8 Herbs and Supplements to Help Treat Depression

Depression isn’t just feeling sad or “blue.” It is a serious mood disorder with symptoms that range from mild to debilitating, and potentially life-threatening.

Depression is a relatively common disorder in that it affects millions of people each year. People of all ages and ethnicities experience depression, including children and adolescents.

Depression does not only impact how a person feels.

People with depression are significantly more likely to develop other medical conditions, such as a heart attack. Conversely, people with significant medical problems are more likely to experience symptoms of depression.

Symptoms of depression

The symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Being easily frustrated
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or normal activities
  • Sleep issues, whether too much sleep or insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Physical symptoms, including a headache and backache.

Herbs and supplements for depression

St John's wort
St John’s Wort may be prescribed for mild depression.


The use of complementary therapies is gaining popularity, as more people are starting to look for more natural treatments to manage their health.

This is especially true of mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

But are herbal remedies safe and effective?

Research is showing promise for some supplements in treating mild to moderate depression. These are some of the supplements that are most commonly used:

1. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is also known as Hypericum perforatum. It is widely used to treat mild to moderate depression and mood disorders. It has been used for hundreds of years to promote mental health, and it is currently prescribed for depression in Europe.

The effects of St. John’s Wort have been validated in clinical research. People with bipolar disorder should not take St. John’s Wort, as it can trigger mania.

2. Ginseng

Ginseng has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. This supplement is found in the gnarled root of the American or Asian ginseng plant. Siberian or Eleuthero ginseng are different plants and have different active ingredients.

This herb has been linked to helping improve mental clarity and energy and reducing the effects of stress. These properties can make ginseng particularly helpful for dealing with low energy and motivation associated with depression. Like St. John’s Wort, ginseng has been found to trigger mania in people with bipolar disorder.

3. Chamomile

A study in 2012 reviewed data about chamomile, from the Matricaria recutita plant, and its role in helping to manage depression and anxiety.

Results showed that chamomile produced greater relief from depressive symptoms than a placebo. Further studies are needed to confirm the findings.

4. Lavender

Lavender is a popular essential oil, traditionally used for relaxation and to reduce anxiety and mood disturbances.

A review of various studies in 2013 suggested that lavender may have significant potential in reducing anxiety and improving sleep. More studies are needed to confirm the results.

5. Saffron

There is some thought that saffron extract may improve depression, but more research is needed to confirm this.

6. SAM-E

SAM-E is short for S-adenosylmethionine. It is a synthetic form of a chemical that naturally occurs in the body.

More research is needed to determine the exact effect of this substance, but it is used in Europe as a prescription antidepressant. It has not been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the U.S.

7. Omega-3 fatty acids

Early research has shown that taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement may help reduce symptoms of clinical depression more effectively than a placebo. No serious side effects were reported.

Omega-3 fatty acids can also benefit the heart and the cardiovascular system.

8. 5-HTP

Also known as 5-hydroxytryptophan, this supplement may be effective in regulating and improving levels of serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that affects mood levels.

5-HTP is available as an over-the-counter supplement in the U.S., but it may require a prescription elsewhere.

Studies have shown that lavender may help in reducing anxiety.

More research is needed, especially regarding a safety concern that it may be linked to a serious neurological complication.

It is important to remember that the sale of herbs and supplements is not regulated by the FDA in the same way as drugs and medications.

Supplement manufacturers do not have to prove that their product is consistent. The dose labeled on the bottle may also be inaccurate.

Herbs and supplements must be purchased from a trusted manufacturer.

The bottom line

Herbal and natural supplements may work well for some people, but they are not an adequate substitute for serious depression or in cases where suicide or self-harm is a significant risk.

A person who is taking herbal supplements must inform their physician, as there is potential for side effects and other drug interactions.

Depression is a treatable disease, but it may take some trial and error to work out which medication or supplement regimen is best for an individual.

When to see a doctor

If a person feels depressed or experiences any of these symptoms, they should seek help from their physician.

A range of medications and cognitive treatments, or “talk therapy,” can help people with depression.

A person who is thinking about suicide or self-harm should immediately seek emergency help, either with their physician or local hospital or by calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK).

If a loved one or friend may be at risk for committing suicide, someone should stay with that person and call for emergency help immediately.