The name St. John’s Wort originates from St. John the Baptist. The plant blooms from about the time of St. John’s Day, 24 June, until August. According to old legend, St. John’s Wort sprouted at the place of John the Baptist’s beheading. And, the devil, afraid of St. John’s Wort benefits, including the healing, protective power of the herb, perforated the leaves.
The Basics of St. John’s Wort
The botanical name, Hypericum perforatum reportedly refers to the plant’s use by ancient Greeks, who hung the herb over images of gods to deter evil spirits. Characteristics of Hypericum include extremely deep roots, a two-edged stem, five-petalled bright yellow flowers with many yellow stamens, black spots and violet fine longitudinal stripes on the petals. The oval, paired leaves appear as if pierced with needles, an indication of oil glands in the leaves.
St. John’s Wort first appeared in Western Asia, Europe and North America. Today, it shows-up throughout the world, including Australia and New Zealand.
A brief history of St. John’s Wort
In total, the Hypericum family includes over 400 species. The sub-species, Hypericum perforatum uniquely qualifies as a medicinal plant. The plant grows on roadsides, embankments, forest margins, and dry grasslands. Cultivation in herbal medieval gardens has a long tradition.
The plant thrives in barren conditions, including a garden or confined to a pot, making it easy to cultivate. The plant’s yellow flowers contribute a wonderful aesthetic to gardens between June and July. The flowers and leaves yield a red oil when pressed.
St. John’s Wort benefits as traditional medicinal plant
The oldest preserved book documenting monastic medicine, the 8th century ‘Lorscher Arzneibuch’ recommends St. John’s Wort benefits for addressing melancholy. The term melancholy referred to gloom, despair, or depression. As with other historically consistent uses in klosterheikunde, the same use applies today.
In addition, St. John’s Wort served as a topical medieval medical treatment to accelerate the healing of wounds, help treat symptoms of gout and improve mild rheumatic pain and menstrual cramps.
Limitations of St. John’s Wort benefits
While the 12th century abbess, Hildegard von Bingen focused on concerns related to depressive moods, she considered the limitations of St. John’s Wort, as a remedy. Specifically, she thought cultivation standards for the herb fell short, and consequently viewed it as suitable for cattle feed. Today, many confuse the term “Hartheu,” found in Hildegard of Bingen writings as St. John’s Wort.
In fact, Hildegard’s use of the word Hartheu references one of the many other Hypericum species, and not Hypericum perforatum. In addition, for topical use, Hildegard preferred one of her favorite herbs, yarrow.
Other ancient healers
Contrary to Hildegard of Bingen medicine, the famous 16th century physician, Paracelsus, considered St. John’s Wort a universal medicine. His advice for using St. John’s Wort focused on evil spirits and negative fantasies, providing a window of explanation on the characterization of depression, at that time. Specifically, a strong link between conditions of the mind and the presence of inner demons.
Hildegard’s successor in monastic medicine, Sebastian Kneipp (1821 – 1897) used St. John’s Wort to treat psychological stress and fatigue. Kneipp also swore by the herb’s oil, known to help with healing wounds, burns, ulcers, gout or rheumatism.
Scientific Effects of St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort ranks among the most researched medicinal plants, particularly by scientists in Germany. Despite all of the research, the precise antidepressant function remains unclear. Controversy persists around which of the active components contributes to documented results. Prevalent speculation of the process includes various beliefs that St. John’s Wort increases activity among neurotransmitters, promotes and enhances the utilization of light, moderates elevated cortisol levels during stress, accelerates melatonin secretion, and more.
Topical use of oil for healing
Also used in traditional German medicine, St. John’s Wort oil promotes anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. The byproduct of hypericin contained in St. John’s Wort contributes to a reddish color in the oil. Hyperici oleum (the oily extract of St. John’s Wort) also contains flavonoids, hyperforin and its degradation products. Hyperforin, in particular contributes to the antimicrobial and wound healing effects. In combination with light, hyperforin inhibits viruses and perhaps other pathogens.
Confirmed Health Benefits of St. John’s Wort
The modern adoption of St. John’s Wort reflects in the vast number of applications recommended in Germany by Commission E. These include some of the following medical uses.
- Internal use: to address burnout, stress, anxiety, depressive moods, nervous tension; St. John’s wort oil (red oil) can also be used internally to strengthen digestion or for dyspeptic complaints.
- Topical use: St. John’s Wort oil accelerates healing for injuries from sharp and blunt contact, and first-degree burns, as well as for the after-treatment of myalgia (muscle pain, muscle inflammation, and muscle soreness).
The oily extract of St. John’s Wort soothes the skin, relieves irritations, accelerates healing, and moisturizes dry, irritated skin.
St. John’s Wort is also said to be effective against irritable bladder and bedwetting.
Uses of St. John’s Wort benefits in traditional German medicine
St. John’s Wort benefits appear throughout the archives of traditional German medicine for some of the following.
