The 5 Most Powerful Mood Boosting Herbs

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Plant medicine can be a great place to start if you are wanting to support your mood naturally. There are so many plants out there that can make a real difference to how our body reacts and copes with external (physical) and internal (emotional) stress. Here are 5 of our favourite mood boosting herbs!

🌿Related: What You Need To Know If You Are New To Herbal Medicine


Things To Know

While plants can have a very real and noticeable effect on your mood, health and wellbeing we always advocate first speaking with your health professional if you are feeling depressed, anxious or if your mental health needs some support. Talking and sharing what you may be going through is as important as medication and plant medicine.

Here are some great places to start:

5 Powerful Mood Boosting Herbs

Saint John's Wort

Saint John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is very well-known for mood. You have likely heard about this plant as a method of improving low mood and you might also know that it should be avoided if you’re on any other medications - both statements are true. But what is St John's wort and why is it one of the most powerful mood boosting herbs around?

saint-johns-wort-mood-boosting-herbs

How To Recognise It

St John's wort has small dark green oval leaves distinguished by tiny perforations that are actually oil glands. It has bright yellow petals that have a red tinge on the underside with edged black dots that contain the key constituent hypericin.


What Scientists Say

St John's wort is one of the most studied plants in herbal medicine. Over thirty clinical studies show its efficacy in controlled trials for mild to moderate depression as effective as common antidepressants (SSRIs) but with fewer side effects. Against a placebo 2/3 of people taking St John's wort reported a decrease in their anxious feelings and low mood.

How It Works

St John's wort  is a nerve insulator, meaning it helps both our physical nerves (this is why we use it in our Golden Skin Oil) and our internal nervous system. It has been used for hundreds of years as a wound healer and also has anti viral properties.

When taken internally it can help give sedative and pain relieving effects and can be used when people suffer from neuralgia (nerve pain), anxious thoughts, tension, and seems to have a great affinity for those that suffer from irritability and hormonal changes particularly in menopause. This is why is it is often recommended to people as a mood boosting natural alternative to helping improve low mood.


St John's wort affects the brain’s neurotransmitters and hormones. In particular serotonin, dopamine and GABA. This is what gives this plants its mood boosting qualities. There are isolated studies on the active constituent hypericin and its ability to help mood, but the whole extract is recommended as it encompasses flavonoids, oils and other active ingredients that support the nervous system.

wild-harvesting-saint-johns-wort
A Note On Safety

St John's wort absolutely can interfere with medication. If you are on long term medication like the oral contraceptive pill, auto immune medication or blood pressure medication you should not take high dose St John's wort products. This is due to its key constituent, hypericin which works on your liver enzymes, effectively making you metabolise your medication more quickly - which is not what you want.

  • It is always best to check with your health professional before trying any St John's wort product.
  • Please note topical St John's wort will not have the same effect.
  • Also note that St John's wort is not recommended in pregnancy, or for those that are suffering severe depression please consult your medical professional if you need extra support.

 

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a part of the mint family making it a wonderful calming plant. It helps to relieve spasms in the digestive tract as well as helping with reflux and heart burn - which can become worse when we are stressed. It is a low bushy plant that has heart shaped leaves and tiny white flowers, its hardy but will die back in winter. Bees love it! But it is most known for its supportive actions to the nervous system.

lemon-balm-mood-boosting-herbs

Lemon balm has mild antidepressant properties, and can help with neuralgia, anxiety induced palpitations, sleep issues and migraines that are associated with stress and tension. It can also support your circulatory system as it has a tonic effect on the heart and can support lowering blood pressure. These reasons make lemon balm a great natural alternative for those looking for a mood boosting herb.

What Scientists Say About Lemon Balm

Controlled trials show that lemon balm has the ability to support improved mood, and reduce anxiety related symptoms such as tension, palpitations, agitation and can help with PMS. It has been also shown to help with memory, cognition and attention (Perry, N., 2018).

🌿Related: If you suffer from anxiety or struggle with sleep you can read more about our Rest and Calm here

How It Works

Lemon balm extracts increase the action of the brain calming signals (GABA) and its active constituents (like citronellal) help to support its antispasmodic and sleep supporting actions.

A Note On Safety

Lemon balm has a high safety profile. There are no real side effects and children can take it. A lemon balm tea is a great place to start. High doses are not recommended though if you suffer from hypothyroidism.

