It’s pretty common to have the occasional attack of “the blues” or a short “down in the dumps” period when life isn’t looking so rosy. Feeling a bit depressed is a normal reaction to occasional loss or struggle. Can a spot of tea help raise your spirits? Quite possibly. Several new studies have recently reported that some common kitchen herbs are actually powerful mood boosters in disguise.
Saffron is the costly spice used in Spanish paella, and it turns out that it is much more than a flavor enhancer with a golden hue. Eastern healing systems have long considered it to be a potent mood elevator. Starting in 2004, the scientific confirmation started to roll in. At least a dozen studies have confirmed saffron’s antidepressant effects. In a 2004 study, researchers reported that saffron was as effective as imipramine, a common antidepressant drug for mild to moderate depression, without the drug’s side effects. The next year, in a 6-week double-blind trial, saffron extract performed equally to fluoxetine (Prozac).
This golden spice may have a role in relieving symptoms of premenstrual syndrome as well. Scientists gave 50 women with PMS two saffron capsules or placebo daily over two months. By the end of the study, over three-quarters of the women who had taken just a tiny pinch of saffron reported that their PMS symptoms (mood swings and depression) dropped by at least half, compared with only 8 percent of women taking the placebo.
Saffron has traditionally been used as a tea. Concentrated extracts are also available.
Enter another common kitchen spice. Sage tea has a long-held reputation for lifting the spirits. Recent experiments have found that this aromatic herb improves mood, cognitive performance, and memory. Studies from Northumbria University found that sage extract improved alertness, calmness, and contentedness, mood, and reduced mental fatigue.
Ginger root is called the “universal medicine” in Ayurveda. This pungent herb improves alertness and mood. In 2010, Austrian scientists looked at cineol, a constituent in ginger, and found that it improves vigilance in visual tasks. Then in 2012, Thai researchers found, in a randomized, placebo-controlled study, that ginger enhanced working memory and cognitive function in healthy middle-aged women. You can purchase a prepared ginger tea, or make your own by simmering fresh, raw ginger in water for about 10 minutes.
Turmeric also helps alleviate depression, according to recent research. In 2012, several papers were published that shed light on this yellow curry spice for improving mood. One Australian study suggested that turmeric influenced the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Another study from Behavioural Brain Research found that curcumin, the constituent that makes turmeric yellow, has an antidepressant effect. Turmeric and curcumin are easy to incorporate into your diet, either by drinking turmeric tea, adding the spice to food, or taking capsules.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, DN-C, RH, is president of the American Herbalists Guild and author of The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. He teaches at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon.