St John's Wort Benefits

St John's Wort
Latin Name

Hypericum perforatum

Also Known As

Johnswort, Amber, Touch-and-heal, Goat weed, Hardhay, Klamath Weed, Rosin Rose, Hypericum, Tipton weed, St. John's Wort

Origin

North America, Europe, Asia Minor, Russia, India and China

Parts Used

Tops and flowers

Traditional Use and Health Benefits

The use of this herb dates back over 2,000 years to the Ancient Greeks, where their physicians recommended its use for a variety of nervous and mood disorders. Considered to be imbued with magical powers, St John’s Wort was used to fend off evil and to protect against disease. In more practical terms, it was used as a folk remedy to aid kidney infections, heal wounds and to alleviate nervous disorders – including insanity!

St John’s Wort Benefits

Antidepressant

The most famous use of St John’s Wort is as a remedy for mild to moderate depression. It is perhaps the most studied herb for this complaint, with literally thousands of studies and clinical trials performed to assess its usefulness as an antidepressant.

It contains the active phytonutrient  hypericin,  which together with hyperforin, is one of the principal active constituents found in St John’s Wort. Many studies have found the herb to be equally as effective as traditional antidepressants, but with fewer side effects in mild to moderately depressed patients. Whilst researchers aren’t exactly sure how St John’s Wort actually works its magic, some have postulated that it acts in a similar way to SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), because it makes serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine available to the brain. 

Preliminary research suggests that St. John's Wort also lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol and enhances the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a naturally occurring tranquilizer in the brain. It is a very mild, clinically insignificant monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor. MAO is responsible for the breakdown of two brain chemicals - serotonin and norepinephrine. By inhibiting MAO and increasing norepinephrine, St. John's Wort may exert a mild antidepressive action. The antidepressant or mood elevating effects of St. John's Wort were originally thought to be due solely to hypericin, but hypericin does not act alone. St. John's Wort relies on the complex interplay of many constituents such as xanthones and flavonoids for its antidepressant actions. St. John's Wort may also block the receptors that bind serotonin.

It is important to note that St John’s Wort is useful in treating mild to moderate depression – day to day blues which can still be debilitating and affect your life in a negative way. For major, suicidal depression it is recommended that you speak to your health care professional.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

This type of depression that only occurs in the winter due to lack of sunlight, has also been found to respond favourably to St John’s Wort. Whilst one of the most effective treatments for SAD is to spend time every day in full spectrum light, research has found that using this herb in combination with phototherapy works even better. Whilst one of the side effects of this plant can be increased photosensitivity, lightbox therapy can be safely combined with St John's Wort because lightboxes do not produce ultraviolet light. 

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

Recent research has found that SSRI’s are effective against OCD, leading researchers to speculate about the potential of St John’s Wort as a natural alternative. A small clinical study was done where 13 people with OCD received St John’s Wort, twice daily, for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, clinicians rated 42% of the participants as “much” or “very much improved”, 50% as “minimally improved” and 8% (one person), as “unchanged”. It was concluded that at the very least, St John’s Wort warrants further study as a treatment for this debilitating condition.

PMS Symptoms

A 2010 study by S Canning and N Orsi et al at the Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, looked at the efficacy of St John’s Wort for the treatment of PMS. The results of this randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial found that: “St John’s Wort was statistically more beneficial than the placebo for food cravings, swelling, poor co-ordination, insomnia, confusion, headaches, crying and fatigue”. 

Typical Use

St Johns Wort Herbal Tincture
Made from Fresh Herb
Take 2-4 mls up to 3 times a day.
or as recommended by a herbal practitioner.

St Johns Wort cut leaf
1-2 teasp cut herb per 1 cup of boiling water up to 3 times a day.
or as recommended by a herbal practitioner.

Organic St John's Wort herbal Herbal Powder
1-2 grams up to 3 times a day
or as recommended by a herbal practitioner.

Folklore and History

Ancient Greeks believed that the fragrance of St. John's Wort would cause the evil spirits to fly away. In ancient Greece, the herb was used to treat many ailments, including sciatica and poisonous bites. In Europe it was used for the topical treatment of wounds and burns. It is also a folk remedy for kidney and lung ailments as well as depression. Hypericum was recommended by Hippocrates for "nervous unrest" - it has a 2,000 year history of folk use for anxiety, sleep disturbances and depression.

St John's Wort
Constituents

Essential oil, containing caryophyllene,methyl-2-octane, n-nonane, n-decanal, a and b-pinene, and traces of limonene and myrcene. Hypericins, prenylated phloroglucin derivatives, hypericin, pseudohypericin and hyperforin, flavonoids, epicatechin.

Precautions

Side effects can be experienced, such as fatigue, stomach upsets, headaches. Not to be taken together with the contraceptive pill, anti-epilepsy treatments, 5-htp, and a number of other medications including anti-depressants. St John's wort should not be combined with a MAO inhibitor antidepressant such as Nardil (phenelzine) or Parnate (tranylcypromine). This combination can produce a dangerous rise in blood pressure or hypertensive crisis, along with severe anxiety, fever, muscle tension, and confusion. After stopping a MAO inhibitor, one should wait at least four weeks before taking other antidepressants, including Hypericum. If you are taking any medication consult your doctor before starting St John's Wort.


It should not be taken together with foods that contain tyramine i.e. cheese, red wine, preserved meats and yeast extracts. This is due to a MAO inhibition effect.
There are some recent reports that suggest that St. John's Wort may interfere with medications given during organ transplant (such as kidney and liver.) Do not take this herb if you have undergone or plan to undergo a transplant operation.


Do not use St. John's Wort during pregnancy or lactation.


St. John's Wort can make the skin more light sensitive. Persons with fair skin should avoid exposure to strong sunlight and other sources of ultraviolet light, such as tanning beds. These individuals may suffer severe burning and possibly blistering of the skin. The severity of these effects will depend on the amount of the plant consumed and the length of exposure to sunlight. Some experts suggest that all individuals avoid sunlight when using St John's wort, especially when taking large quantities.


St John's wort has a good safety record over centuries of folk medicine. In contrast to synthetic antidepressants, there have been no reports of Hypericum related deaths. Drug monitoring studies on over 7000 patients and twenty-seven double-blind research studies confirm its safety. The extensive use of Hypericum by millions of people has not resulted in reports of serious side effects.