The Benefits Of Medicinal Herbs For Mental Health 


Each year 1 in 4 people in England will experience some form of mental health problem MIND. This article discusses common mental health conditions including depression and anxiety, and considers the role of herbal remedies in the management of these conditions.

Overview of common mental health disorders

Mental health is a state of well-being that enables individuals to cope with everyday life and the stresses that accompany it. These may include work, financial stress, relationship problems and other health issues. When we experience problems with our mental health function this can impact all aspects of our lives including family, work and social life WHO. This article discusses three common conditions that affect our mental well-being. 


Stress affects us all at many points in our lives and the degree to which we can cope with different stresses varies greatly from person to person and at different points in life. Stress can cause both physical and mental symptoms. NHS

Physical symptoms of stress

  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Stomach problems
  • Chest pain or increased heart rate 
  • Sexual problems

Psychological symptoms 

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Worrying
  • Forgetfulness

Behavioral changes

  • Feeling irritable 
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Drinking or smoking more 


Depression is defined by MIND as a low mood that lasts a long time and affects your everyday life.  Depression can be relatively mild or life-threatening, causing suicidal thoughts and a change in behaviour. We all experience low mood but if this becomes more persistent then this could be depression

There are many life events that may trigger depression, it is more common with increasing age and in lower socio-economic groups. Personality type and family history may influence the likelihood of suffering depression, as can long-term illness or taking alcohol and drugs.  

Symptoms of depression NHS

Psychological symptoms

  • Continuous low mood or sadness
  • Feeling hopeless and/or helpless
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Tearfulness
  • Feeling guilt-ridden
  • Feeling irritable and intolerant 
  • Having no motivation or interest in things
  • Difficulties with making decisions 
  • Worries and anxiety 
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide 

Physical symptoms

  • Moving or speaking slowly 
  • Appetite changes and/or weight gain or loss
  • Constipation
  • Aches and pains
  • Low energy 
  • Low libido

Behavioural symptoms 

  • Sleep problems
  • Avoiding socialising
  • Work and family problems


Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can vary from mild to very severe NHS. Anxiety is not an unusual feeling but can become frequent and affect everyday life, this long-term condition is known as ‘generalised anxiety disorder’ or GAD. 

Genetic factors, stressful/traumatic life history, illness and/or drug or alcohol misuse can all contribute towards the development of anxiety.

Psychological Symptoms of GAD

  • Restlessness
  • Sense of dread
  • Feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Irritability

Physical symptoms 

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Palpitations
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dry mouth 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Stomach ache
  • Feeling sick 
  • Headache
  • Insomnia 

Conventional treatments

Conventional treatments for common mental health conditions include talking therapies such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which help sufferers understand and cope with their symptoms. Medications include antidepressants, which act to balance mood-influencing neurotransmitters in the brain; one of the most common classes used is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). 

Having a well-balanced diet is very important to our overall mental health and improving gut health by eating a wide variety of fruit, nuts and vegetables will confer further benefits. 

Regular exercise is widely accepted to enhance mental well-being and is increasingly being suggested as part of a treatment strategy to improve mental health.  

What are herbal remedies for mental health?

In the case of severe mental health problems, particularly where a person is at risk to themselves or others, professional help is essential. The Samaritans offer support for those in times of crisis.

Herbal remedies can be very beneficial in the treatment of milder mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and mild depression. Generally, they can be used as a tonic to boost overall well-being, or specifically selected to address particular issues. 

Many herbs have calming properties which help reduce stress, promote relaxation and aid sleep. These are called nervines and are discussed below.

Herbs which help with anxiety are called anxiolytics  and they can reduce the symptoms of anxiety by exerting a calming effect on the mind and by supporting heart function.

Some antidepressant herbs have proven efficacy in the treatment of mild to moderate depression and act to influence the neurotransmitters neurotransmitters in the brain, these herbs act by a similar mechanism to conventional antidepressants.

How do herbal remedies help with stress?

For herbal support with stress look for calming herbal teas, supplements from supermarkets, chemists and health food shops. Consult a herbalist or medical professional for expert help. 

Herbal supplements for stress

  • Adaptogens - this class of herbs helps the body to adapt to stress, lessening its damaging effect. They help normal physiological functioning by balancing the hypothalamic-pituitary- axis (HPA). They include Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng) Rhodiola rosea (Roseroot) and Schisandra chinensis (Schisandra) which have all been found in clinical studies to increase physical and mental capacity during increased stress1
  • Nervines - these herbs promote relaxation and can help with sleep including Valeriana officinalis (Valerian) and Chamomilla recutita (German Chamomile)

Is herbal medicine good for depression?

Herbal medicine can certainly help with the symptoms of depression. Look for supplements in either liquid or tablet form from a chemist or health shop. Avoid taking these alongside conventional antidepressants.

Herbal remedies for depression 

  • Hypericum perforatum (St John's wort) - this well-studied antidepressant herb has demonstrated its efficacy in over 30 randomised controlled studies and compares well with conventional antidepressants. St John's wort inhibits serotonin uptake2
  • Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender) - found to have similar effectiveness in the treatment of moderate depression as imipramine2
  • Crocus sativus (Saffron) - demonstrated antidepressant action in clinical trials3

How can herbal medicine help anxiety?

Many herbs have anxiolytic properties and can be found in liquid or tablet form.

Herbs for Anxiety 

  • Passiflora incarnata (Passiflora) - effective for GAD4
  • Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) - demonstrates anxiolytic effects2
  • Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) - a calming adaptogen with anxiolytic action5
  • Rhodiola rosea (Roseroot) - calming adaptogen5
  • Valeriana officinalis (Valerian) - recommended for anxiety6


Mental health conditions will affect many of us at some point in our lives and conventional approaches can be very effective at relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many herbs have been studied, some in great depth, and have been found to offer natural and safe alternatives for the management of mild to moderate mental health issues. 


  1. Panossian, Alexander G. “Adaptogens: Tonic Herbs for Fatigue and Stress.” Alternative and Complementary Therapies, vol. 9, no. 6, Dec. 2003, pp. 327–31. (Crossref),
  2. Ernst, Edzard. “Herbal Remedies for Depression and Anxiety.” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, vol. 13, no. 4, July 2007, pp. 312–16. (Crossref),
  3. Lee, Gihyun, and Hyunsu Bae. “Therapeutic Effects of Phytochemicals and Medicinal Herbs on Depression.” BioMed Research International, vol. 2017, 2017, pp. 1–11. (Crossref),
  4. Yeung, K. Simon, et al. “Herbal Medicine for Depression and Anxiety: A Systematic Review with Assessment of Potential Psycho-Oncologic Relevance.” Phytotherapy Research, vol. 32, no. 5, May 2018, pp. 865–91. (Crossref),
  5. Yarnell, Eric. “Herbs for Anxiety.” Alternative and Complementary Therapies, vol. 24, no. 2, Apr. 2018, pp. 91–98. (Crossref),
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Victoria Ward

BSc, Herbal Medicine,University of Lincoln

Experienced Medical Herbalist BSc (Hons) and former nurse, highly knowledgeable about healthcare and medicinal plants. I’m especially interested in skin care and gut health. Regular blogger for my own website and freelance article writer. I enjoy writing both creative, ghostwriting and medical writing. Passionate about country life, have two horses and a collie dog. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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