Herbs for depression are often seen as a viable alternative to pharmaceutical treatment of depression. However, actual data showing an effectiveness of herbs for depression is rare and thus it is currently hardly possible to make a final verdict on the usefulness of herbal treatment for depression in general. Also, there seems to be only limited interest from western medicine to study the effects of herbs for depression in a clinically relevant setting. So from a patients perspective the question remains: What is the evidence that herbal treatment for depression works? By far the best studied herbal treatment for depression is without doubt St. John´s wort.

St. John´s Wort

St. John´s wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is the most well-known and best studied of the herbs for depression in use. It has been known as herbal treatment for depression and cure for other diseases for many centuries. In Europe, where this herbal treatment for depression is commonly prescribed by medical professionals, various clinical studies have demonstrated a positive effect of this best known member of the herbs for depression in use in cases of mild to moderate depression. However, two clinical studies in the US, one of them funded by a pharmaceutical company, have recently indicated that St. John´s wort extracts were no more effective than a placebo in major depression. Further studies with this herbal treatment for depression are currently conducted, but it may take years before a final verdict can be made on St. John´s wort. The exact mode of action of this herbal treatment for depression is not fully understood, although there is some evidence that it acts on serotonin production or -activity. Despite open questions and demonstrated limitations, St. John´s wort currently stands as the only one of the herbs for depression with a clinically demonstrated positive effect at least in mild cases of depression.

Further herbs for depression

Other herbs for depression often mentioned are Siberian Ginseng and Gingko Biloba. Extracts of each of these alleged herbs for depression have been in use for medicinal purposes for many years in certain parts of the world. While some circumstantial evidence exists that seems to show their potential as herbal treatment for depression no clinical studies have been conducted so far that prove or disprove any claims made with regards to their effectiveness as depression treatment. Further herbs for depression are marketed every now and then – all of them lacking any clinical evidence in or against their favour

In addition to the general lack of clinical data available another major problem with all herbs for depression is that the quality of different marketed herbal extracts may vary substantially depending on where they come from and how they were produced. Impurities and wrong preparation may reduce their effectiveness as herbal treatment for depression and may also lead to an increase in side effects. In this context it has to be said that the common misconception that herbs for depression are natural and thus do not have any side effects is outright wrong and the depressive patient should be aware of the potential risks of taking herbs for depression without consulting a medical professional.

Conclusion

Although the use of herbs for depression is widely spread, on the whole there is (maybe with the exception of St. John´s wort) no definitive evidence for the usefulness of herbal treatments for depression. Especially when compared to standard prescription drugs for depression herbs for depression usually cannot prevail as a first choice treatment option. However, when other more established treatments fail, or in particular in the case of St. John´s wort, in cases of mild depression, using herbs for depression may be worth a try. In any case the user should realise the limitations and not underestimate the risks of using herbs for depression.