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Herbs and Natural Supplements for Depression

Depression is a big part of our lives that we don’t like to talk about. Many people don’t seek help because they fear the stigma of being labeled, or the time it will take to recover from depression.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 280 million people worldwide are affected by depression each year. With conventional treatments not always helping all those struggling with low moods or despair, people are turning to alternative methods including Chinese Medicine.

The good news is that, there are a number of natural remedies for depression that can support mood, lift spirits and alleviate symptoms.

In this article we will look at some of the best antidepressant herbs and natural supplements for depression that are used by people with depression to improve their mental well-being.

Chinese Medicine for depression

According to Chinese medicine, depression is when Shen, or our spirit that resides in the heart, is disturbed.

This disturbance is a result of vital energy deficiency, it caused by imbalance in the body, such as Qi deficiency , inflammation and phlegm and dampness and so on. It can manifest in the following:

  • Lack of meaning in life
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to connect to people
  • Feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing
  • Feeling inauthentic

In addition, Qi (energy) can get stuck in the body and not flow freely. Stagnant Qi can lead to emotional problems such as fear, anger, or grief, among others.

antidepressant herbs

Addressing depression through Chinese medicine means Its treatment approach is to strengthening “Qi – vital energy but other physiological systems must also be corrected for imbalances by increasing blood flow, reducing inflammation, or eliminating phlegm and dampness.

Acupuncture for depression

Studies have shown Acupuncture can be effective for helping manage and overcome both low-grade depression and major depression. In fact, research has also shown that Acupuncture therapy can be used as an antidepressant drug substitute that is equally as effective or as a supplement to lessen some of the unfavourable side effects. This study also showed that acupuncture patients saw an increase in their mood and quality of life after only a few weeks of therapy, but antidepressant-using individuals waited longer to notice the benefits. The result of treatment for depression is varies from people to person, it depends on the individual’s condition history and response to the Acupuncture.

Antidepressant herbs & natural supplements for depression

If you are looking for natural antidepressant herbs , there are a number of herbal remedies for depression that may benefit you and make you feel better.The following 4 herbs are commonly used in Chinese medicine for depression:

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a herb that has also been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. It is one of the most commonly prescribed herbs in the world.

Ginkgo Biloba comes from the Ginkgo tree, which is native to China and other parts of East Asia. The leaves are harvested from this tree and dried out before they can be used as medicine.

The leaf extract of Ginkgo Biloba has been shown to have a positive effect on depression.  Study showed Ginkgo can reduce levels of S100B, a marker of brain injury, when paired with an antidepressant.

Ginkgo’s ability to improve blood circulation means that it can increase levels of oxygen and nutrients in the brain for enhanced mental health. 

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Dong Quai

Dong Quai, also known as Angelica Sinensis, is a Chinese herb that has been used to treat a wide range of health problems. It’s often used as a natural remedy for menopause symptoms, but it has also been shown to have antidepressant effects.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Dong Quai is considered to be warming and drying in nature. This means that it’s thought to have an energising effect on the body and mind, which can help relieve depression symptoms.

It may increase serotonin levels in your brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and emotions; it’s often called the happiness hormone because low levels can contribute to feelings of sadness or anxiety. People with depression tend to have lower levels of serotonin than people without depression do, so increasing it might help relieve symptoms.

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St Johns Wort

St Johns Wort is a natural herb that has been used for thousands of years to treat depression and other mental illnesses. St. John’s wort works by affecting levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – chemicals that send messages between nerve cells in the brain (neurons). These brain chemical messengers play an important role in controlling moods and feelings of happiness or sadness.

The active ingredients in St. John’s wort are hypericin and hyperforin, which are thought to be responsible for the herb’s antidepressant properties.

St John’s wort also seems to have fewer side effects than some other antidepressants and it can be taken in combination with them. St John’s wort is not addictive or harmful if taken in high doses so it can be used safely over long periods of time if necessary.

antidepressant herbs

5 Top Chinese Formulas for Depression 

The following top formulas from traditional Chinese medicine may help relieve symptoms of depression:

1. Xiao Yao San

Xiao Yao San is comprised of 8 different herbs and is said to be effective in treating depression and reducing psychological stress. A systematic review of 26 randomised trials involving 1837 patients on Xiao Yao San’s effectiveness in improving depression symptoms, suggests that this formula is effective and even is “superior to antidepressants for the score of HAMD” (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale). This review included clinical trials that tested Xiao Yao San against placebo, antidepressants, or in combination with antidepressants.