Hawthorn

You might not initially associate hawthorn as a mood boosting herb because traditionally it has been used to help with upset stomachs (due to its astringent properties). It also has a great affinity for the cardiovascular system in particular the heart. It can help support circulation, supporting healthy blood pressure.
 
wild-harvested-hawthorn

What Scientists Say

The German federal Ministry of health commissioned a study of Hawthorn over 4 years and then officially recognised Hawthorn as a heart remedy. This makes it a viable and official treatment for some cardiac conditions in Germany. Hawthorn in a long term clinical trial of patients on conventional therapy for heart failure showed that it helped reduce symptoms (Fisher, C., 2009).

How It Works

Hawthorn seems to improve coronary circulation, it dilates the heart’s arteries and helps to bring better nutrition and activity to the heart cells. It also helps with the muscle contractions of the heart supporting us as we age. But how does this make it a mood boosting herb? Well when you are feeling low you need to support your circulation and it also imparts a tonic effect on your whole body, especially your heart.
 
A Note On Safety

Hawthorn has a high safety profile and there are few side effects or contraindications. As with every plant check before you start taking anything at high dose.


Ashwagandha 

Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) is a traditional Indian/Ayurvedic plant that has been used to support the nervous system and energy levels for years. It likes dry places, has oval leaves with greenish or yellow flowers that turn into bright red berries. These berries can be used to coagulate milk to make cheese! The whole plant is used which is amazing - but what we see and use mostly are the roots.

Ashwagandha-roots-mood-boosting-plants

What Scientists Say

In several controlled trials ashwagandha has been shown to reduce anxiety and physical stress symptoms (e.g. blood pressure and heart rate). It is also being studied to help support healthy ageing and the effects of ageing such as loss of muscle strength and function, joint and bone pain, and also helping with stamina and energy levels for people an athletes.

How It Works

Studies show that this mood boosting herb modifies our neurotransmitters including those that calm us (GABA), or work on mood (serotonin), or help with pain and memory. They have even found it works on supporting our nervous and immune system by influencing stress and immune signalling via the release of the hormone corticosterone.

It is also attributed to providing anti oxidant and anti inflammatory support as well as supporting blood vessel growth and protecting nerve cells. It is a great plant to consider when exhausted or suffering from stress induced insomnia (in fact all of these mood boosting plants helps with that!)

A Note On Safety

This plant can be added to foods like smoothies or bliss balls, making it a safe addition for many people. In a high dose (tincture) it may upset stomachs and also stimulate the thyroid so just check first.


Saffron

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is a bulbous perennial native to India and the eastern Mediterranean. It has narrow leaves, purple flowers and 3 deep red stigmas. It is a very expensive plant medicine as only the stigmas are used. Saffron has been used in culinary dishes for centuries, it imparts a beautiful colour to foods and dyes. In western herbal medicine it is used to help counter depression, low mood, help to support the nervous system and also for nerve pain and shock and this is why we have added to our list of mood boosting herbs.

saffron-mood-boosting-herbs

What Scientists Say

Saffron supplementation has been shown to help mild and moderate depressive symptoms - showing it was just as effective as antidepressants (SSRIs) without side effects. It has also been trialled and used for cognitive decline in Alzheimer's patients and also clinically used to help treat PMS and for those suffering from sexual dysfunction from antidepressant use.

A controlled trial in Tehran gave people either 15mg of saffron or 10mg of fluoxetine (SSRI antidepressant) morning and evening for 8 weeks. Saffron was shown to be as effective as fluoxetine in the treatment of mild depression (Perry, N., 2018).

How It Works

This plant helps to boost mood by boosting serotonin and dopamine and memory. It’s anti inflammatory actions help support the neuroendocrine pathways (brain-hormonal pathways). The active constituent in saffron is crocin and safranal. Crocin increases serotonin and dopamine and it helps to block the enzyme monoamine oxidase and is a powerful antioxidant for the brain.

A Note On Safety

Saffron, although beneficial in boosting mood, is not recommended in large doses in pregnancy, and can actually be adulterated with other spices due to it’s high value. High doses can cause nausea but generally saffron is a safe plant with minimal side effects.

 

Skye MacFarlane- Naturopath/Medical Herbalist for Wild Dispensary

Advice: Use as directed. Discontinue if any irritation arises. If symptoms persist see your health care professional. 

 

References
Bone, K. (2003). A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs. Churchill Livingstone.
Buckley, C. (2020). Plant Magic: Herbalism in Real Life (Illustrated ed.). Roost Books.
Fisher, C. (2018). Materia Medica of Western Herbs. AEON Books.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Inner Traditions/Bear.
Ody, P. (2017). The Complete Medicinal Herbal. Skyhorse.
Perry, N., & Perry, E. (2018). Your Brain on Plants: Improve the Way You Think and Feel with Safe―and Proven―Medicinal Plants and Herbs (1st ed.). The Experiment.

 

 

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