Depression: An Herbalist's Approach

part two

Last week I looked at depression and some of its more common causes. Most everyone in the holistic field feels depression is an imbalance within the body, especially within the liver. Of course, there are more serious kinds of depression caused by serious brain dysfunction or biochemical imbalance. These kinds of depression should not be treated lightly nor should an individual embark upon self-diagnosis or treatment.

If you suffer from bouts of depression that have not left you bedridden or unable to function in daily life, there are some very safe alternatives to conventional drug therapy.

Following the NBC Dateline report on the uses of St. John's Wort for depression, viewers flocked to the health food stores and emptied the shelves of this herb. My herbal co-op put it on back order and I had several individuals ask if I had a "source."

St. John's Wort has been likened to Mother Nature's Prozac. I personally would not go that far but it does even out the mood. It also has beneficial effects on the large intestine, the liver's dumping ground. This further supports evidence that the liver is involved in depressive moods.

If you rub the petals of this flower between your fingers, red resin will ooze out, leaving a red stain. According to legend dating back to the Middle Ages, this plant sprang from John the Baptist's blood when he was beheaded. Through the years, this herb has been used as a mild tranquilizer and as treatment for depression and insomnia. Recent studies also indicate that it is effective for anxiety and emotional problems. Unlike many other psychotropic drugs, patients did not report any side effects.

There are some precautions you should be aware of if you are planning on using St. John's Wort. It should be used short term and intermittently. Also, it does mimic MOA antidepressant medications, such as Elavil, therefore this herb should not be taken with these kinds of medications. It has been reported to cause sensitivity to light so you should avoid exposure to the sun.

Other herbs that may be helpful for depression are valerian, used at night to help induce sleep, Kava Kava, well known by the Polynesians to reduce anxiety and create a feeling of well being, and chamomile and mint which are known to reduce feelings of stress and agitation, and relieve anxiety.

I also like the external use of the essential oils of medicinal herbs (aromatherapy.) Some oils that I have found to be uplifting include basil, cinnamon, coriander, lavender, jasmine, rose and sandalwood. Use them in a bath or shower, try applying a single drop to the skin or inhale the aroma directly from the bottle. These oils are very powerful so be careful how much you inhale!

Some people may need some type of medication, whether chemical or herbal, to help them cope with depression. If this includes you, welcome to the human race! However, herbs and drugs should not be used to mask depression and its symptoms. Seek professional help when necessary.

Till next time, Rebecca.

This article posted to Zephyr online October 2, 1997
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