Herbs for Seasonal Depression

Just as we have a circadian rhythm (approximately 24 hour internal body clock) that keeps us on track each day and night, we also have a circannual rhythm that keeps us in tune with the yearly seasons.

This time of year we have some drastic environmental changes, like shorter days, much colder temperatures and often less sleep.  It’s important to stay in tune with the seasons just like it’s important to stay in tune with our 24 hour daily clock.  Sometimes we need a little help and herbs can be very effective when treating Seasonal Depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated, SAD), is caused by a lack of sunlight and may be more extreme by vitamin D deficiency. Symptoms include lack of motivation, lethargy, fatigue, feelings of sadness or despair, gloom and, generally what I like to call “Eeyore syndrome”. It’s about late November when this often sets in, and right at the onset is where we can do the most good with herbal remedies to ward off the doom and gloom feeling of winter time.

Here are a few of my favorite herbal remedies:

  1. Damiana (Turnera diffusa)

Damiana is the ideal herb for folks who just can’t get out of bed in the morning or have a hard time motivating themselves to get out and get stuff done. This is the ultimate motivational herb, with a spicy, peppery kick to it. It makes a delicious hot tea that is ideal for those who want to hibernate when they can’t, or who are slow a sluggish with the depressive “winter blues”. It’s a relatively stimulating herb and best for folks who run a little bit cold (as it gets the circulation moving!).

  1. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

The volatile oils in lemon balm are mildly sedative and have wonderful anti-depressive properties. It has been described for centuries by herbalists as a “trophorestorative” for the nervous system, which can become highly sensitive with any affective disorder. I like lemon balm as a daily tea (which also tastes delicious combine with damiana), or in capsule form (New Chapter makes a great one).

  1. Motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca)

Along with being an excellent heart tonic, Motherwort is a great herb to calm down the nervous system for those that feel overly anxious or fearful of going out in public. Often the winter months present plenty of socializing engagements with crowds and gatherings, and Motherwort is a great tool to utilize when social anxiety takes hold. This is a pretty bitter herb and takes some getting used to in a tea form, so the tincture (diluted in a little water) is a bit easier to take. I also LOVE Urban Moonshine’s Joy Tonic which contains a good amount of motherwort.

  1. Holy basil (Ocimun sanctum)

Holy Basil (also called Tulsi) is my favorite winter time herb. I consider this a hug-in-a-cup, a truly uplifting, happy herb that makes a delicious hot tea. It is often used in India for celebratory occasions, and has a sense of happiness to it. Holy Basil is ideal for cold month despondent people who cant seem to get motivated, who lack joy in the season or who feel a little emotionally murky. The ultimate winter-blues tea combo would be Holy Basil + Lemon balm + Damiana to really get you up, moving and motivated. Organic India also makes a really tasty Tulsi tea.

  1. St. Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Contrary to popular belief, St. Johns wort is not indicated for all types of depression (and there are about 13 different types), and for seasonal affective disorder it does seem to work very well. The exact cause of St. Johns wort’s antidepressant activity is unknown, and it is one of the most highly studied herbal medicines today in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Conclusively, it is known to have some effect on serotonin in the gut, as well MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibition, however the whole extract of St. johns wort must be used, not just the standardized hypericin constituent. I would recumbent taking this in capsule form (Gaia makes a great product). Also, do not take St. Johns wort if you are taking ANY prescription drugs unless you are under the supervision of a trained herbalist or herb literate doctor.

Other helpful supplements for seasonal affective disorder include about 2,000iu of vitamin D3 daily, or SAMe, 400-1200 mg in the morning on an empty stomach. Also a diet rich in pure, whole foods and color fruits and vegetables will enhance overall gut health and keep your probiotics happy. Optimal gut health is key for a balanced emotional state.

Helpful resources:

Effectiveness of St. Johns wort in Major Depression

Vitamin D for Health: A Global Perspective

Looking for help with your herbal choices? RNM’s Clinical Herbalist Lindsay Kluge works with many clients to help provide support and natural therapies to help with season depression. Contact us for more information.

About the Author:

Lindsay Kluge M.Sc, CNS, LDN

Lindsay Kluge is a Clinical Herbalist & Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and received her Masters of Science degree in Herbal Medicine from the Maryland University of Integrative Health in 2012. She has been with Richmond Natural Medicine since 2013, and specializes in therapeutic holistic nutrition, circadian rhythm balance and sleep physiology, digestion, and Ayurvedic nutrition. She offers individualized nutrition and herbal medicine consultations that include meal planning support, custom compounded herbal formulas, nutrition guidance and general wellness support.  Learn more about services that Lindsay offers at Richmond Natural Medicine by clicking HERE.