioner for recommendations on which of these natural herbs would benefit you the most. Certain herbal tinctures and essential oils may be purchased online, but please be mindful of quality and sourcing as there are little to no regulations behind the production of some of these products. Herbs and their synergistic active compounds can be very potent and need to be used with caution if taking prescription medications.
Boost your mood this fall and winter season because let’s face it, who couldn’t use some extra energy! Nature is there to help us in so many ways and all we have to do is utilize what Mother Nature has so kindly and generously put on this beautiful planet for us.