Top 9 Herbs for Mental Health

Dr. Group
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on , Last Updated on

Herbs like Mulungu Bark provide many health benefits that are good for your mental health.

Ever find yourself unable to remember what you did just two minutes ago? Or maybe you experience brain fog more often than you’d like. These days it seems to happen more frequently to all of us. Information overload, stress, and even the assortment of environmental toxins which assault us on a daily basis can impact brain function. While I recommend diet, exercise, and reducing electronic activity as the best ways to get the brain back to working order, sometimes we need a little help to restore mental balance. The following nine herbs have a traditional history of promoting mental health.

1. Mulungu Bark

The indigenous people of South and Central America have used mulungu for centuries to calm nerves, improve mood, and aid sleep. Erythravine, one of mulungu’s active alkaloids, may also help reduce anxiety and protect brain function.[1, 2] Flavonoids present in this herb are known antioxidants and have been shown to support cardiovascular health and a healthier brain.

2. Bacopa

Commonly known as Brahmi, Ayurvedic medicine relies on bacopa to improve memory, reduce stress, and support cognitive function. Researchers observed cortisol — the body’s stress hormone– decreased in study participants who took bacopa compared with those taking a placebo.[3] Additional research indicates it may support the physical health of brain cells and offer some protection against brain aging.[4]

3. Mucuna Pruriens

Mucuna contains L. dopa, a biochemical precursor to several neurotransmitters. One of those neurotransmitters is dopamine, and supporting dopamine levels may improve brain function and support memory. This effect probably contributes to Mucuna’s popularity as an anti-aging herb. Antioxidant properties linked to Mucuna also discourage damage from free radicals and suggest protective effects for neurons.[5]

4. Rhodiola rosea

This traditional medicinal herb contains two powerful natural compounds that have been proven to play a role in brain health. Salidroside is one of these compounds and is known as a potent antioxidant. Rosin is the other, and this compound appears to reduce inflammation of neural cells, possibly protecting against neurotoxicity.[6] The results of one Swedish study showed that both of these compounds reduced fatigue, improved mood, and lowered the effects of stress.[7] This may lead to better mental performance and a more positive response to stressful situations.

5. Zizyphus jujuba

Also known as “sour date,” Zizyphus jujuba is one of the many herbs that may support mental health while encouraging a good night’s rest. Day-to-day activities can be draining on energy levels, not to mention mental strength. The plant’s saponins have demonstrated sedative effects on animal models, possibly supporting relaxation.[8]

6. Passionflower

This traditional herbal sedative has been used as a sleep aid for years. Passionflower also appears to help relieve anxiety, a major cause of sleep disturbance for many individuals. Without a good night’s sleep, mental acuity is compromised and memory degrades. Initial studies indicate that small servings of passionflower in a tea help healthy adults experience more restful sleep.[9]

7. Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)

Native to North America, this plant has a history of use for calming nerves, easing stress, lifting the mood, and aiding sleep. Research suggests it possesses mood enhancing effects and its antioxidant properties may provide significant protection for the brain against the damaging effects of inflammation.[10, 11]

8. Kava

The clear oceans and sandy beaches of the South Pacific may be ideal for reducing stress and promoting relaxation. For those of us unable to get there, kava may offer an alternative experience. Used traditionally to relieve stress, anxiety, and poor sleep, kava contains compounds known as kavalactones. These compounds offer a non-opiate and non-narcotic means to supporting a good mood. Some studies indicate kavalactones perform as well as certain pharmaceutical drugs.[12]

9. Saffron

Saffron, also known as Crocus sativus, does more than add color and flavor to food. It has a long history of use for encouraging a balanced mood, relieving stress, and calming anxiety. Studies have found it very effective for lifting mood, significantly outperforming placebo in clinical trials.[13]

Further Approaches to Brain Health

Herbs aren’t the only way to keep the brain sharp and running smoothly. Lithium and zinc are two naturally-occurring minerals that support memory, focus, and overall health.

