Plants to lift mood, balance mood swings & relieve depression
Plants we list in Botanical Brain Balms have science to show how they lift mood, alleviate mild depression (severe depression should not be self-treated) and level out mood swings. The widely recognized anti-depressive St John’s wort leads the way, but other traditional mood-boosting plants, successful in human studies, include turmeric from the Middle East, saffron from the Mediterranean and skullcap from Canada and the US. Our list also includes, with lesser evidence, chai hu from China and, for restoring hormonal balance, particularly for women, there’s black cohosh from the US and the less closely studied clary sage from Europe, and rose from the Middle East.
Here we look at rose.
What the plants need to do
A long-held notion surrounding depression is that it involves a response triggered by low brain serotonin levels and that drugs which restore this mood-boosting brain signal will also help to restore good mood. Consequently, common anti-depressant drugs are those which are able to maintain high levels of serotonin in the space where nerve cells talk to each other (the synapse). These chemical drugs are collectively called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). They include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline and paroxetine and are the most widely prescribed drugs today in the US, overtaking blood pressure drug prescription.
While some anti-depressants act on serotonin others act on signals like noradrenaline and dopamine, for example the SNRIs (selective noadrenaline reuptake inhibitors), monoamine oxidase inhibitors and TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants used more for severe depression).
Mild anxiety and depression are the most common of all mental health issues today, with one in five of us experiencing at least one episode of depression in our lifetime, so we need to be aware of different treatments and ask ourselves these questions. Do we fully understand what goes wrong in the brain-body-emotion axis during depression? Do SSRIs really work better than a placebo (an inert pill)? And are the side effects of SSRIs, which include nausea, dizziness and sexual problems, acceptable?ROSE, APOTHECARY’S ROSE
Rosa gallica var. officinalis
A much-loved garden plant, the rose is being rediscovered for health and wellbeing as a result of scientific research on the aromatic oil. The apothecary’s rose is a hybrid variety of Rosa centifolia (Provence rose) and R. canina (dog rose). Hips, used traditionally, continue to provide benefits that are science-based.
About the plant
Apothecary’s rose is a perennial shrub growing to 1.5m (5ft), with sharp thorns, serrated leaves and delicately scented, deep pink flowers. Native to the Middle East, it’s been cultivated around the world for centuries. Hybridization gave rise to the strongly scented damask rose (Rosa x damascena) and Provence rose (Rosa centifolia) from which essential oils are commonly extracted. The dog rose (R. canina) with sweet scented white or pink flowers and more delicate stems and sharp thorns is found in the wild and self-seeds. Neither need much attention except to control their tendency to spread.
History and folklore
Renowned for lifting the spirits, this queen of flowers is used in folklore to make or mend alliances and as an aphrodisiac. Used by the Romans in festivities where petals were eaten, roses were valued in monastic gardens both spiritually, as symbols of Christ’s blood, and for their healing powers. Traditionally used as an anti-depressant – the 1st-century Arab physician Avicenna prepared rose water, while 16th-century British herbalist John Gerard said “The distilled water is good for the strengthening of the heart, and refreshing of the spirits, and likewise for all things that require a gentle cooling.” Hips are used as a sedative in herbal medicine and the essential oil (“attar of rose”) is used in aromatherapy as an anti-depressant, a sedative and for pain relief in arthritis.
What scientists say
Initial studies show rose scent increases measures of parasympathetic (rest) activity and induces feelings of contentment. Essential oil relieves anxiety during labour and depression and anxiety in post-partum women (with lavender). It relieves pain in children, menstruation, lower back and migraine in controlled trials. It improves sleep quality in coronary care patients and sexual function (in males and females) in major depression. Rose water reduces anxiety in renal patients and hips improve wellness ratings and lower blood pressure and back pain in other pilot studies.
The petals, essential oil and hips (wild; R. canina) are anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant, hypnotic, analgesic and neuroprotective in lab tests.
The expensive pure essential oil is a complex mix of plant terpenes including the calming and uplifting citronellol, geraniol, linalool (also in lavender) and nerol (also in bitter orange). As with lemon balm oil, beware of imitations spiked with other oils or chemicals. Hips contain flavonoids and polyphenols.
How to take it
The essential oil in commonly used in aromatherapy. Rose buds make one of the best botanical teas and fresh rose petals can be added to salads and hips make perfect jellies and syrups on toast, with cheese or red meats. Rosewater (extract of flowers) can be used in cocktails such as gin fizz.
CAUTION Always consult a registered medical herbalist before taking any plant at a medicinal level, inform your health care provider if you are taking medication or have any medical condition and do not stop taking prescribed medication. Be sure of the identity of your plant and take only at the recommended dose.
Buds, petals, hips, and essential oil in diffusers are safe, with no reporte side-effects or contraindications, including for children.
This is taken from Botanical Brain Balms, Filbert Press. Available buy at Dilston Physic Garden and book shops.