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10 Mood-Enhancing Plants, How They Work + How To Support Them

Emma Loewe
Author:
December 17, 2022
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
December 17, 2022
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Many factors come together to make up our mood. If you're feeling down, no vitamin or supplement will single-handedly turn your mood around for you. What certain herbs can do, however, is impact your nervous system in a way that leaves you feeling more balanced and in control of your feelings and state of mind.

The following plant ingredients come recommended by herbalists and stress experts for enhancing mood—both in the moment and long term.

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Ingredients that can help boost mood.

The plants on this list all contain unique compounds that have an effect on our nervous system. They fall into two broad categories: relaxing ingredients that calm us down from feelings of anxiousness and racing thoughts, plus enlivening ingredients that can uplift our mood when we're feeling down with low energy.

Enhance mood right away.

While everyone will have a different experience with herbs and plant remedies, the following five have faster effects for most people and can be taken for in-the-moment mood support as needed (i.e., the next time a stressful email comes in).

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1.

Hemp (relaxing)

Hemp extracts are rich in plant compounds called phytocannabinoids (most notably CBD) that can reduce the stress hormone cortisol1 due to their interaction with the central nervous system.*

"It can also act in the brain, working on the serotonin system and the GABA system, which are both related to anxiousness and stress levels2," Julie Moltke, M.D., a general practitioner with a background in emergency medicine and orthopedic surgery, who currently focuses on mental health, previously told mindbodygreen.*

In the long term, hemp products can also nurture and support the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS)3, which regulates many essential physiological processes—from sleep to the stress response.*

Forms: Capsule, tincture, gummy, or beverage

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2.

Saffron (enlivening)

Saffron is an extract derived from the Crocus sativus flower. As you might guess after seeing this flower's bright purple and yellow hues, saffron is a more enlivening ingredient. "It's a very warming herb that very much uplifts the mood and cheers the mind," Sarah Corbett, an herbalist and the founder of Rowan + Sage, explains.*

Saffron and its active extracts (crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal) have properties that support cardiovascular health4 over time. Corbett notes that energetically speaking, this herb can be an ally for those wading through heartache and grief. More immediately, the constituents of this plant have also been shown to elevate the level of "happy" hormones like serotonin and dopamine by inhibiting their reuptake by brain synapses, according to preclinical animal studies5.*

Forms: Capsule, tincture, spice (saffron lemonade, anyone?)

3.

Lavender (relaxing)

Chances are, you've already smelled lavender oil to calm down from the day, and for good reason. Linalool—a primary compound in the plant—has been shown to quickly inhibit excitability in the brain through direct interactions with receptors like NMDA (which impacts learning and memory) and GABAA (which promotes calm and balance).*

This mentally soothing quality makes lavender a wonderful plant to work with before bed. You can either smell its essential oils, consume the plant in a supplement, or sip it as tea. Corbett notes that you can also infuse lavender with sweet ingredients like honey for a tastier option. (Despite its delicious smell, its taste can actually be a bit bitter on its own).

Forms: Capsule, tea, essential oil, pillow spray

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4.

Ginseng (enlivening)

The ginseng root is an important adaptogenic herb in traditional Chinese medicine, and herbalist Grace Yoon of Qi Alchemy notes that it is very popular in Korean culture as well. "It helps to invigorate energy and concentration," says Yoon, making it a good pick for anyone who could use a quick mood pick-me-up.*

One 2016 meta-analysis published in the Korean Journal of Medical Science found that ginseng supplements promoted energy and feelings of motivation6—likely due to the plant's main constituents, ginsenosides, which are rich in antioxidants and support higher cellular energy production.*

"Ginsenosides are also thought to help modulate the effects of the stress hormone cortisol on the body, which can have an overall impact on stress management and mental well-being as well," nutritionist Jess Cording previously told mindbodygreen.*

Forms: Tea, capsules

5.