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2. Jia Wei Xiao Yao

Jia Wei Xiao Yao is a widely used Chinese herb for depression. Its name translates to “Strengthen the Kidneys and Subdue the Liver,” which highlights its main actions. The herb is thought to strengthen the kidney Qi, which helps stabilise and regulate emotional responses, especially when they are excessive or extreme in nature.

According to a randomised controlled trial (210 participants) assessing the efficacy and safety of Jia Wei Xiao Yao (JWXY) capsules, JWXY is as effective as Sertraline antidepressant in managing “mild to moderate depression with anxiety symptoms”. Researchers suggest that JWXY may be the first alternative choice because it’s safe and cheaper than the Western world’s antidepressants.

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3. Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Chai Hu Shu Gan San is an ancient formula that has been used for over 2000 years to help depression. It contains four herbs that are commonly used to manage depression and anxiety. Each herb in this formula has its own unique benefits and functions.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 42 randomised controlled trials involving 3234 patients with depression in 15 different types of diseases, report that Chai Hu Shu Gan San is effective for 3 types of depressions: for pure depression, for post-stroke depression, and for postpartum depression. The researchers did not see any reports of severe adverse events from taking Chai Hu Shu Gan San orally.

4. Shu Gan Jie Yu

The Chinese herbs in this formula are used to nourish the liver and balance the emotions. They work to calm anger and irritability, reduce restlessness and anxiety, relieve insomnia, help you sleep better at night, and increase your energy level during the day.

According to the most recent (2022) review, Shu Gan Jie Yu capsules (SGJYC)  have been shown to be effective in addressing depression, specifically, in post-stroke depression patients.

In addition, a comprehensive meta-analysis of 63 RCTs (Randomised Controlled Trials) involving 6036 adults, which was published in August 2022, also found that SGJYC are powerful in treating adults with depression.

5. Gan Mai Da Zao decoction

Gan Mai Da Zao decoction is a herbal formula that’s used to help with depression. In Chinese medicine, Gan Mai Da Zao means “digestive retention and stagnation.” The herbs in this formula are used to harmonise the stomach and spleen, regulate Qi and blood, promote diuresis (increase urination), and move Qi downward.

One study assessing Gan Mai Da Zao decoction’s (GMDZ) efficacy and safety suggests that GMDZ has the potential as an antidepressant with very minimal side effects.

Gan Mai Da Zao is used for people with symptoms of depression that don’t respond to other treatments, including Chinese herbs or Western medications. It’s also given to people who have a poor appetite or no appetite at all.


Natural antidepressant supplements and antidepressant herbs are popular among people who want to improve their mood. This is because they’re found in nature and there are no  or very little side effects compared to pharmaceutical drugs. The most effective natural remedy will depend on your symptoms and the underlying cause of your depression.

We highly recommend consulting with a practitioner near you alternatively, we also offer free online consultation if you want to find out more about natural remedies that may be right for you or someone close to you who suffers from depression. We will take into account your unique symptoms and needs when creating a personalised treatment plan tailored just for you.

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For more information about how Chinese Medicine can help you with depression, book your free consultation with our Chinese Medicine experts today

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We can’t guarantee the treatment result, as the symptoms of conditions are unpredictable and vary greatly from person to person. The treatment length and recovery time also varies for individual. Please visit our clinics website: GinSen where a specialists will discuss your care and provide a consultation, and the treatment will be designed to meet your individual needs.


What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Depression ?

Depression is a multi genetic or multifactorial syndrome. If you are struggling with depression and are not receiving treatment, there are some warning signs that we recommend taking seriously:

  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Sleep problems (trouble falling or staying asleep) or excessive sleeping
  • Crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Fatigue and poor concentration
  • Cognitive impairment – difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions
  • Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
  • Thoughts of suicide

We all suffer different levels of depression throughout our lives, but for some people with extreme cases it’s difficult to lead a normal life. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of this mental disorder so that you can get help from a medical professional and/or friends and family.

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