5 herbs to help you cope with low mood, stress and more

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The word “stress” has become such a buzzword in the last few years. With our busy lifestyles, work deadlines, and social engagements we’re constantly on the go. In this post, I am sharing with you 5 herbs that can help you cope with low mood and stress.

A recent report estimates that work-related stress, depression, or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases in 2020/21 (source)

While on one hand, we’re finally allowing more space to openly talk about mental health, on the other antidepressants and anxiolytic prescriptions are also on the rise.

Medications of course have their place in the treatment of mental health conditions and can undoubtedly be very helpful for many. I truly believe they should be considered when appropriate. Many of my clients often carry shame around having to rely on them, but we shouldn’t. They are medications just like any other.

Now there are lots of things we can do in our daily lives to help us cope with stress including movement, exercising, breathwork and much more…

But today I want to talk about a category of herbs called Adaptogens and how you can incorporate them into your life to help you balance your emotional response.

Adaptogens

The first word that comes to mind when talking about adaptogens is “balance”. Like the name suggests, adapt-ogens are herbs that can help the body adapt and change how we respond to the stressors in our life, by acting on the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and increasing our resilience to stress.

Because of their multiple modes of action they are defined as “non-specific” and can act on multiple organs and systems to bring our whole body back to homeostasis (a state of balance). In fact, on top of being excellent for our nervous system they also have a great impact on our endocrine and immune system.

    The adaptogen’s ability to work on both ends of the spectrum (high stress and fatigue) resides in their “normalising” quality. This means they can calm down anxiety and nervous energy or boost our energy and mood when we’re feeling low, fatigued or overwhelmed.

    Usually, adaptogens are safe to consume over prolonged periods of time, but as always I recommend you check with your GP, nutritionist or herbalist before you start taking any herb or supplement. A herbalist will also guide you on which herb or adaptogen might be best for you.

    The top 5 adaptogens to lift your mood

    These are some of my favourite adaptogenic herbs, based both on my personal experience and on the scientific research currently available.

    All adaptogens work on modulating our response to stress but they differ in how they work, so some might be better for anxiety, some for depression. Read the 5 herbs for low mood and stress.

    Ashwagandha (Soothing)

    One of the most commonly used adaptogenic herbs, particularly in ancient Indian medicine Ayurveda, Ashwangadha is considered a tonic for the nervous system. It modulates the release of cortisol and other hormones linked to stress, promoting a feeling of calm and clear thinking.

    It has also been used successfully in stress-induced insomnia. Rich in minerals and Iron, it is particularly good if you’re deeply fatigued as it’s very nourishing.

    Used in stress, anxiety, and fatigue, or burnout.

    Available as: tincture, powder. Traditionally prepared with coconut milk.

    Rhodiola (Stimulating)

    Studies comparing Rhodiola to antidepressant Sertraline suggest Rhodiola, although less effective, could be a valid substitute for those with mild to moderate depression, due to its fewer side effects.

    Rhodiola increases the body’s resilience to stress and is often used for depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

    It enhances the mood by stimulating the production of dopamine and serotonin. But please note that because of its stimulating nature it might exacerbate existent anxiety.

    With its astringent (or ‘drying’) nature this herb may also not be ideal for people already experiencing signs of dryness, such as dry skin, dehydration, or constipation

    Available as: powder, which can be used in smoothies or tea by steeping in hot water

    Tulsi (Nourishing)

    Tulsi, my favourite, also known as ‘Holy basil’ relieves brain fog and provides mental clarity. It’s a great mood uplifter that supports and nourishes the adrenals.

    It’s protective for the brain and relaxing for the Central Nervous System because of its cortisol-modulating properties

    Studies suggest Tulsi might significantly improve feelings of stress, forgetfulness, and exhaustion while supporting sleep and sexual drive (source). Its mood-enhancing effects are comparable to antidepressant drugs.

