Winter is a time of darkness, cold, retracted and withdrawn energy, often times grief, and even depression. I often get questions about how to treat SAD with herbal remedies- because so many of us are affected by the seasonal changes- the loss of the light, the restricted or lessened movement/outdoor activity, stressful holiday seasons which sometimes bring up painful memories or grief over the loss of loved ones. And seasonal depression can be torturous and difficult to navigate through, especially for folks who find it happens over and over year after year.
There are several ways to look at this tendency to get the blues, or the black cloud, during the winter -the energetic & spiritual nature of the season, nutrition and seasonal food choices, and supportive herbal allies.
It is wise to remember that we, like the Earth we are intimately connected to and a part of, move through cycles- of darkness and light, of stillness and movement. Winter IS the dark time within the year in which it is not only natural but appropriate to turn inward, reflect, and even give time and space to that which we need to grieve, give voice to the unuttered cries that are within us waiting to be released. Holding tears, grief, hurts, memories and stories without giving them voice and movement, acknowledgement and owning, can result in even deeper wounding and stagnation that can have long lasting emotional and spiritual effects. Winter is the time we can give ourselves to wander in those darker passages of our psyche and move the energy through by touching with gentle care and compassion those difficult places. For some of us, simply journey and journalling can be the therapy we need to process and move through this natural process during winter. For some, this is going to mean getting extra support from a trusted friend, counselor, coach, or spiritual mentor to process through trauma or difficult to manage feelings. There is no shame in feeling what you feel and asking for the support you need.
No matter at what level you experience this natural melancholy and sadness of winter, ceremony and ritual can be used to help and support the moving through this time.
One of the ways I have found useful in processing my own grief, rather than letting it hold sway over me day in and out, is to build a grief altar, with candles, dark cloth, bones or stones that represent death, images of people or situations that illustrate your grief process, and a bowl of water in which to cry into. A grief collecting tear catching bowl. And you give yourself an allotted time- 5 min or 20 min, as you find you need it, or once or twice a day with intention. And you allow yourself to feel the grief and sadness, you cry into that bowl. And then offer those tears and water holding your grief to the Earth, a tree, or a plant to transform and honor your grief.
And you should feel welcome to also support yourself with plant allies and foods to help you navigate the darkness you might be feeling. Sometimes the grief, and heaviness and depression can be too much for one person to hold. I know from my own experience, the drawing near of the winter holidays and the darkness and the stagnancy of my grief, led me into a very dark depressed place, a place which even close friends began to worry for me. It was time for me to do more for myself, and the plants, the ceremony and the shifts I made in my nutrition were almost like a shift from night into day, within a matter of a few weeks.
The nervous system and mood balance can easily become overworked and depleted of basic nutrients over a period of time. Often times I find for clients, and myself, that a period of several months of taking 100-200 mg of a B complex vitamin makes a dramatic difference in outlook.
Vitamin D is becoming well known for its importance many health conditions, and mood and mental health is included. Many people find just taking 2000 i.u. of vitamin D,the sunshine vitamin, in the winter can clear the head and improve the mood. I often take 5000-8000 i.u. in winter for immune supportive effects as well.
Ideally, you should be eating plenty of nutrient dense foods to support your emotional and physical health through the winter, but it is also true that often times those who are depressed, find it difficult to want to eat, prepare meals, or care about nutrition, eating what is easy, convenient or comforting. If this is the case, and your diet has been less that nourishing, lacking enough protein, or high in sugars, you might find that a small daily supplement of 5-HTP can make just enough difference for you to begin to feel motivated to care about preparing your food and nourishing your body and mind. 5-HTP is a derivative of the amino acid l-tryptophan, and is produced by the body when proteins are broken down in the digestive system. It is then further transformed into serotonin and melatonin. not all depression is serotonin based, so this is not always the answer, but for someone who needs a little help and who’s diet has been low in adequate proteins, this little helper used for 3-4 months can make a world of difference. I recommend starting with 100 mg a day, in divided doses. If you do not notice a difference within two weeks, moving up to 200 mg a day, in divided doses should help. Do NOT take this supplement if you are already on SSRI’s or other pharmacueticals for mental/emotional health. There can be major interactions with these.
And absolutely focus on filling your body with deeply nourishing and warm foods during the winter darkness. Long cooked stews with root veggies, beans, organic free range meats, bone broth, seaweed and medicinal mushrooms and roots (astragalus, shitake, reishi, maitake, codonopsis, burdock, licorice etc)
Protein and healthy fats are especially vital in supporting mental and emotional health, so whatever your dietary choices are, make sure you are getting adequate protein and fats daily. Butter, coconut oil, fish oils, olive oil, ghee, and meats, beans, eggs, soaked nuts/seeds, and even some dairy (not to excess).
Fermented foods and probiotic foods (sauerkraut, kvass, kombucha, yogurt, miso etc) are also vital to healthy digestion- which is the precursor to nutrient absorption and healthy brain and nervous system tissues. It is true that most of your body’s serotonin and mood hormones are actually produced in your digestive system. Improving digestive health and function absolutely will improve your mood. If you need help sorting out and improving digestive health, I am always available for personal [herbal consultations](https://shamanaflora.com/personal-sessions/) to get you on the right track.
