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Useful Herbs for Depression

My 12-year-old son suffers from depression. It does run in my family. I have heard that B vitamins can help. Are there herbs that might be useful? He will not take anything in pill form larger than an M&M.

First, I applaud you as a parent for acknowledging that your son's behavior and mood shows reason for concern. If indeed he is suffering from depression, there is no time like the present to get an assessment done and investigate treatment options. It is timely to address this now before he, as an older teenager, gets exposed to or has access to drugs or other means to "self-medicate" to relieve symptoms of depression.

"An herbal practitioner cannot diagnose, treat or cure illness." This is the disclaimer that I must make clear to all my clients. A qualified doctor needs to assess your son to confirm your opinion and rule out other serious health concerns. A diagnosis can be very helpful when you come for a consultation with me, and it might help ease your worry because you are sure what you are dealing with. You can also get informed about what pharmaceuticals will be recommended.

Your question cannot and should not be answered without a consultation that includes completing a detailed questionnaire that to indicate which body systems could benefit from herbs.

Most herbalists consulting with someone complaining of depression will ask about the health of the gut, where not only elimination but also assimilation of nutrients occurs. Nutrients play a major role in brain function.

Cascara sagrada and senna are useful for constipation. Flax oil nourishes the colon. Yellow dock is tonifying and aids in assimilation. Chamomile and catnip can help calm a nervous tummy. Oat bran and flax seed meal provide good fiber. Nutritional herbs like nettle and oat straw can restore important minerals and nutrients. Most of these can be found in easy to swallow tea or tincture forms.

Examine your son's diet and nutrition to see if you can recognize any potential triggers. Sugar, dairy and wheat, among other things, have been known to create food allergies which can affect digestive health and energy levels. Food dyes and additives can also cause unhealthy reactions. The season of the year can affect mood. Is your child getting fresh air and exercise? Even in winter, even when it's overcast, it is important to spend part of each day outdoors.

As best you can, offer a whole foods diet and eliminate anything you think contributes to his depression. Examine the stressors in your child's life, sleep patterns, social life and school experience. Perhaps a teacher could offer additional observations. If your son's depression interferes with his schoolwork and ability to learn, the school may be able to help with testing and assessment.

Gather information. Read all you can. Ask a lot of questions. Depression is complicated. Anxiety can also be a contributing factor; anemone, skullcap and kava kava can help relieve it. No matter what treatment you choose, I encourage you to get a comprehensive plan going. Pharmaceutical medication may be necessary, but you may want to try botanical medicine first; it may be very helpful.

Merry Harrison is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
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Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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