Medicinal plants and their extracts are natural remedies with enormous potential for treating various diseases, including depression and anxiety. In the case of depression, hundreds of plants have traditionally been used in folk medicine for generations. Different plant extracts and natural products have been analyzed as potential antidepressant agents with validated models to test for antidepressant-like effects in animals, although other complementary studies have also been employed. Most of these studies focus on the possible mediators implicated in these potential effects, with dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline being the principal neurotransmitters implicated, both through interference with receptors and with their metabolism by monoamino oxidases, as well as through neuro-endocrine and neuroprotective effects. There are approximately 650 reports of antidepressant-like medicinal plants in PubMed; 155 of them have been compiled in this review, with a relevant group yielding positive results. Saffron and turmeric are the most relevant species studied in both preclinical and clinical studies; St. John’s wort or kava have also been tested extensively. To the best of our knowledge, no review to date has provided a comprehensive understanding of the biomolecular mechanisms of action of these herbs or of whether their potential effects could have real benefits. The purpose of this narrative review is to provide an update regarding medicinal plants from the year 2000 to the present to examine the therapeutic potential of these antidepressant-like plants in order to contribute to the development of new therapeutic methods to alleviate the tremendous burden that depression causes worldwide.
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