Sure, stockpiling hygge essentials can make seasonal depression a little easier to bear, but sometimes it takes more than a shaggy throw to cure the late-winter blues. (Especially when they’re amplified by stressors like a sick parent, an overbearing boss, or a fight with your BFF.)
That’s where herbs come in. While your worries won’t totally vanish after a cup of tea or a tincture, certain plants can be seriously powerful mood lifters—and they’re especially handy during those weeks when sunlight is scarce and the hard stuff seems to outweigh the good.
Herbalist and integrative health guide Rachelle Robinett believes in plant-based medicine so much that she regularly hosts workshops in Brooklyn to teach the herb-curious how to inspire more energy, better sleep, and even lucid dreaming. (Girl knows her stuff.)
Here, she shares five of her favourite mood-boosting herbs and the most effective ways to reap their benefits. Bring on the next winter storm.
This adaptogenic herb is really buzzing right now—Frank Lipman, MD, has even called ashwagandha“nature’s miracle stress fighter.” And there’s a good reason why it’s been voted most popular. According to Robinett, this shrub helps protect the body against chronic stress by supporting the adrenals over time, and it’s also been found to help with insomnia and anxiety. Who hasn’t dealt with at least one of those things?
How to use it: “Either as a powder mixed in with food or in supplement form as a capsule or tincture,” recommends Robinett. Pro tip: Ashwagandha is fat soluble, so take it with food either way so it’s better absorbed. Also, make sure you’re getting at least a full tablespoon—just a sprinkle probably isn’t enough to significantly impact your mood, claims the expert.
2. St. John’s Wort
“This is one of the most [commonly used] herbs for happiness,” Robinett says. That’s probably because St. John’s wort is powerful. In fact, some studies say it’s just as impactful as taking an antidepressant. Because it’s so strong, Robinett warns it can interact with medication—so if you plan on start taking St. John’s wort, make sure to tell your doctor.
How to use it: Our herbalist says this plant is enjoyable as a tea, but if you’re using St. John’s wort to treat depression, go for it in capsule or tincture form—it’s most potent that way, and you’ll feel a more immediate mood shift.
If your unhappiness stems from feeling bitter or angry, rose is said to help soften your heart. “It affects your emotional state in a really beautiful way,” Robinett says. She explains that rose inspires calm feelings of love—no butterflies or rapid heartbeat here.
How to take it: Turn it into a full-blown experience by having rose in tea form. “You can even do a cold-brew,” Robinett suggests. “But if you’re brewing your own, just be sure to use the rose hips, not the rose petals.” (The latter is, um, a diuretic.)
Similar to rose, damiana is a heart-opening herb, inspiring love and compassion as well as relaxation. It’s a good one to have handy if you’re worried about something. “Ashwagandha and St. John’s wort aren’t giving you that same type of sedation and ease,” Robinett says.
How to take it: Like rose, the herbalist recommends consuming damiana as a tea, since the ritual adds to the overall soothing effect. Pinkies up!
5. Lemon balm
When life hands you lemons…well, you know the rest. “Lemon balm helps emotionally cleanse you—and many times can inspire joy,” Robinett says. “So while rose and damiana are sedative and calming, lemon balm is more rejuvenating.” Think of it as a detox for your mental state.
How to take it: Since the flavor can be a bit tart, Robinett suggests getting your does of lemon balm in tincture form under your tongue, mixed in with your smoothie, or stirred into a small glass of H2O—kind of like some extra high-vibe spa water.
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