THE get happy HERB GUIDE

Herbal medicine can help set you on an even keel, no matter how stormy your emotional weather. Here's our expert guide to the 10 best herbs for boosting your mood and mending your frayed nerves

* 5 bliss boosters Need a pick-me-up? Reach for one of these natural mood lifters

(Urtica dioica)

Stinging nettle made its rep as an anti-allergy herb. But it's also a terrific energizer for women, says Susun Weed, master herbalist and author of the Wise Woman Herbal book series (Ash Tree Publishing). "If you touch the wild stinging nettle plant, you will feel a shock — and that electricity and energy is available to us when we drink nettle infusion," says Weed. The benefits, she explains, are nearly endless: Nettle restores and rebuilds the adrenal glands, tonifies the kidneys, rebuilds the pancreas and stabilizes blood sugar. Plus, it's a terrific source for basic nutrients. "One quart of nettle infusion contains about 1000 milligrams of calcium, in addition to lavish amounts of vitamins A, B, D, E and K," says Weed.

DRINK as an infusion for best results. To make it, add 1 ounce of dried nettle leaf to a quart jar and fill to the brim with boiling water. Screw on the lid and let the mixture steep for four hours. Strain, squeezing the herb to extract any liquid, and drink throughout the day, hot or cold.
2 GOTU KOLA (Centella asiatica)

Let's face it: It's hard to be happy when you can't think straight. According to Sheila Kingsbury, N.D., R.H., chairwoman of the Botanical Medicine Department at Bastyr University in Seattle, the solution for inner muddle is gotu kola. "It's terrific for mood because it improves the flow of oxygen to the brain, making you feel awake and stimulated without feeling wired." It's also a go-to herb for stress, helping to regulate adrenal hormones and keep blood sugar in check, Kingsbury says. "I use it for anyone who is down because they've been overworked or under too much stress for too long," she explains. It's a great choice for hormone-induced funkiness, too. Kingsbury frequently recommends it to girls and boys who are having a rocky go of adolescence. (Note: Despite having kola in the name, the herb contains no caffeine.)

TAKE one teaspoon of the herb in glycerite form three times a day. Take for at least four weeks for best results — or continue indefinitely.
3 MILK THISTLE (Silybum marianum)

This detox herb might not seem like a go-to mood stabilizer at first. After all, it cleanses the liver. But a clogged, overloaded and toxic liver does not make for a happy girl. "Every hormone the body makes has to be metabolized by the liver," explains Phyllis D. Light, a registered herbalist and professor of herbal studies at Clayton' College of Natural Health based in Birmingham, Ala. "When the liver is congested, it doesn't break down neurotransmitters or stress hormones properly." Light notes that despite its current cleansing cred, milk thistle was traditionally used as an herbal antidepressant. "The liver is associated with anger. Whenever frustration or rage are feeding depression, this is a good choice."

TAKE two capsules (375 to 425 milligrams) three times daily with meals for the first two weeks, then decrease to four capsules a day. Take it for at least one month, or continue indefinitely following product label directions. Because milk thistle is fat-soluble, it should be taken with food.

CONTRAINDICATION: Don't take milk thistle along with prescription medications, because the herb may clear them out of your system too quickly. And talk to your doctor before taking this (or any other herb) if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
4 CHOCOLATE (Hypericum perforatum)

Yes, chocolate is an herb, says "medicine hunter" Chris Kilham, ethnobotanist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of Tales from the Medicine Trail (Rodale). "Cocoa is one of the great herbal mood enhancers," he says. Chocolate contains a substance called anandamide — aka the bliss molecule — which is known to bind to human cannabinoid receptors to create a sense of well-being. "It's a bliss-enhancer — ananda means bliss in Sanskrit," Kilham says. "We know that chocolate boosts natural levels of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter. You can happily self-medicate with chocolate and greatly improve your brain chemistry."

EAT 2 ounces of dark chocolate that contains 60 to 75 percent cocoa daily.
5 ST. JOHN'S WORT (Hypericum perforatum)

St. John's wort has had a rocky history as an antidepressant. It rose to fame in the '90s on a wave of positive press flowing out of Europe (it was making Germans smile!). Then, it fell from grace after a 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the herb no more effective than a placebo. What the headlines failed to report was that prescription drugs were also no better than placebos in that trial, which was later criticized for poor research design. But Amanda McQuade Crawford, member of the American Herbalists Guild and author of Herbal Remedies for Women (Prima Lifestyles), says that several studies before and since have found that despite the conflicting studies, St. John's wort is effective if used properly. "When you look at the data, it's clear that when St. John's wort is taken correctly it offers similar effects to antidepressants and is a good choice for patients with mild to moderate depression," she says.

