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What is St. John’s Wort?


Common Names—St. John’s wort, Hypericum, Klamath weed, Goatweed

Latin Name—Hypericum perforatum

St. John’s wort is a shrubby plant with clusters of yellow flowers that have oval, elongated petals. Both the flowers and leaves are used as medicine. St. John’s wort was given its name because it blooms about June 24th, the birthday of John the Baptist. “Wort” is an old English word for plant.

Scientists believe St. John’s wort is native to Europe, parts of Asia and Africa, and the western United States. Although not native to Australia and long considered a weed, St. John’s wort is now grown there as a crop. Today, Australia produces 20 percent of the world’s supply.

The flowering tops of St. John’s wort are used to prepare teas, tablets, and capsules containing concentrated extracts. Liquid extracts and topical preparations are also used.

St. John’s wort has a history of being used as a medicine dating back to ancient Greece, where it was used for a range of illnesses, including various “nervous disorders.” St. John’s wort also has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it has been applied to the skin to help heal wounds and burns.

Today, St. John’s wort is used as a folk or traditional remedy for depression and conditions that sometimes go along with depression such as anxiety, tiredness, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. There is some strong scientific evidence that it is effective for mild to moderate depression. It can be taken instead of standard antidepressants known as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, a class of prescription antidepressants sold under trade names like Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and many others).

At least one out of every 20 Americans gets depressed each year, and many rely on anti-depressants to help them cope. A new study shows the herb St. John’s Wort might be just as effective, and with fewer side effects. St. John’s wort is one of the most commonly purchased herbal products in the United States.

St. John’s wort has been tried for exhaustion, stop-smoking help, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), migraine and other types of headaches, muscle pain, nerve pain, and irritable bowel syndrome. It is also used for cancer, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis C.

An oil can be made from St. John’s wort. Some people apply this oil to their skin to treat bruises and scrapes, inflammation and muscle pain, first degree burns, wounds, bug bites, hemorrhoids, and nerve pain. But applying St. John’s wort directly to the skin is risky. It can cause serious sensitivity to sunlight.

Other uses include heart palpitations, moodiness and other symptoms of menopause, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

St. John’s Wort is harvested for its active ingredient, hypericin, and this is the “drug” that actually works for you. Hypericin inhibits monoamine oxidase, a bodily chemical associated with depression. It appears that hypericin does not act alone, like many herbal medicines, St. John’s Wort relies on the complex interplay of many constituents for its antidepressant actions. Patients suffering from depression received relief, increased appetite, more interest in life, greater self-esteem and restoration of normal sleeping patterns. New research also points to hyperforin levels within St. John’s Wort as being important as well. The active ingredients in St. John’s wort can be deactivated by light. That’s why you will find many products packaged in amber containers. The amber helps, but it doesn’t offer total protection against the adverse effects of light.

Generally, St. John’s Wort is used to treat mild or moderate depression. And although it’s now scientifically proven to be effective, the exact mechanism by which the hypericin/hyperforin inside the St. John’s Wort is not completely understood. It just works, for most people.

St. John’s Wort is available as tea, tincture, decoction, oil, and in capsule form. Teas should be made with 1-2 cups of flowers per 1 cup of boiling water. This tea can be drunk three times daily. The dosage of the tincture is 1/4 to 1 teaspoon up to three times daily.

Since St. John’s Wort is generally available over-the-counter in most countries, it’s not a regulated like pharmaceutical drugs – therefore you should try to find the best quality brand that you can. It’s not expensive. Occasionally people try to grow it themselves, but due to widely varying qualities you had best stick to a good, quality commercial brand.

France has banned the use of St. John’s wort products. The ban appears to be based on a report issued by the French Health Product Safety Agency warning of significant interactions between St. John’s wort and some medications. Several other countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, and Canada, are in the process of including drug-herb interaction warnings on St. John’s wort products.

Extreme cases of depression should still be treated with the help of your doctor or psychiatrist, especially if you are already taking medication or several types of medication.

Talk with your doctor before you take any St. John’s Wort supplements.

More information about other natural products

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