The Get Happy Herb Guide
ST. JOHN’S WORT (Hypericum perforatum)
St. John’s wort has had a rocky history as an antidepressant. It rose to fame in the ’90s on a wave of positive press flowing out of Europe (it was making Germans smile!). Then, it fell from grace after a 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the herb no more effective than a placebo. What the headlines failed to report was that prescription drugs were also no better than placebos in that trial, which was later criticized for poor research design. But Amanda McQuade Crawford, member of the American Herbalists Guild and author of Herbal Remedies for Women (Prima Lifestyles), says that several studies before and since have found that despite the conflicting studies, St. John’s wort is look at the data, it’s clear that when St. John’s wort is taken correctly, it offers similar effects to antidepressants and is a good choice for patients with mild to moderate depression,” she says.
TAKE one-half to one teaspoon of tincture three times a day (or a standardized product delivering 900 milligrams per day, usually 300 milligrams taken three times a day). St. John’s wort should be taken long term; and it may take four weeks or longer to see lasting positive results.
CONTRAINDICATION: If you’re having suicidal thoughts, contact a prevention hotline or your physician immediately. Also, because St. John’s wort has a detoxifying effect on the liver and can clear drugs out of your system, do not take it with prescription medications for HIV (anti-retrovirals), organ transplants (cyclosporine) or other drugs that affect the nervous system without consulting your doctor first.
Can’t seem to relax? Try one of these calming herbs.
MOTHERWORT (Leonurus cardiaca)
When you’re feeling anxious and want to run away and hide from the world, try motherwort, a member of the mint family. Motherwort is helpful to new mothers who feel anxious and overwhelmed. Weed suggests the herb to women who are dealing with difficult life situations, including abuse by a boss or a spouse. “It doesn’t turn you into a smiling idiot,” she says. “It gives you a place to stand and make plans.”
TAKE one-half to one dropper of tincture two to three times a day, or as needed to deal with anxiety.
KAVA KAVA (Piper methysticum)
Native to Polynesia and Melanesia, kava kava was traditionally used as an intoxicating herb for ceremonies and celebrations. “It’s my favorite herb for coping with anxiety because it relaxes the musculature while it clears the mind,” says Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbal Healing for Women (Fireside). “It makes you feel very present in the body—relaxed, but very much in charge.” Gladstar often prescribes the herb for everyday stressors: airplane flights, public speaking, work presentations and interpersonal confrontation. “The herb was often used for dealing with arguments within tribes or families,” Gladstar says. “It is said that when kava enters the heart, there can be no hate. It dispels frustration that comes from anger so you can work through conflict and find peaceful solutions.”
TAKE one dropper of tincture in warm water as needed (not to exceed three doses a day).
CONTRAINDICATION: Kava kava should not be taken with alcohol, or used by anyone with hepatitis or other serious liver diseases. Do not use if you’re pregnant.
MILKY OAT SEED (Avena sativa)
Been burning the candle at both ends for so long you’ve lost your emotional balance? This herb’s for you, says David Winston, R.H., president of Herbalist and Alchemist and co-author of the resource guide Winston and Kuhn’s Herbal Therapy & Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins). Milky oat seed is—as the name implies—the extract of the whole milky oat produced by the oat plant in seed form only; you can’t get similar benefits from, say, upping your morning oatmeal intake. “It creates a more balanced emotional foundation so that you’re not as reactive to every little thing,” Winston says. “It’s an especially good choice for those people who make themselves sick from stress and end up with irritable bowel syndrome, heart palpitations or situational hypertension.”
TAKE four droppers of tincture three to four times a day. Continue taking it for up to six months.