- Stomach discomfort, including diarrhea and flatulence
- Cramps, including those related to menstruation
- Basic gynecological concerns
- Skin irritation and skin care
- Bladder infections
- Open wounds or burns: Injuries heal faster and without scarring. Midwives used St. John’s Wort oil if a rupture of the perineum occurred during birth. Even third-degree burns healed many times faster than with other medicines (external and internal use).
- Lumbago, strains, contortions in the lower back
- Astringent (contracting) and hemostatic (slows bleeding)
Topical use of St. John’s Wort
The topical application of St. John’s Wort addresses acute injuries, as well as painful degenerative joint conditions, rheumatism, gout, arthritis, sciatica.
The herb combines effectively with Vaseline, cocoa butter, or beeswax to create a topical ointment. Alternatively, compresses (using water) serve for topical application. As with many Hildegard remedies, consider making tinctures.
St. John’s Wort tincture cure
Making tinctures using St. John’s Wort involves 10 grams of dried St. John’s Wort and 50 grams of high-proof alcohol combined and stored in a dark, firmly sealable glass for about 14 days. The tincture serves as a direct disinfectant (be careful with children, the alcohol burns). Consider diluting the solution for use in compresses. Apple vinegar also works as an alternative to alcohol.
Dosage for Internal Use of St. John’s Wort
Take up to 2000 mg extract daily (e.g. in capsules). Various forms include, St. John’s Wort oil, fresh juice, powder or capsule extract, or teas using the dried herb.
Administer two to three tablespoons of St. John’s Wort oil throughout the day and drink the tea several times a day. As an alternative to swallowing oil, take St. John’s Wort oil in capsule form. Taking extracts in capsule form has the advantage of homogenized active ingredients, creating some precision on dosage.
Differing use of tinctures
St. John’s Wort oils, extracts, tinctures and teas all work to address minor symptoms of psychological and psychosomatic ailments. Extract in powder or capsule form can be taken in a daily dose between 300 and 2000 mg. Take about 10 drops of tincture in a glass of water up to three times a day.
Sun sensitivity with St. John’s Wort
Studies show support dosages up to 2000 mg per day. An “overdose” does not seem to exist with St. John’s Wort. However, skin sensitivity to UV light increases with higher daily doses. Refrain from extreme sunbathing for the duration of use.
Duration of St. John’s Wort Benefits
When and how the effects of natural remedies can be expected to occur depends on factors, such as the severity of symptoms, and the time-period stressful conditions persist. In general, regardless of dosage, expect the onset of positive effects to begin 2 weeks from initial use. Like with other forms of Slow Medicine, natural healing requires patience. Depending on the dosage and the problem, individual symptoms begin to improve with some patience.
The onset of positive effect may appear in as little as a few days, but often only after about three weeks. Occasionally mood improvements occur rapidly as a result of herbal remedies or change in circumstances.
Patience of natural healing
Natural healing rewards our patience with lasting positive changes. Important improvements include better relaxation, improved restful sleep, and physical coping mechanisms to help recharge energy reserves. Consequently, we improve our ability to concentrate, resulting in overall enhanced performance. With time and support, our confidence and strength improves for everyday life.
Duration of use
The need alone determines the duration of use for St. John’s Wort. St. John’s Wort benefits remain effective and safe for permanent use without causing chemical dependency. In contrast to common antidepressants, sleeping pills or sedatives, St. John’s Wort positively influences perception, concentration and a general sense of well-being over long term use.
St. John’s Wort and Depression
Over decades of research on thousands of patients between 1939 and 1954, Munich neurologist and psychiatrist, Karl Daniel found that symptoms of depression go beyond disorders of brain metabolism alone. Instead, and consistent with Hildegard’s view on holistic health, depression affects the whole person, both psychologically and physically.
Modern science has established the efficacy of St. John’s Wort benefits, as compared with many common psychotropic drugs. The natural and unique combination of different active ingredients in the plant and their interaction help address depression of varying degrees. In addition, St. John’s Wort benefits mental and physical exhaustion resulting from burnout and stress.
Physiological effects of St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort in the form of teas or highly concentrated extracts (capsules) stimulate the following changes.
- Increased the photosensitivity of the skin. The body better uses light and sun to produce more vitamin D, supporting the immune system and many other biochemical processes.
- Stimulates cell metabolism and helps strengthen the immune defenses. Has a generally stimulating effect, including improved blood circulation and brain function. These effects serve particularly useful in addressing depressive moods associated with pre-menopause, age depression or depression during puberty.
- Positively influences blood sugar levels and the metabolism of potassium and calcium.
- Regulates the availability of the messenger substances serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and melatonin and helps to inhibit the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO). This improves the impulse transmission of nerve receptors, leading to more restful sleep, more energy and resilience with “better nerves” for everyday life.
