In these days of miracle medication for nearly any psychological complaint, the botanical alternatives are getting a lot of attention. There have been happiness remedies around for millennia, of course; as with most botanical treatments, the knowledge is ancient.

But perhaps people are more depressed now than ever, or perhaps there are more depressed people. Whatever the reason, I seem to hear more and more people talking about ways to rise above the doldrums of depression.

The natural antidepressants are currently health-food store best sellers. In this and the next column, we’ll have a look at some of the so-called happiness herbs, and at some nondrug approaches to cheering yourself up.

First of all, it must be said that if you believe you are suffering from clinical depression, you should consult a psychologist or other qualified practitioner. If you have mild depression that does not interfere with everyday functioning, there may be simple lifestyle ways you can make yourself feel better.

Perhaps your life priorities need rearranging, or maybe you are provoking a state of anxiety and stress by repressing creativity or emotional responses. The reasons for depression can be myriad, and generally should be explored with an expert if you are in doubt over what’s troubling you.

Still, since many people are self-prescribing herbal antidepressants without consulting a doctor, here is a bit of background detail on what these remedies are all about.

The most popular herbal treatment for depression right now is St. John’s wort. It’s considered the natural alternative to Prozac. I know a few people who are taking it, and some of them say they notice a beneficial change in how they feel. How does this substance work?

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is used in traditional herbalism as a nerve tonic and antidepressant. It is said to be helpful in revitalizing those who are tired, low in energy, or simply fed up. It is classified as a thymoleptic, or mood-lifter, and is both calming to those who feel anxious and stimulating to those who feel lethargic (a common symptom of depression).

It is said to help treat insomnia, when insomnia is caused by depression or stress. When, for the same reason, the brain seems sluggish or the memory seems poor, the herb helps to alleviate these conditions as well.

In addition to these benefits to the state of mind, St. John’s wort is antibacterial, a diuretic and stimulates the circulation. In homeopathy, Hypericum is used to treat nerve or tissue damage along with a variety of other conditions.

The essential oil of St. John’s wort is red in color, perhaps explaining why it has turned up in lipsticks recently: that and the delightful prospect of having happy lips, of course!

To try St. John’s wort, first consult a specialist regarding its suitability for you. If it seems like the right remedy, a tea made by infusing a teaspoonful of the dried herb in 230 ml of water may be taken three times a day.

Note that it takes about a month for the effects to be felt, though if you accompany it with rosemary it may speed things along.

In the next column, we’ll look at Bach Flower Remedies, essential oils and some other happiness herbs. Until then, remember that smiling is a good way to cheer yourself up!