Lemongrass (relaxing)

Although you might just know it as a fragrant kitchen ingredient, lemongrass has functional properties too. In one 2015 study7, people expressed less stress and tension after smelling lemongrass essential oil (and noted no change after smelling a control aroma, tea tree, or distilled water). Yoon notes that the plant's relaxing properties, though subtle, can be helpful for calming down during periods of anxiousness.*

Forms: Tea, essential oil

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Enhance mood over time.

While they might provide some in-the-moment support, these five herbs will be most effective when taken consistently for a few weeks.

1.

Ashwagandha (relaxing)

Ashwagandha falls under the adaptogenic category of herbs that "tend to normalize our stress response and promote resistance to stress on a physiological level," says Corbett. She notes that it's more calming than other adaptogens like Rhodiola, and it doesn't carry the same overharvesting concerns8.*

Ashwagandha has become popular in the West among those looking to stay steady in the face of stressors, and it seems to work by activating GABA9, the brain's main inhibitory neurotransmitter10, receptors, which bring us back into balance during stimulating or stressful periods.*

Forms: Tinctures, powder, capsules

2.

Lemon balm (relaxing)

A favorite among herbalists, lemon balm is a gentle relaxant that you'll find in many sleep tea formulas. Corbett notes it's a good pick for people who feel fretful and experience anxiousness during the day and may struggle to wind down because of it.*

It's been studied for its impact on attention and cognitive performance11, and clinical trials show that it helps to increase calmness and ease negative moods12 associated with stress compared to a placebo. "A lot of herbalists really like to use lemon balm to relax the body, soothe the digestive system, and uplift the spirit," Corbett adds.*

Forms: Tea, capsule, tincture

3.

Milky oats (relaxing)

"Milky oats are another really great nervous system soother13," says Corbett. She explains that the milky fresh tops of the oat plant have a moistening quality—not unlike a hearty bowl of oatmeal—that nourishes the body over time. "Milky oats are going to be more of a long-term friend," she says, and the nutrient-rich plant is her favorite for gradually rebuilding energy and vitality after periods of burnout and depletion.*

Forms: Tincture

4.

Hops (relaxing)

The cone-shaped hops flower that lends flavor to beer has grounding qualities that will be helpful for those who feel stressed and overwhelmed. One randomized control trial in 2017 found that after taking a hops supplement for four weeks, healthy young adults reported less stress and anxiousness and a more positive mood14. Hops (in the form of non-alcoholic beer) have also been shown to promote faster, deeper sleep15.*

Forms: Tincture, capsule

5.

Hawthorn (enlivening)

The flower and leaf of the Hawthorn plant (also known as the thornapple, mayflower, or hawberry) are best known for promoting digestion and activating blood circulation16. While research on its mood-supporting properties is limited, Yoon notes that it's long been used as a "heart opener" that can be soothing for those looking to address low mood after a broken heart.

Forms: Tincture, capsules

Herbalist tip

Since everyone is different, Yoon and Corbett recommend trying an herb out for a short period of time (7 to 10 days) and seeing how it makes you feel before committing. Combining various herbs will provide more personalized mood support, but this is best done under the guidance of a trained herbalist.

Other ways to enhance mood fast.

Of course, improving your mood is an inside job. If you take an herb or supplement without making any other changes and hope for an instantly brighter mood, "you're not going to get the results you would expect," says Corbett.

That said, here are a handful of other strategies to work into your routine for more holistic mood support:

FAQ

What is a natural mood enhancer?

Many plants have mood-enhancing properties, but their impacts will vary depending on the person taking them. Some of the most effective and well researched for uplifting the mood include saffron and ginseng. More relaxing and restful options include hemp, lavender, ashwagandha, lemon balm, and milky oats.*

How can I boost mood fast?

Taking plant-powered supplements is one way to quickly soothe your body's stress response. However, meaningfully reducing stress over time will require lifestyle shifts.

The takeaway.

Plants are a truly incredible source of compounds that help out bodies bounce back to a comfortable baseline. Try out the ones on this list to see how they can help enhance your daily mood with the help of other healthy and supportive decisions.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.