St. John’s wort is viewed in much of the United States as nothing more than a weed, but in much of the rest of the world it is known as so much more. It’s a wild, yellow flower, an herb actually, named after St. John the Baptist that has been used for centuries for medical purposes, most notably for treating depression.
What Is Depression?
Depression, known more formally as “major depressive order” or “clinical depression,” is a common but serious mood disorder, per National Institutes of Health (NIH). It can be a chronic condition with significant symptoms that put a damper on your everyday life, affecting how you feel, think, and handle day-to-day activities, starting with sleep, eating, and work. Symptoms can include the following:
- Experiencing sadness or anxiety much of or all the time.
- Apathy toward activities you used to enjoy.
- Irritability or restlessness.
- Easily frustrated.
- Sleep issues; frequently tired.
- Eating too much or not at all.
- Problem concentrating, recalling details, or making decisions.
- A sense of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.
- Thoughts or suicide or hurting yourself.
St. John’s Wort’s Benefits
Unlike most other nutritional supplements and herbs discussed in this space, St. John’s wort is not known for having a long laundry list of health benefits, but it does seem to serve several health conditions quite well. Its apparent health benefits include the following:
- Depression. Per NIH, St. John’s wort isn’t consistently effective for treating depression, nor should it be used without a doctor’s supervision or at least an upfront discussion. At times, the herb can apparently be as effective as prescription antidepressants, but it should never be depended on as a replacement for conventional treatment nor should it be used simultaneous to prescription medication. St. John’s wort is not recommended for people with severe depression as it seems most effective in elevating the mood of individuals who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate depression. Studies testing St. John’s wort’s capability in treating depression have been mixed. Per my.clevelandclinic.org, some studies have shown the herbal agent more effective than a placebo and as effective as prescription antidepressants, while others have shown it no more effective than a placebo.
- Ease menopausal symptoms. When used by itself, St. John’s wort hasn’t moved the needle much in treating menopausal symptoms, but when combined with black cohosh, some evidence has shown them capable of collaborating to alleviate a woman’s menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, per mayoclinic.org.
- Healing wounds. With its potent antiviral properties, St. John’s wort also has shown the potential for promoting the healing and repair of wounds, per healthline.com, such as burns. In such cases, it is applied to the skin as a lotion.
St. John’s Wort's Side Effects
Care must be taken in using the herbal health aid, as it can produce a number of side effects, some of which are not much more than an annoyance while others can be more serious. That doesn’t include potentially dangerous interactions with many common drugs, such as antidepressants, birth control pills, and blood thinners.
Among the side effects associated with the use of St. John’s wort, per mayoclinic.org, in alphabetical order:
- Burning or prickling sensation
- Dry mouth
- Increased sunlight sensitivity
- Low blood sugar levels
- Stomach discomfort
- Vivid dreams