Depression can be a killer. I know. I suffered from it badly in my early twenties. I suspect I was born with a genetic tendency towards it. I am familiar with the deep sadness, feelings of shame and helplessness, the terrible fatigue coupled with not being able to sleep to relieve it, the poor concentration and strange shifts in appetite. I have learned a lot about handling it over the years. There are many causes of depression—some are of the body, and some of the psyche. I don’t think you can separate the two. Just as body and mind feed each other in producing the dark, seemingly endless blues which can set in at any period of your life, the herbs you call on for help will improve both body and spirit. When you feel depressed, you can feel anxious as well. Many of the plants which are effective in lifting the blues help to clear fear and anxiety too.
Cleanse Body And Soul
Where you find depression, you almost always find a mass of creative energy which, for one reason or another, has remained blocked. This can make you feel impotent and helpless. You also often find a tendency to live life by other people’s rules rather than your own—from the depths of your own soul. Indeed, if depression is deep and debilitating enough, you may even come to feel you have no soul to live from. Deep-cleansing the body is important in releasing blocked creative energy and restoring the biochemical balance that helps wash away the blues. Use the Herbal Cleanse.
Take a look at my brand new 10 Day Clean-Up Plan book, just published on Amazon. When your cleansing program is done, try following a long-term way of eating based on fresh vegetables—many of them raw—and good quality proteins from fish, organic meat, free range chicken and eggs. Avoid milk products including milk itself, yoghurt, and cheese (butter is OK because it is a fat, and it is the milk protein that tends to cause problems for people prone to depression). Also cut out wheat and anything made from flour such as pasta, breakfast cereals, breads and biscuits and, finally, make highly processed convenience foods a thing of the past. It was just such a diet—one in which at least 50-75% of the foods I ate were raw—that began to lift my own deep depression in my twenties.
Then, turn your attention to herbs and discover just how useful they can be to rebalance brain chemistry, strengthen the body and clear the mind. Then call on the healing powers of some of the best plant-based antidepressants you can find, from St John’s Wort, rosemary and California poppy, to the gorgeous ginkgo.
Ginkgo Clears Cobwebs
The beautiful leaves from ginkgo biloba—also known as the Maidenhair tree—improve circulation throughout the body and brain. Ginkgo’s seeds were sent to Europe in the 1720s from Japan and China. The Chinese use the ginkgo seeds, but research in the West has mostly concentrated on the leaves. They contain ginkgolides, unknown in any other plant. These phytochemicals block blood platelet activating factors. In doing so, they inhibit all sorts of allergic responses. Meanwhile, ginkgo’s flavonoids do wonders to improve circulation to the brain. Recent studies show that this long-standing Oriental gift can help people clear depression.
Ginkgo increases the rate at which information is transmitted at the level of nerve cells. This helps depression in many, thanks to the plant’s ability to enhance the flow of neurotransmitters in the brain. An effective antidepressant dose in one study where ginkgo was used to specifically counter depression was 240 milligrams of the powdered herb a day, in capsule form. It can take six to eight weeks to experience the full effects of ginkgo. So be patient.
California Bright Lights
Its watery sap has long been used by Native Americans to relieve toothache. It relieves pain, relaxes spasms and warms your body. California poppy is the best anxiety-calming herb I know and it works quickly—in a few hours. Don’t worry, it is not a narcotic, only a gentle sedative and tranquillizer so safe that herbalists give it to children. Neither does it depress the central nervous system as many sedatives do. The usual dose of tincture is 1 teaspoon to half a glass of water taken twice a day in the afternoon and evening. I like to combine tincture of golden California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, with that of St John’s Wort—in equal parts—to lift the blues.
Bright As Sunlight
The yellow flowers and dancing leaves of St John’s Wort—Hypericum perforatum—can bring balance and joy. This plant may be slow to act, but its effects are deep and long lasting. St John’s Wort is nature’s answer to Prozac. Every part of this joyous herb yields uplifting power—its leaves, its shoots, its glorious yellow flowers. Even the way it grows seems to celebrate life. St John’s Wort can banish anxiety, bring light into the dark depths of depression, and help transform difficult times—the loss of a job, of a lover, or of sense of purpose—into times of power.
In the past 20 years, dozens of randomized clinical trials have shown that this plant is just as, if not more, effective than standard antidepressant drugs. Yet it comes without the negative side effects. In Germany alone, 1 million prescriptions are written for this plant each year. The bright yellow flowers of St John’s Wort contain a red oil called hypericin, which is anti-viral and probably mood enhancing. Many studies show that it is whole plant extracts, however, rather than hypericin alone that have the best antidepressant effects.
Help From St John's Wort
To make tea, use 1 teaspoon of the dried herb in a cup of boiling water. Steep for 10-15 minutes, strain, and drink 1 to 3 times a day.
Another effective way to use St John’s Wort for depression is as a tincture. When you feel at your lowest you don’t have to go to the trouble of making a tea. Take 1 teaspoon of St John’s Wort tincture in a little water 3 times a day. When used as an antidepressant it should be taken for at least a month before results can be seen. A lucky few people, however, respond right away.
Caution: In a few people St John’s Wort causes mild nausea, stomach-ache, depressed appetite, tiredness, and in even fewer still, sensitivity to sunlight. It shouldn’t be taken during pregnancy. If you are already taking antidepressant drugs do not stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor.
Lift Your Spirit Tea
Rosmarinus officinalis grows just about everywhere. Who would ever suspect that the rosemary plant is one of the most useful herbs you will ever find for lifting the blues. The strong and sturdy plant is an excellent tonic as well as an all-round stimulant. It raises spirits and energizes the body, clearing apathy, nervous exhaustion and digestive disturbances. Rosemary has a long-standing reputation for strengthening the memory as well. That’s why Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary when taking exams. It is also rejuvenating, in no small part thanks to the flavonoid diosmin which it boasts in abundance, to strengthen capillaries and collagen in the skin.
In the 14th century, 72 year-old Izabella, Queen of Hungary, was crippled with rheumatism. She used masses of Hungary Water (rosemary leaves macerated in alcohol) and regained her youth so well that the king of Poland proposed to her. One of the first to be distilled, a few drops of essential oil of rosemary in the bath can help clear a fuzzy head with ease. You can use the fresh leaves or the essential oil in steam inhalations for exhaustion and shattered nerves. Meanwhile, simple rosemary tea is bracing and wonderfully uplifting.
Spirit Lifting Tea
Put a handful of rosemary leaves (1 tablespoon of the fresh herb or 1 teaspoon of the dried herb per cup) into a warmed pot and pour boiling water over them. Replace the lid to prevent the aromatic vapors from being wasted. Leave to brew for five minutes. Drink hot.
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