Fall is approaching. Here in Durango, Colorado, and the surrounding mountains, the leaves are already changing and the nights are chilly. On one hand, fall is my favorite season. The colors and smells, the crispness in the air, apple cider and pumpkins (just not “pumpkin spice” anything, please). I look forward to the palpable change in energy and the shifting inwards, feeling more connected to things obscure. But my mood takes a noticeable downturn some time in mid-to-late August as the days grow noticeably shorter. Many of us in temperate regions go through this with the funk kicking in as the dark months approach.
Medicinal plants have a lot to offer in the context of a larger plan for support. Here are several good plant allies to help with seasonal blues and the stress of the upcoming holiday season.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is best as a tincture made from fresh or recently dried plant. I avoid commercial capsules as they may be of dubious quality depending on the brand. If the herb has been recently dried, then it will also work as a tea. Avoid standardized extracts. St. John’s Wort isn’t a pharm drug, and the idea of standardizing it to one “active ingredient” doesn’t make sense when it has multiple active constituents.
Warning: Don’t combine St. John’s Wort with prescription antidepressants. Also, don’t combine with other medications unless you are confident that you understand the metabolism of the medication. St. John’s Wort influences the activity of a liver enzyme (CYP3A4) that is responsible for metabolizing about half of all prescription drugs. This means that taking St. John’s Wort together with medications that are metabolized by this enzyme can effectively change serum levels of that med. Not a great idea.
Lemon Balm is fine for most people but shouldn’t be used regularly by folks with hypothyroidism.
My favorite way to use Damiana is to smoke it. Yes, the particulates aren’t fantastic for the lungs, but it’s a tasty and happy and relaxing smoke. Even when too low to feel the happy part, it’s still comforting. More is not necessarily better when smoking it, and myself and a friend have each developed headaches with too many puffs. In this case, mixing damiana with other supportive herbs would be a good idea (more on this in an upcoming smoking blends article).
Tulsi is a valued tonic that comes out of Ayurvedic medicine. Among other activities, tulsi improves cerebral circulation, helping with mind fog and mood. And, it has some adaptogenic properties that reduce stress hormone (cortisol) levels. This is helpful for those of us who have a hard time dealing with the stress of the holidays. Tulsi is also a good one for those of us who isolate, especially during the dark months. On top of helping with low moods, tulsi is useful for anxious states as well. This incredibly useful plant also supports immune system function, not a bad idea given that cold and flu season is also coming.
For this or any other of the herbs here, consider starting with just a drop or two. Some folks may find tulsi a bit stimulating, so this may not be the best one to use at night. Also, tulsi may have anti-fertility effects, so I don’t recommend regular intake for folks trying to conceive. Notice the energetics. For instance, drop doses of tulsi can be noticeably uplifting, even for folks with stubborn, hard to dispel melancholy.
Make your own chai!
Add calendula to any of the herbs in this article for its beautiful orange, sunny energetics, or rose petals for folks heading into the dark months already dealing with chronic or situational depression. For some additional help with seasonal melancholy, click here, here, and here.