©2007 Publications International, Ltd. St. John's Wort can help with symptoms or depression.

There's a big difference between feeling blue once in a while and suffering from clinical depression. The good news is that no matter what the cause, there are herbal remedies to help lift your spirits.

About Depression

Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness, inadequacy, and indifference that last for long periods of time.

Brought on by a variety of factors ranging from chemical imbalances in the brain to prolonged stress or a traumatic event, untreated depression can have life-threatening consequences.

Herbal Remedies for Depression

St. John's wort is perhaps the most well-known herb for treating depression. It has been clinically studied extensively. Various studies show St. John's wort significantly improves depression and relieves anxiety after taking it four to six weeks. Capsules containing 300 mg (standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin) taken three times per day are beneficial. Side effects from St. John's wort are very rare. St. John's wort tea or tincture can also be used if you grow it in your garden and make the preparations out of fresh plants.

Good nourishment in general is important for preventing and treating depression. The brain needs nutrients to make necessary chemicals called neurotransmitters. Adequate intake of B vitamins is essential, particularly B6 and folate. Sunflower seeds are rich in B6 while vegetables such as asparagus, parsnips, citrus fruits, beets, spinach, and other dark leafy greens are packed with folate.

Pumpkin seeds provide a high level of the amino acid tryptophan, which in the brain promotes the synthesis of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Normal levels of serotonin provide a calm sense of well-being.

Aromatherapy can be useful for lifting the spirits. Use an aromatherapy lamp to infuse a room with scent or tuck a scented cloth into your pillowcase at night. Scented geranium, lavender, angelica, chamomile, juniper, mint, and rosemary are all good choices. Infusing their essences into massage oil is another enjoyable way to beat depression.

Ginkgo biloba helps the brain make certain neurotransmitters, which may alleviate depression. One study has shown a standardized extract was helpful for elderly, depressed persons who also had dementia. Even the lowly oat, fresh in its milky stage and made into a tincture, has a reputation as a nerve tonic and can diminish cravings associated with addictions.

In rare cases, taking doses of St. John's wort that are higher than those recommended for prolonged periods may cause sensitivity to sunlight, especially in fair-skinned people; a rash may result from exposure to sun. Avoid cheese, red wine, yeast, and pickled herring if taking St. John's wort, and do not use along with prescription antidepressants without consulting an expert botanical prescriber. Do not take St. John's wort if you're pregnant, since this is a time for extra caution, even though this herb is probably safe.

Eric Yarnell, N.D., R.H. (A.H.G.) is a naturopathic physician and registered herbalist in private practice specializing in men's health and urology.  He is an assistant professor in the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Seattle and is president or the Botanical Medicine Academy.  He is the author of several textbooks including Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and Clinical Botanical Medicine; He writes a regular column on herbal medicine for Alternative and Complementary Therapies. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.