The experience of emotional and psychological depression has been noted and subjected to various explanations since the dawn of recorded history and quite probably before. The current model, which reduces all depression to a deficiency in serotonin, seems as overly simplistic and inadequate as those before it. This is to say, at least in part, that depression is a complex and age-old illness with a storied history of treatment. There are a number of herbs that have been used successfully to help relieve symptoms of depression, and thoughtful consideration of various root causes of psychological malaise can serve to steer one toward appropriate improvement
Recent studies have reinforced the potential efficacy of a number of traditional herbal aids for depression.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
One of the most widely known herbs purported to help with depression, St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been the subject of much debate in recent years. While the data on St. John’s Wort is confusing to say the least, it is worth noting its long and extensive use throughout the world, along with several independent investigations reinforcing its efficacy. A 2009 meta-analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that “Overall, the St. John’s wort extracts tested in the trials were superior to placebo, similarly effective as standard antidepressants, and had fewer side effects than standard antidepressants.”
Another thoughtful and extensive meta-analysis published by four physicians in the British Journal of Psychiatry considered 37 prior studies and found that “Hypericum perforatum extracts improved symptoms more than placebo and similarly to standard antidepressants in adults with mild to moderate depression.” Furthermore, hypericum extracts caused fewer adverse effects than questionable antidepressants.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
Lesser known, but also an interesting aid in depression is the adaptogen Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea). In a very well designed and executed study of Rhodiola rosea, 89 individuals, male and female, ranging from 18-70 years of age and selected according to DSM-IV criteria for depression, were divided into three groups. One group received 340 mg of rhodiola per day, in two tablets, a second received 680 mg/day in two tablets and a third received two placebo tablets. Both groups receiving the rhodiola experienced significant improvements in overall depression, insomnia, emotional instability and somatization as scored in the Beck Depression Inventory and Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD) questionnaire. The placebo group showed no such improvement. No serious side effects were reported among any of the three groups.