St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): History, Effectiveness, and Safety

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a herb that has a long history of use for various medicinal purposes, including its potential as a natural remedy for depression and other mental health issues. This botanical has been the subject of extensive research, and its benefits, effectiveness, and safety have been explored in peer-reviewed medical literature. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the history of St. John’s Wort, its effectiveness as a treatment for depression, its immune-boosting properties, and how to prepare and consume it safely.

Historical Significance: The history of St. John’s Wort is rich and intriguing. The plant has been used for centuries, dating back to ancient Greece, where it was believed to have medicinal properties. Its name is derived from the fact that it was traditionally harvested around St. John’s Day on June 24th. In medieval Europe, it was associated with warding off evil spirits and was used to protect against various ailments.

St. John’s Wort has a particularly long history of use in traditional medicine, especially in Europe. In these traditional practices, it was employed to treat a variety of conditions, from wounds[i] and burns[ii] to anxiety and depression. Its usage has continued into the modern era, and it gained significant popularity in the late 20th century as a natural remedy for depression[iii].

Effectiveness as a Treatment for Depression:

One of the most extensively studied uses of St. John’s Wort is its potential effectiveness as a treatment for depression. Numerous clinical trials and research studies have been conducted to evaluate its efficacy in managing this mental health condition.

Several meta-analyses of these studies have provided valuable insights. One notable meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2001 reviewed 27 randomized controlled trials involving over 3,000 patients. The results suggested that St. John’s Wort might be more effective than a placebo and as effective as some standard antidepressant medications in treating mild to moderate depression[iv].

Another meta-analysis, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2008, examined 29 clinical trials involving more than 5,400 patients. The findings indicated that St. John’s Wort might be better tolerated than some conventional antidepressants and could be considered as an alternative for individuals with mild to moderate depression[v].

However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort for depression can vary among individuals, and it may not be suitable for everyone. Additionally, the quality and standardization of St. John’s Wort preparations can vary, which can impact its efficacy.

Safety and Potential Side Effects:

While St. John’s Wort has shown promise as a natural treatment for depression, it’s essential to consider its safety profile. Like any herbal remedy, it can have potential side effects and interactions with other medications.

Common side effects associated with St. John’s Wort may include:

  1. Photosensitivity: Some individuals may become more sensitive to sunlight, leading to skin reactions when exposed to the sun.
  2. Digestive Issues: Stomach upset, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms have been reported in some cases.
  3. Fatigue and Restlessness: A minority of users may experience tiredness or restlessness.
  4. Interactions with Medications: John’s Wort can interact with various medications, including birth control pills, antidepressants, and anticoagulants. These interactions can reduce the effectiveness of these drugs or lead to unexpected side effects.

It’s crucial for individuals considering St. John’s Wort as a treatment to consult with a healthcare professional, especially if they are taking other medications or have underlying health conditions. Healthcare providers can provide personalized guidance and monitor for potential interactions and side effects.

Immune-Boosting Properties:

Beyond its potential for treating depression, St. John’s Wort has also been explored for its immune-boosting properties. While it’s not typically considered a primary immune-boosting herb like echinacea or elderberry, some research suggests that its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may contribute to overall immune support[vi].

St. John’s Wort contains compounds like hypericin and hyperforin, which have demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in laboratory studies. These properties could theoretically help the body defend against infections and maintain a healthy immune system. However, more research is needed to establish its specific role in immune health.

How to Prepare and Consume St. John’s Wort:

St. John’s Wort can be prepared and consumed in various forms, including:

  1. Infusions: To make a St. John’s Wort tea, you can steep the dried or fresh flowers in hot water. This method is often used to address mild mood disturbances.
  2. Tinctures: John’s Wort tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts. They are typically taken in small doses and can be mixed with water or juice.
  3. Capsules or Tablets: Standardized St. John’s Wort extracts are available in the form of capsules or tablets. These are convenient for accurate dosing.
  4. Topical Oils: John’s Wort oil, made by infusing the herb in a carrier oil, is used topically for skin conditions and as an herbal remedy for minor burns.

When using St. John’s Wort for depression, it’s essential to follow the recommended dosage instructions provided on the product label or as advised by a healthcare professional. Consistency in dosing and duration of use is key to potentially experiencing its benefits.

In conclusion, St. John’s Wort is a botanical with a fascinating history, potential effectiveness in treating mild to moderate depression, and possible immune-boosting properties. However, it should be approached with caution, especially in conjunction with other medications, due to potential interactions and side effects. If you’re considering St. John’s Wort as a treatment option, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare provider for personalized guidance. When used responsibly and under the guidance of a healthcare professional, St. John’s Wort may offer a natural alternative for those seeking relief from mood disturbances.

[i] Wölfle U, Seelinger G, Schempp CM. Topical application of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). Planta Med. 2014 Feb;80(2-3):109-20. doi: 10.1055/s-0033-1351019. Epub 2013 Nov 8. PMID: 24214835.

[ii] Kıyan S, Uyanıkgil Y, Altuncı YA, Çavuşoğlu T, Çetin Uyanıkgil EÖ, Karabey F. Investigation of acute effects of Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort-Kantaron) treatment in experimental thermal burns and comparison with silver sulfadiazine treatment. Ulus Travma Acil Cerrahi Derg. 2015 Sep;21(5):323-36. doi: 10.5505/tjtes.2015.. PMID: 26388268.


[iv] Greeson JM, Sanford B, Monti DA. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum): a review of the current pharmacological, toxicological, and clinical literature. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001 Feb;153(4):402-14. doi: 10.1007/s002130000625. PMID: 11243487.

[v] Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L. St John’s wort for major depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD000448. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000448.pub3. Accessed 17 September 2023.

[vi] Abtahi Froushani SM, Esmaili Gouvarchin Galee H, Khamisabadi M, Lotfallahzade B. Immunomudulatory effects of hydroalcoholic extract of Hypericum perforatum. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2015 Jan-Feb;5(1):62-8. PMID: 25767758; PMCID: PMC4352534.