Lithium Orotate

Lithium orotate supports a positive mood and positive responses to stress. Studies have shown it to support grey matter in the brain.[14] Unlike other forms of lithium, lithium orotate easily passes through cell walls for greater bioavailablity.

Zinc Orotate

Dr. Hans Nieper discovered zinc orotate was more easily assimilated by the human body. This neutrally-charged form of zinc crosses cell membranes, getting where it’s needed most to support hormone production and balance, metabolism, tissue growth, and nerve function.

Promoting Mental Health

For mental health support, it’s hard to beat rest, sleep, and exercise; they remain the best places to start for reducing feelings of fatigue and mental cloudiness. Sometimes the body needs help to restore balance and find shelter from environmental toxins.

Have you tried any of these herbs? How well did they work for you? Please share your experience with us in the comments!

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References (14)
  1. Flausino OA Jr, Pereira AM, da Silva Bolzani V, Nunes-de-Souza RL. Effects of erythrinian alkaloids isolated from Erythrina mulungu (Papilionaceae) in mice submitted to animal models of anxiety. Biol Pharm Bull. 2007 Feb;30(2):375-8.
  2. Santos Rosa D, Faggion SA, Gavin AS, Anderson de Souza M, Fachim HA, Ferreira dos Santos W, Soares Pereira AM, Cunha AO, Beleboni RO. Erysothrine, an alkaloid extracted from flowers of Erythrina mulungu Mart. ex Benth: evaluating its anticonvulsant and anxiolytic potential. Epilepsy Behav. 2012 Mar;23(3):205-12. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2012.01.003.
  3. Kathryn E. Wellen and Gkhan S. Hotamisligil. Inflammation, stress, and diabetes. J Clin Invest. 2005;115(5):1111-1119. doi:10.1172/JCI25102.
  4. Rogers J. The inflammatory response in Alzheimer’s disease. J Periodontal. 2008 Aug;79(8 Suppl): 1535-42. doi: 10.1902/jop.2008.080171.
  5. Yadav SK1, Prakash J2, Chouhan S3, Westfall S4, Verma M5, Singh TD6, Singh SP7. Comparison of the neuroprotective potential of Mucuna pruriens seed extract with estrogen in 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)-induced PD mice model. Neurochem Int. 2013 Dec 11;65C:1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2013.12.001.
  6. Lee Y, Jung JC, Jang S, Kim J, Ali Z, Khan IA, Oh S. Anti-Inflammatory and Neuroprotective Effects of Constituents Isolated from Rhodiola rosea. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:514049. doi: 10.1155/2013/514049.
  7. Olsson EM, von Schele B, Panossian AG. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-12. doi: 10.1055/s-0028-1088346.
  8. Jiang JG1, Huang XJ, Chen J, Lin QS. Comparison of the sedative and hypnotic effects of flavonoids, saponins, and polysaccharides extracted from Semen Ziziphus jujube. Nat Prod Res. 2007 Apr;21(4):310-20.
  9. Ngan A1, Conduit R. A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality. Phytother Res. 2011 Aug;25(8):1153-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3400.
  10. Brock C1, Whitehouse J, Tewfik I, Towell T. American Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled crossover study of its effects on mood in healthy volunteers. Phytother Res. 2014 May;28(5):692-8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5044.
  11. Lohani M1, Ahuja M2, Buabeid MA2, Dean S1, Dennis S3, Suppiramaniam V2, Kemppainen B1, Dhanasekaran M2. Anti-oxidative and DNA protecting effects of flavonoids-rich Scutellaria lateriflora. Nat Prod Commun. 2013 Oct;8(10):1415-8.
  12. Connor KM, Davidson JR, Churchill LE.. Adverse-effect profile of kava. CNS Spectr. 2001 Oct;6(10):848, 850-3.
  13. Hausenblas HA1, Saha D, Dubyak PJ, Anton SD. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Integr Med. 2013 Nov;11(6):377-83. doi: 10.3736/jintegrmed2013056.
  14. Moore GJ, Bebchuk JM, Wilds IB, Chen G, Manji HK. Lithium-induced increase in human brain grey matter. Lancet. 2000 Oct 7;356(9237):1241-2.

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