And last, but never least, the plant allies are always there to support us in our journey with grief, emotional processing, depression, or just support during the darker part of the year.
Many people tend to turn to St John’s Wort for mood health, because it is known as a serotonin booster. While this plant can be helpful in this way, it also depends on your body actually being able to produce serotonin, and your diet being adequate to provide the building blocks. So, yes, you might find this ally to be helpful in alleviating winter blues and depression, but if it does not seem to help, please know that there are many plants available that will be better suited to your particular situation. Ask an herbalist for assistance if you do not feel confident or like what you have chosen is helpful enough. I am available to help you find the allies most supportive to YOU, and help you find ceremony, ritual, flower essences or other support for moving through this phase.
I have found often that we need an herb to help move stagnant and stuck emotions that are stored up or blocked in our psyche or body. Aromatic nervines like Tulsi Basil, Rosemary, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mountain Marigold help to move energy and emotion and gently lift and boost the mood at the same time, but it shouldn’t be surprising if by taking an herb that moves a stuck emotion, you find yourself crying more. Crying isn’t always a sign of worsening or failing- it is a sign of release, of movement, of grieving and processing. In my own experience, it was a day, after weeks of taking aromatic nervines to move stagnant emotions, that I cried at least 12 times, what felt like endless crying. It was also that day I was able to take myself on a very long and healing walk to move the energy of my physical body, and gave myself a very deep and healing personal ceremony on the land to shift my perspective energetically and spiritually. That was the day that things began to turn around, and rather dramatically.
Another class of herbs that you might find helpful in addressing winter sadness or grief, are the herbs that bring in a sense of warmth and light- like a little burst of sunshine- I call these light bringers, or sunshine herbs. Many are yellow or orange. Think Calendula, Marigold, St. Johns Wort, Lemongrass, Lemon Verbena, Lemon Balm, Ginger, hibiscus (which is red, but always brings in a burst of happy summer warmth).
Nerve tonics- that restore nervous system tissue and often the adaptogens, which restore the endocrine system- are needed to move us from a state of lethargy and feeling “fried” to a place of peace and energetic resilience and strength. My favorites are milky oat seed, st. johns wort, scullcap (as nerve tissue restoratives) and ashwaganda, licorice, reishi, schizandra, & eleuthero (as adaptogens).
Heart healing and supportive herbs are always of benefit when their is grief or loss, or heartache. Often times the heart can physical hurt when dealing with heartbreak, and the sadness can be softened and the heart given strength to persevere when given supportive heart soothing plant allies. I rarely give a formula for sadness without a heart supporting ally-
Rose, Hawthorn, Devils Club, Cherry Blossom, Apple Blossom, Linden, and Motherwort.
One of my favorite and most reliable ways to shift emotional perspective has always been the flower essences. These energetic and spiritual medicines do not interact with us on a phyiscal level so much, as they help to shift energetic – emotional and spiritual vibrations which absolutely effect physical. There are numerous essences available, and each is unique in its indication for the emotion at hand. A few that you might find helpful to begin working with are:
Wild Rose- for apathy and lethargy, and that tendency in depression to “not give a damn.” This essence helps us to care enough about ourselves and the situation to make changes that benefit us and improve things.
White Chestnut- for thoughts that spin around in your head day in and out and that prevent you from moving on out of the spiral of negative or painful self talk or memory rehashing. This can help us move beyond fixation on wrong or right, our hurt or wound, or who did what when and move towards our next step in healing.
Gorse- is the essence for loss of hope, when it seems as if things will never get better, and there is no reason to go on.
Marigold- When grief from death- be it a physical or emotional death (end of relationship, loss of home, or loss of a loved one to physical death), or when working on ancestral wounds and healing. This essence shines a light in the dark realms so you can process and bring light to the dark passages within.
Moonflower- To help us envision a new way of being in the world, especially when we can’t imagine a life or situation different than what we have known. When we feel absolutely stuck because we cannot conceive of a future outside our experience. The essence for major transitions in life (divorce, loss of a job, moving, loss of relationship, overcoming addiction. )
There are so many more essences than I can list here, and each one specific to the emotions and situation at hand. If you are interested in using essences and need help choosing which ones will be of most help to you, please consult with a flower essence practitioner, or an herbalist like myself, who can work with you to identify the underlying pieces which essences can help address.
If you are interested in learning more about flower essences and how to make your own at home, see the [Flower Power E- Course](https://shamanaflora.com/e-books-online-courses/flower-power/) !
Each person and situation is unique and requires attention and care. I hope you will find these beginning suggestions helpful in working with the energy of the winter and the sometimes difficult emotions that come up in this season. If you find you need more support in creating sacred ceremony for your healing work, help choosing essences or herbs, or working on long term nervous system and mood supportive lifestyle- please contact me today to set up a personal healing session that involves plant medicines, shamanic journey, talismans, essences and ceremony. I know intimately and recently the difficulty we have personally to make changes in our lives when we are overcome with sadness and its gets a hold of us in a way we have trouble shaking on our own. I know that when I have been in my darkest moments, reaching out for a hand to offer support has been the beginning of the way out, please reach out for the support you need. Tend yourself with care and compassion. Pray, and return to the Earth.