Features,  Food

HERBS FOR HAPPINESS: A HOW-TO GUIDE WITH PUKKA

‘Blue Monday’, which falls on Monday 15th January this year, is said to be “the most depressing day of the year”. Its timing is calculated by a combination of the winter weather, time since Christmas, the impact of Christmas credit card bills rolling in, and failed New Year’s resolutions. It’s enough to make anyone feel down in the dumps!

Whether Blue Monday really is gloomier than any other day is questionable. But it’s undeniable that this time of year can be particularly challenging for our good spirits.

So, what can we do to beat the post-Christmas blues? Along with some simple daily practices, we can look to natural herbs from Pukka for help. Below, top London nutritionist, Cassandra Barns, recommends five of the best, all of which you can find as herbal teas or supplements.

Holy Basil (Tulsi)

Holy basil is a herb with a particular affinity for the brain and mood. It’s said to stimulate circulation to the brain to improve concentration and help clear brain fog. It also has a calming effect on the nerves and acts as an adaptogen – a herb that helps us cope with and adapt to stress. These different actions can combine well to help lift our mood, particularly when stress or anxiety are involved. To investigate how well it works, researchers in India tested the effects of holy basil supplements on 35 patients with anxiety, finding that it did seem to relieve their anxiety, stress and depression1.

Holy basil makes a great herbal tea and also comes in capsule form for a more concentrated dose. Try Pukka’s Three Tulsi tea (£2.49 for 20 sachets) or Wholistic Holy Basil capsules (£16.96 for 30 capsules).

Chamomile

Popular as a tea for aiding sleep, chamomile is an amazing ‘nervine’ – a herb that calms the nerves. It can also help relieve digestive cramps and spasms that accompany stress or anxiety. If your priority is to get more calm in your life, soothe frayed nerves and sleep better, then chamomile could be a great choice for you. Drink it as a herbal tea before bed, but also throughout the day to help calm you down – it shouldn’t make you feel tired.

Try: Pukka’s Three Chamomile tea, or my favourite Relax tea – a soothing blend of chamomile, fennel and marshmallow (both £2.49 for 20 sachets).

Matcha green tea

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, turning to coffee for a boost may do more harm than good. High doses of caffeine and other stimulating substances in your ‘cuppa joe’ can cause your body to makemore stress hormones, increasing the draining effects of stress on your mind and body.

Instead, try matcha green tea. Green tea contains a small amount of caffeine to give you an energy lift, but also contains theanine, which can have a relaxing effect on the mind, reduce anxiety and help with focus and concentration. Matcha green tea in particular is said to contain a high percentage of calming theanine2.

Try: Pukka’s Supreme Matcha Green tea; or for an extra energy boost, go for Ginseng Matcha Green tea (both £2.79 for 20 sachets).

Ashwagandha

Like holy basil, ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen, helping to balance the effects of stress on our body and mind. It’s known for its calming, anti-anxiety effects, but also for helping to restore energy and vitality. So if you’re feeling tired or run down as well as suffering the winter blues, ashwagandha could be the herb for you. It can be good for libido, too, which often suffers when we’re feeling miserable!

Take ashwagandha in capsule form: Pukka Wholistic Ashwagandha – £16.96 for 30 capsules.

Turmeric

This golden super-spice is associated with a multitude of health benefits. These include helping to protect the brain and memory, via antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity –in fact, it’s even shown potential to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease3. But turmeric may also have a direct benefit for mood: because depression is thought to involve excessive inflammation, the anti-inflammatory effect of turmeric may help bring things back to normal.

For a warming winter lift, try Pukka’s Turmeric Gold tea (£2.49 for 20 sachets). Or for a stronger effect, go for Pukka’s Wholistic Turmeric capsules(£16.96 for 30 capsules), a concentrated turmeric extract.

Five more tips to beat the blues

1. Cultivate some ‘hygge’ in your life. The Danish concept of hygge is about cosiness and togetherness – spending time with friends or family in a cosy environment such as a warm, candlelit room, just enjoying each other’s company without the distraction of a phone or TV. It’s an ideal way to relax on a winter evening, and is a key ingredient that’s missing in our technology and social media-fuelled lives. Make a date with your friends and start buying in candles… and plenty of warming herbal teas, of course!

2. Get as much daylight as possible. Bright light entering our eyes stimulates production of serotonin – the ‘happy hormone’. So, the short days and lack of sunlight are a prime reason we tend to feel extra-gloomy in January. Get outside as much as you can, as electric lights in the home don’t come close to the brightness of daylight, even on an overcast day. If you can’t get outside much during the day, try a light therapy box.

3. Go for healthy comfort foods. Warming, hearty stews are excellent for making you feel good on a cold winter’s day. Make them with lots of root vegetables such as carrot, parsnip, turnip and sweet potato, which are not only comforting but also nutritious, providing vitamins and minerals that help to make good-mood neurotransmitters such as serotonin, and fibre to help balance blood sugar for steady mood and energy.

4. Don’t skip your exercise. It’s one of the best ways to throw off a low mood, boosting your circulation, relieving stress and releasing lots of feel-good endorphins. If you’re having difficulty sticking to exercise as a New Year’s resolution, then try exercising with others in a class – the music and the company of others can be a great additional motivation as well as a mood-booster.

5. Do something creative. Engaging your mind in something creative that you enjoy can be very beneficial for mood and wellbeing. Whether it’s drawing, photography, baking, quilting, woodwork, or restoring antiques, find something you love … and preferably something that involves spending time with others.

References

1. Bhattacharyya D et al. Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008 Sep;10(3):176-9.

2. Mason, R. (2001). 200 mg of Zen. Alternative & Complementary Therapies.

3. Lee WH et al. Curcumin and its derivatives: their application in neuropharmacology and neuroscience in the 21st century. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2013 Jul;11(4):338-78.

4. Chandrasekhar K et al. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.