As you may already know, I’m a lover of herbal medicine. I make custom formulas for my private clients, I create herbal teas and I use herbs in my daily life for health support. One of my favourite ways to use herbs is to help with mood.
I know you’ve been there- one of those shitty days where you seem to wake up on the wrong side of the bed from the second your feet hit the floor. Maybe your period is coming or you’re stressed about work or had a fight with your man the night before.
Or you might even be like me- someone prone to mood swings, depression, anxiety and everything in between on more of a constant basis. I can’t say enough about figuring out your hormonal imbalances to see whether they are negatively effecting your mood. In my case, it was my PCOS that exacerbated the issues.
Using medicinal herbs to boost your mood is a great way to help yourself feel happy- nay- JOYFUL even, on a regular basis.
When considering which herb to choose, there are two main categories to consider.
Adaptogens are a promising set of herbs that could help boost your mood. Adaptogens are herbs that help the body to adapt to stress- physical, mental or emotional- by helping to normalize certain processes in the body. For example, an adaptogen to help normalize your immune system is astragalus. A popular adaptogen for stress and stamina is ginseng. There are several adaptogenic herbs that assist your body in maintaining or creating a very light-hearted mood state, rather than the “world can fuck off” kind of mood states.
If you notice your moods are very dependent on the perceived or actual stresses in your life, or your hormones are somehow involved in your moods, adaptogens could be very helpful.
Central Nervous System Herbs
The other class of herbs that is most promising for boosting your mood is those that target the central nervous system aka your brain! Neurotransmitters and other compounds are what regulate and create our mood states from day to day. If you have feelings of depression, despair, anxiety or other mood dips that seem to constantly stick around or come and go as they please, the herbs in this category may be helpful.
All of the herbs I’ll be listing below are able to be taken as tea, tincture and capsules. I find that teas and tinctures are the most effective. A lot of herb capsules use poor quality herbs. If you choose to use capsules, find organic and/or wild-crafted herbal capsules whenever possible. Mountain Rose Herbs, Gaia Herbs and Restorative Formulations are three of my favourite herbal companies that sell to individuals.
Mood Boosting Adaptogens
Holy Basil aka Tulsi
A personal favourite of mine, this herb like ashwagandha below is very popular in Ayurveda. My favourite way to consume it is tea before bed. Personally I find it brings clarity to my mind and a peaceful joy comes from my heart. It’s really interesting to describe it that way, but the results for myself are so subtle yet dramatic I think that’s the best way to put it.
This herb is a root most commonly used in the Indian healing practice of Ayurveda. It is often prescribed for chronic stress and it’s associated symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, depression as well as to enhance endurance. Again and again animal studies showed that both anxiety and depression can be decreased with ashwagandha use. Note that some potential androgenic effects have been noted clinically with ashwagandha use. This means that if you have PCOS or another condition that causes excess androgens like testosterone and its effects of acne-prone skin, hair loss, and facial hair growth you should proceed with caution if you decide to take ashwagandha.
The most understood component of reishi mushroom or ganoderma lucidum is something called Triterpenes. These compounds have hormone-like qualities and can work on allergies, blood lipids (fats) as well as on the endocrine and nervous systems. In one study, consumption of reishi for 8 weeks showed less fatigue and increased sense of well-being. It even managed to lessen anxiety, depression and fatigue in breast cancer patients. Not to mention the fact that it might have anti-depressant-like potential.
Mood Boosting Central Nervous System Herbs
A very common and well-known herb, lavender is one of my favourites. I love the colour, the scent, the taste. I find it extremely soothing to the soul, as I do holy basil. Lavender is a fabulous herb to relieve tension, stress, headaches and insomnia. If stress and ruminating thoughts are keeping you up at night, then this herb is for you! While we may consider lavender to be very gentle and calming, it is actually a super powerful herb. I find it most powerful for depression and anxiety when used as a tincture. Very little is needed to make a BIG impact. Bring about the inner strength that’s been hidden in you for too long with lavender. Try a tea or even diffuse the essential oil in your bedroom for a good night’s sleep.
Another favourite of mine, I love chamomile so much that I put it in my Cramp Tea. A beautiful daisy-like flower when fresh, this herb is also calming and powerful. Chamomile has an affinity for both the nervous system and digestive system, making it a great addition if you have a nervous stomach, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The reason for this is that it has bitter properties, stimulating more digestive juices and liver detoxification. It is of course calming to the nervous system, and is a great ally if you have anxiety- especially if it comes premenstrually. This and it’s anti-inflammatory actions are why I chose it for Cramp Tea. Plus, it’s super delicious! Grow it in your garden and make tea from the fresh flowers for an exquisite and peaceful cup!
Although valerian doesn’t taste quite as nice as lavender and chamomile, it’s still can be very effective when used medicinally. It is not habit forming, so you can feel safe to use this remedy for the long term. Insomnia and restless sleep are two of the main uses for valerian. When it comes to balancing our moods as women, it helps to relax tense muscles from stress and even menstruation, bringing peace that comes from feeling relaxed in our bodies. If you are menopausal, this herb can be particularly helpful for calming the anxieties that often pop up during the transition time.
A member of the mint family, skullcap has a wide variety of uses, including headaches, nerve tremors, stress, menstrual tension, insomnia and nervous exhaustion. If you have ever felt so flat and exhausted but still have trouble sleeping at night, skullcap could be a nice remedy to try. Like valerian, skullcap can be used safely for long periods of time if necessary. If you want to take advantage of the menstrual-easing benefits of this herb, combine it with chamomile, raspberry leaf and/or nettle leaf.
This calming and relaxing herb has a long history in South America. It has been used for everything from epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia to panic attacks. Passionflower is often combined into a formula known as VSP- valerian, skullcap and passionflower. These three combined make a powerful tincture for the nervous system and for sleep issues. If your blood pressure becomes elevated due to constant stress in your life, passionflower could be useful. This beauty is also safe for your kids!
So there’s a lot of information here about herbs and your mood. But how do you use them?
5 of my favourite ways to use these herbs:
- VSP Tincture: For insomnia and anxiety
- Stress Tea: This delicate, soothing blend from my Tea Shop combines tulsi, chamomile, and a few other stress-busting herbs
- Holy Basil Tea: Great for stress and the bad moods it causes. I also like the Holy Basil Force capsules by New Chapter as a stress-beating supplement.
- Reishi: I prefer to purchase this herb as a powder and put into my smoothies at breakfast or snacks for a boost in energy and a clear, calm mood.
- Ashwagandha: Great as a tincture, capsules or powder. Traditionally in Ayurveda the powder is mixed with milk and some spices as a sleep aid.
Other things to consider for mood balancing:
- How to Heal Stress Naturally
- Ask The Diva: Depression and Low Energy
- Really Simple Advice for Planning Self-Care
- The Ultimate Blissful Meditation to Balance Your Hormones
Northrup, C. 2007. Women’s Herbs, Women’s Health. Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Company.
Gladstar, R. 1993. Herbal Healing for Women. New York, NY: Fireside.
Gladstar, R. 2014. Herbs for Stress and Anxiety. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.