St. John's Wort

St. John's wort is unique among herbal treatments because it has traditional and modern acceptance for both mental and physical complaints.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Common St. John's wort, Tipton's weed, chase devil, Klamath weed
  • Scientific nameHypericum perforatum
  • Geographic distributionEurope and Asia
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Main producer(s)Australia
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
St. John's Wort

Steeped in mythological mystery alongside its long-held scientific support, St. John's wort is one of few medicinal herbs that have found mainstream use in treating both mental and physical ailments. Native populations of St. John's wort have been found in many locations, so the exact place of its origin remains unknown. St. John's wort comes from the temperate regions of Europe and Asia and has spread throughout the world in areas with similar climates.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntidepressant
  • Key constituentsHypericin, hyperforin
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Tincture
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingUse with caution

Health Benefits of St. John's Wort

Popular in Europe, as well as other parts of the world, St. John's wort has numerous health benefits, especially in mental health. St. John's wort is mainly used for:

  • Treating depression. One of St. John's wort's primary medicinal properties is its ability to treat minor to moderate depression
  • Treating anxiety and panic disorder. Due to its sedative properties, St. John's wort has been used to treat minor to moderate symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder

In addition, St. John's wort can treat other conditions, such as:

  • Managing the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. St. John's wort has been used to help lessen the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Treating insomnia. Because of its sedative properties, St. John's wort can be used as a sleep aid for those who suffer from insomnia or other sleeping disorders
  • Healing minor wounds and skin conditions. When applied topically, St. John's wort can heal many minor skin injuries and conditions, such as minor burns, sunburns, abrasions, and contusions, as well as psoriasis and mild herpes symptoms, such as cold sores.

How It Works

The active ingredients in the herb have been under revision and discussion in the scientific community for years, and current research points to its concentrations of hypericin and hyperforin, compounds that act on mood-regulating messengers in the nervous system. Flavonoids and tannins are also present, which may additionally imbue the herb with antioxidant properties.

St. John's wort continues to be utilized mainly as a treatment for mild to moderate depression because of hypericin's action, which affect the brain's serotonin reuptake centers. This can benefit people by improving their moods and decreasing anxiety and insomnia. Research also supports its use for menopausal women, who often experience fewer symptoms while taking it.

HYPERFORIN'S MECHANISM OF ACTION IS SIMILAR TO THAT OF COMMERCIAL SSRI ANTIDEPRESSANTS.

St. John's Wort Side Effects

St. John's wort is likely safe for most people when taken orally in limited doses. However, it can cause some minor side effects for some people, such as difficulty sleeping, vivid dreams, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, upset stomach, fatigue, dry mouth, dizziness, headache, skin rash, diarrhea, and tingling extremities.

When taken in excess, St. John's wort can also worsen the severity of sunburn for fair-skinned individuals, so wearing sunblock is required when taking St. John's wort medicinally.

Cautions

  • Individuals who suffer from neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia, should consult a physician before taking St. John's wort, since it can worsen these conditions and interact with certain medications.
  • Individuals who will undergo surgery should avoid using St. John's wort, since it can interact with anesthesia
  • Women who are trying to conceive should not take St. John's wort, since it can hinder fertility
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult a physician before taking St. John's wort medicinally, since it can trigger colic, drowsiness, and listlessness for babies who drink breast milk from mothers who take St. John's wort

How to Consume St. John's Wort

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFlowers, Leaves

St. John's wort is not often used for culinary purposes. Therefore, the most effective way of obtaining its health benefits is in medicinal forms of consumption, where the properties are more concentrated.

Remedies

Main preparations: Capsules, infusions, extracts, tinctures, salves

  • Capsules. When taken as a capsule, St. John's wort can treat depression due to its antidepressive properties, as well as manage symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) due to its sedative properties.
  • Infusions. When brewed into a hot tea, St. John's wort has numerous medicinal properties, including treating anxiety and panic disorder thanks to its sedative properties. For these same properties, St. John's wort infusions can also treat insomnia.
  • Tinctures. When taken as a tincture, St. John's wort can treat depression, anxiety, and panic disorder due to its antidepressive and sedative properties.
  • Extracts. In its most concentrated medicinal form, St. John's wort extracts can treat anxiety, as well as insomnia due to its sedative properties.
  • Salves. When applied topically as a salve, St. John's wort can treat psoriasis due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores

St. John's wort is readily available through many different sources worldwide. Capsules are typically available online or in health stores. St. John's wort teas are available in heath stores, online, or in some grocery stores. As St. John's wort is a well-established herbal remedy, preparations containing it can be found in specialized health stores as well as online.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFlowers, Leaves
  • Light requirementsFull sun, Partial shade
  • SoilLoamy sand
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral)
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones4a (From −34.4 °C (−30 °F) to −31.7 °C (−25 °F)), 4b (From −31.7 °C (−25 °F) to −28.9 °C (−20 °F)), 5a (From −28.9 °C (−20 °F) to −26.1 °C (−15 °F)), 5b (From −26.1 °C (−15 °F) to −23.3 °C (−10 °F)), 6a (From −23.3 °C (−10 °F) to −20.6 °C (−5 °F)), 6b (From −20.6 °C (−5 °F) to −17.8 °C (0 °F)), 7a (From −17.8 °C (0 °F) to −15 °C (5 °F)), 7b (From −15 °C (5 °F) to −12.2 °C (10 °F)), 8a (From −12.2 °C (10 °F) to −9.4 °C (15 °F)), 8b (From −9.4 °C (15 °F) to −6.7 °C (20 °F)), 9a (From −6.7 °C (20 °F) to −3.9 °C (25 °F)), 9b (From −3.9 °C (25 °F) to −1.1 °C (30 °F))
  • Pre-germination seed treatmentSoaking
  • Potential diseasesMildew