    Some other benefits of Tulsi: antimicrobial, supports the immune system, protective for the cardiovascular system as well as the liver.

    I adore this herb and have found it so beneficial at times of stress and fatigue during my studies and it’s so easy and delicious as tea! 

    Available as: tea, tincture, capsules

    Available as: powder, tincture, dried whole berries

    Schisandra (Stimulating)

    Commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine Schisandra works by lowering cortisol levels and balancing serotonin and dopamine levels (our ‘feel good’ hormones) 

    Also known to increase energy and stamina, Schisandra can be very powerful in relieving feelings of physical and mental exhaustion 

    Multiple animal studies show Schisandra being effective in improving depression but more human studies need to be done to confirm its efficacy.

    Thanks to its high antioxidants content, it’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory used in a variety of conditions, from adrenal fatigue or burnout to respiratory conditions.

    Ginseng (Stimulating)

    Although not the first to come to mind when discussing adaptogens, Ginseng is actually one of the most studied herbs, so there’s plenty of evidence that supports its use.

    Ginseng is a great energy-promoting herb that boosts blood circulation all over the body, including the brain. Studies confirm that it can help resolve fatigue and supplementing with the right dose can greatly benefit people with chronic fatigue syndrome

    “Ginsenosides’ are active constituents in Ginseng that have been identified as having an antidepressant action in people affected. 

    Studies show that they reduce common traits of depression such as feeling of hopelessness, anhedonia and improving insomnia (source). There are so many varieties available and it is really important to find a sourcing company you trust. Some common varieties include American ginseng or Asian ginseng, this last one being the more stimulant one but also almost extinct in the wild.

    Available as: powder, tincture

    Special mentions

    There are so many wonderful adaptogens like the 5 herbs that help you cope with low mood stress and more that are worth mentioning including

    • Lemon balm (also called melissa) known for its calming and gently uplifting effects
    • Rose, great support for sadness and/or grief
    • Liquorice, a very nourishing and adrenal supporting herb

    Recipes

    Ashwagandha hot chocolate

    From the 5 herbs for low mood and stress ashwaganda it an easy way to upgrade a cup of hot chocolate. For hot cacao drinks, I recommend you use raw cacao powder as it has all the antioxidants cacao is known for, but of course, you can also use cacao powder (non-sweetened).

    In a pot, warm about 250ml of coconut milk. Once hot, add to a blender with 2 tsp of cacao, 1 tsp of ashwagandha powder, a little vanilla and honey if you’d like it sweeter (coconut milk and vanilla will already give it some sweetness, so taste before you add the honey). 

    Blend for 30 seconds or so, et voila!

    Rhodiola Smoothie

    To a blender simply add a couple of frozen cauliflower florets (of frozen banana), 1 medjool date, 1 tbsp of almond butter, a little cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom and 1 tsp of rhodiola powder. Top with your plant milk of choice (or water) and blend till it’s smooth and luscious. 

    Schisandra and hibiscus iced tea

    Super refreshing, it’s lovely to have on hot summer days but it’s just as delicious served nice and warm. 

    Simply steep 1 tbsp of dried hibiscus petals and 1 tbsp of dried schisandra berries in 1lt of boiling water for 5-10 minutes, depending on how strong you like it. 

    Strain then allow it to cool down. Sweeten with some honey if you’d like it a bit sweeter and serve over ice. I like to add a few raspberries or strawberry slices to mine!

    Calming Tulsi tea

    A blend of Tulsi and other calming and sleep-inducing herbs, such as lemon balm, lavender, chamomile could make a great nighttime cuppa for a restful night.

    Tea blends like these can be found pre-made or, my preferred way, is to buy the individual loose herbs. This way you have control over the ratio and you can easily adapt the blend depending on what you need on the day 😉

    While these herbs can be wonderful for supporting us during a particularly stressful time, it’s also important to remember that they cannot replace a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, movement and self-care and of course medical health.

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