TAKE one-half to one teaspoon of tincture three times a day (or a standardized product delivering 900 milligrams per day, usually 300 milligrams taken three times a day). St. John's wort should be taken long term; and it may take four weeks or longer to see lasting positive results.

CONTRAINDICATION: If you're having suicidal thoughts, contact a prevention hotline or your physician immediately. Also, because St. John's wort has a detoxifying effect on the liver and can clear drugs out of your system, do not take it with prescription medications for HIV (antiretrovirals), organ transplants (cyclosporine) or other drugs that affect the nervous system without consulting your doctor first.

* 5 serenity savers can't seem to relax? Try one of these calming herbs.

(Leonurus cardiaca)

When you're feeling anxious and want to run away and hide from the world, try motherwort, a member of the mint family. Motherwort is helpful to new mothers who feel anxious and overwhelmed. Weed suggests the herb to women who are dealing with difficult life situations, including abuse by a boss or a spouse. "It doesn't turn you into a smiling idiot," she says. "It gives you a place to stand and make plans."

TAKE one-half to one dropper of tincture two to three times a day, or as needed to deal with anxiety.
2 KAVA KAVA (Piper methysticum)

Native to Polynesia and Melanesia, kava kava was traditionally used as an intoxicating herb for ceremonies and celebrations. "It's my favorite herb for coping with anxiety because it relaxes the musculature while it clears the mind," says Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbal Healing for Women (Fireside). "It makes you feel very present in the body — relaxed, but very much in charge." Gladstar often prescribes the herb for everyday stressors: airplane flights, public speaking, work presentations and interpersonal confrontation. "The herb was often used for dealing with arguments within tribes or families," Gladstar says. "It is said that when kava enters the heart, there can be no hate. It dispels frustration that comes from anger so you can work through conflict and find peaceful solutions."

TAKE one dropper of tincture in warm water as needed (not to exceed three doses a day).

CONTRAINDICATION: Kava kava should not be taken with alcohol, or used by anyone with hepatitis or other serious liver diseases. Do not use if you're pregnant.
3 MILKY OAT SEED (Avena sativa)

Been burning the candle at both ends for so long you've lost your emotional balance? This herb's for you, says David Winston, R.H., president of Herbalist and Alchemist and co-auther of the resource guide Winston and Kuhn's Herbal Therapy & Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins). Milky oat seed is — as the name implies — the extract of the whole milky oat produced by the oat plant in seed form only; you can't get similar benefits from, say, upping your morning oatmeal intake. "It creates a more balanced emotional foundation so that you're not as reactive to every little thing," Winston says. "It's an especially good choice for those people who make themselves sick from stress and end up with irritable bowel syndrome, heart palpitations or situational hypertension."

TAKE four droppers of tincture three to four times a day. Continue taking it for up to six months.
4 MARIJUANA (Cannabis sativa)

OK, we know: It's illegal in the United States and legal only for medicinal purposes in 14 states. But that doesn't mean it's not a powerful herbal medicine with long traditional usage as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety agent). "Of all the relaxers in nature's pharmacy, cannabis is one of the most immediate. It produces a nearly instant calming effect, and goes to work more quickly than a cup of coffee would," Kilham says. The substance — though taboo in some circles — is well-known to reduce tension, headaches and pain associated with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer. "It induces a feeling of pleasure and peace in most people — even ' people who are in significant pain," Kilham notes. As for access, Kilham says it's relatively easy to find the stuff — especially if you live in one of the 14 states where marijuana is legal as a medical substance. If not, you'll have to ask around and take your chances — or try one of the other remedies listed above.

INHALE the herb using a vaporizer or smoke it. You can also eat marijuana when it's baked into food. Correct dosage is highly subjective, but Kilham suggests that about one-third of a gram is enough for most people.

CONTRAINDICATION: For some, marijuana can exacerbate anxiety and cause paranoia, so start with a little and tune in to how it makes you feel.
5 LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis)

If you want to take the edge off without sending yourself into a sedated stupor, try lemon balm, suggests Kingsbury. "I use it for anyone who tells me they're feeling a lack of joy — they're not technically depressed, but just feeling down," she says. It's also great for those times when you're feeling so overwhelmed you're nearly immobilized. Because the scent of the herb adds to the healing power, this is a good one to take as a tea. "The citrus scent itself is uplifting," says Kingsbury.

DRINK as a tea. To make it, add a handful of fresh or dried leaves to one cup of boiling water and steep five to 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey, if desired. Alternatively, use lemon balm tincture: Take one to five droppers up to three times a day as needed.




By Hillari Dowdle

photography by Victoria Pearson

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