St. John's wort is not only medicinally beneficial, but it is a popular choice in many gardens due to its aesthetic beautiful and its relative ease in care. However, it should be monitored when planted outdoors because many animals like to consume it and it may be harmful for them when consumed in its raw, herbal form. This is especially important for gardeners who have pets. Follow the growing guidelines below for additional growing tips:

Growing Guidelines

  • St. John's wort thrives best when it is planted in the spring
  • This plant prefers temperate climates
  • Some research suggests that exposing the seeds to high heat - 212 – 250°F (100 – 121°C) - may accelerate germination after planting, but ideal growth temperatures range from 59 – 68°F (15 – 20°C)
  • Partial sunlight and fertilization are recommended to permit harvesting of the top third of the plant during midsummer
  • St. John's wort should be planted in warm, sandy soils
  • It can grow in either full sun or partial shade
  • If the soil of is poor quality, fertilizer will be needed to help it thrive

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Known scientifically as Hypericum perforatum, its genus name Hypericum derives from the Greek words “hyper” (above) and “eikon” (above), referring to the practice of hanging St. John's wort plants over religious icons in the home on June 24th (St. John's Day) to ward off evil spirits. St. John's wort is an herbaceous perennial plant with extensive, creeping rhizomes. Its stems are erect, branched in the upper section, and can grow up to 3.2 feet (1 m) high.

  • Classification
    St. John's wort is a member of the Hypericum genus, which features 400 species of temperate-climate plants that are sometimes all given the umbrella distinction of St. John's wort, despite various differences in appearance. This particular plant can grow up to three feet (1 m) tall from its single stem, directly from which grow their characteristically "perforated" narrow, opposing leaves that appear dotted with translucent points when held to the light. Blooms are bright yellow with black dots, and an extensive system of rhizomes exists beneath the surface.

  • Varieties and Subspecies of St. John's Wort
    Since Hypericum perforatum has not been traditionally cultivated on such a large scale, no distinct cultivars have been developed and no true subspecies have been identified. However, many distinct species go by the name of St. John's wort, and all are closely related within the same genus. Among the commonly-confused Hypericum species that share the common name, the most notable ones include slender St. John's wort (H. pulchrum), of Western Europe; great St. John's wort (H. calycinum), a taller Mediterranean species; and square-stemmed St. John's wort (H. tetrapterum), also known as Peter's wort, among other species.

Historical Information

Since St. John's Wort has such a vast native region, it is likely that it has been domesticated at several points on different continents. In China, evidence shows that it had been used by humans for at least 2,000 years, while in Western Europe the first records of it use date from 400 BCE to Ancient Greece and Rome.

St. John's wort first found human use as a medicinal herb for everything from snake bites to indigestion to depression in classical as well as ancient Chinese culture. Greek and Roman civilizations thought it to prolong life and employed it in religious ceremonies, calling it hypericon in the former, which roughly translates to "among" or "over gods." Christians later associated its late-spring blooms with John the Baptist, born June 24th, and the faith later spread its cultivation to European colonies worldwide.

Economic Data

As a powerful natural alternative to many medications, St. John's wort is now frequently prescribed as a first line of defense against depression, which affects approximately 350 million people around the world today. Consumer research reflects this statistic: in 2011, the herb was the ninth top-selling herbal supplement in the United States, generating approximately $8.4 million USD from that market alone. Though considered an invasive plant in the country, Australia is also its leading commercial producer, providing 20% of the world's annual supply.

Popular Beliefs

The name St. John's wort comes from its traditional flowering and harvesting, which occurs on St. John's Day, June 24th of every year. Because of this, St. John's wort is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist in the Christian church.

Other Uses of St. John's Wort

For Gardening

Thanks to its incredible survival rate and quick spread for ground cover, St. John's wort has become a popular ornamental plant in amateur gardens and professional landscaping around the world. Some choose to grow it for its herbal benefit, but many more derive aesthetic pleasure from its highly symmetrical structure and vibrant blooms.

For Skin Care

St. John's wort has not only proven its medicinal powers for mental health, it has significant benefits in dermatological applications as well. The extract of the plant has antimicrobial, astringent, and emollient properties, which are used in a variety of skin care products, such as moisturizers, lip gloss, body oil, toners, soaps, scrubs, and acne treatments.

Bibliography

  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, p. 108
  • MedlinePlus Herbs and Supplements, St. John's Wort
  • University of Maryland Medical Center, St. John's Wort
  • Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, St. John's Wort
  • World Health Organization, Depression Factsheet
  • Journal of the American Botanical Council, The 40 Top-Selling Herbal Dietary Supplements in the Food, Drug, and Mass Market Channel in the United States for 2011 (per SymphonyIRI), 2011
  • Government of Saskatchewan, St. John's Wort – Agriculture
  • National Institutes of Health. (2014). Topical application of St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24214835
  • National Institutes of Health. (2012). The evaluation of the clinical effect of topical St Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum L.) in plaque type psoriasis vulgaris: a pilot study Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22571563