My Favorite Botanical for Lifting Mood, Reducing Anxiety, and Managing Stress

You’ve probably heard about saffron (Crocus sativus) as an incredibly ancient, and incredibly expensive, spice. The reason for its steep price is that saffron harvesting must be done by hand. It is the three stigmas in the flower that supply the spice and color that we know as saffron and the compounds that fight depression. Saffron is uniquely qualified to restore normal body chemistry. It boosts serotonin production, lowers cortisol, and helps preserve levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which are typically lower in people with depression. Without a proper balance of these neurotransmitters, we’re going to feel too high-strung or too dragged down. One double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial reported in the journal Phytotherapy Research found that saffron reduced symptoms of Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymia) in just six weeks. In more serious and harder-to-treat forms of depression, especially when they overlap with anxiety, saffron also works well to relieve symptoms. One clinical trial found that a 12-week regimen of saffron had a significant impact on the outcomes of two measurement scales: the Beck Depression Index and Beck Anxiety Index—questionnaires answered by patients that gauge both conditions. Additionally, a small study showed saffron can potentially boost the effectiveness of conventional anti-depression medications. Best of all, in addition to being effective, saffron is incredibly safe. The results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the journal Phytomedicine show it relieved symptoms of mild to moderate postpartum depression in 96 percent of breastfeeding mothers after eight weeks. There were no significant adverse effects for the mothers or their infants.

When looking for a therapeutically effective saffron make sure to research brands and formulations, much of the “saffron” found in the marketplace is either old (lacking potency) or adulterated (replaced with turmeric, paprika, safflower, and other Packs used as diluting fillers). Therefore, it’s imperative to seek out DNA-verified saffron. Only true authentic saffron is worth its weight in gold. There are several brands that use clinically studied Spanish-grown saffron that has been DNA-verified and concentrated to 3.5% lepticrosalides (the main bioactive components responsible for saffron’s flavor and aroma). Accumulating evidence suggests that saffron and its many constituents can match (and even outperform) the best mood enhancers. I consider saffron to be the most “uplifting” botanical in nature’s armamentarium. If you have questions about which brands use the best clinically studied saffron please give me a call or stop by the market.

For added stress support and improved cognitive function, I recommend pairing saffron with two adrenal adaptogens-ashwagandha and rhodiola.  Rhodiola is incredibly fast-acting–often working in 30-60 minutes and lasting between 4-6 hours. It exerts broad and varied effects inside the body but seems to have a special affinity for the brain. In human studies, using extracts of the root exhibited both stimulating and relaxing qualities, increasing attention, focus, memory, and mental tasking while simultaneously reducing occasional anxiety and promoting a sense of well-being. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is traditionally used to promote higher feelings of energy, vitality, and well-being. Like rhodiola, it has the dual action of energizing while calming and can be very beneficial for counteracting the negative effects of stress. Stress is a major detriment to brain health and triggers several changes to the brain’s structure and function. Studies show that ashwagandha can help reduce stress-related parameters in individuals with occasional high levels of stress.


Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Individuals should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The statements made in this informational document have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any product discussed is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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