- Reduces many accompanying symptoms of depression, such as exhaustion, burnout, sleep rhythm disruption, and migraines.
Rather than suppressing individual symptoms, the composition of St. John’s Wort intervenes gently, with a lasting effect to regulate the balance of hormones and metabolism. Recovery means lasting energy, confidence, and psychological stability that goes beyond the term of use. In short, St. John’s Wort fundamentally helps repair what chemical antidepressants suppress.
The daily dosage of St. John’s wort for depression
St. John’s Wort works safely in high doses to address the symptoms of depression. Like many old-world remedies derived from traditional German medicine, St. John’s Wort has a track record including thousands of years of use, showing it poses few risks.
The most consistent dose comes in extract or capsule form. Many capsules contain about 500 mg St. John’s Wort extract. From 500 to 1000 mg, patients can expect even severe depressive symptoms to improve within a reasonable time frame. In the initial phase of treatment, consider higher doses of up to 2000 mg per day.
Alternative means for application of St. John’s Wort
Teas, preparations made from the whole dried plant, or St. John’s Wort oil, where the active ingredients absorb through the skin, all may have varying doses to achieve a similar effect.
Take a daily dose throughout the day, preferably during or after meals. Consult with experienced naturopaths and doctors before treating children with depressive symptoms. With that said, St. John’s Wort works for children as a gentle remedy, assuming adjusted dosage, depending on age, starting with 300 to 900 mg spread over the day.
Possible Side effects of St. John’s Wort
If suffering from untreated depression, St. John’s Wort extract works in higher doses immediately. As with many highly effective herbal medicines, few known side effects arise with the use of St. John’s Wort alone. Side-effects can arise while taking herbal remedies, like St. John’s Wort in combination with other medications.
Before beginning therapy with St. John’s Wort, spend some time with a physician to clarify any potential interactions with other medications. For example, in combination with blood coagulation inhibitors, common antidepressants or immuno-suppressors, St. John’s Wort may lose efficacy.
Sun sensitivity of St. John’s Wort
Rarely do conditions arise such as gastrointestinal, allergic skin symptoms, restlessness, or increased fatigue.
The commonly cited increase in sun sensitivity seems particularly noticeable in very light-skinned people. When taking St. John’s Wort, patients should avoid strong sunlight without protection. As with other Hildegard remedies, consider discretio in moderate activities. Never forego important activities, such as a walk after dinner, or a dynamic meditation in nature.
Potential interactions with birth control
Package inserts accompanying St. John’s Wort often warn of potential interactions with hormonal contraceptives. Certain active agents found in St. John’s Wort activate the liver and intestines in such a way to break-down the effective components of hormonal contraceptives. However, most scientists agree that the risk of an unwanted pregnancy remains very low and generally only arises at dosage levels exceeding 900 mg/day.
Depression and Vitamin D Deficiency
Many cases of depression call for medication as a necessity. However, certain situations call for a different approach to regulating the brain’s biochemistry. For example, evidence shows that vitamin D deficiency corresponds closely with incidents of depression.
A meta-study, evaluating a total of 14 scientific papers, involving more than 30,000 volunteers, established a clear connection between vitamin D deficiency and depression. The study was conducted at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Too much credit to the sunshine vitamin
Not all cases of depression tie to vitamin D deficiency. Those speculating about the risk of vitamin D deficiency may consider a test to explore blood count (cholecalciferol) levels. While vitamin D contributes to calcium balance and bone stability, preserving an intact immune system, and helps control countless biochemical processes in the body. Its precise effect on mood and depression remains less clear.
For now, we take comfort in knowing that high doses of vitamin D serves particularly useful for female patients suffering moderate to severe depression. And, the positive effects generally occur surprisingly quickly.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) and St. John’s Wort
One of the important active agents found in St. John’s Wort, hypericin increases sun and light sensitivity. This can advance the healing properties of vitamin D. Provided the person concerned gets enough sun and his metabolism utilizes it accordingly. The ability to produce vitamin D decreases as we age.
Administering a preparation of Hypericum improves the patient’s use of light and sun to produce more vitamin D. Those who know their own bio-rhythms and understand the ways the dark season of the year affects their mental state, may consider taking herbal antidepressants and mood enhancers in the form of Hypericum tea, or powder and capsules with the plant extract as early as autumn. This prevents “winter blues”, typical winter fatigue, or even depression.
The Calming Effect of St. John’s Wort
Because St. John’s Wort benefits intervene gently but effectively in the operating of neurotransmitters and hormones, the herb improves serenity in everyday life. In contrast to commercially available tranquilizers, St. John’s Wort benefits offer more than short-term calming effects. Rather than simply mask symptoms, St. John’s Wort helps improve concentration, patience in the face of demands, and supports more restful and deeper sleep.
St. John’s Wort for anxiety, nervousness and inner restlessness
The use of St. John’s Wort to address anxiety, restlessness and nervousness depends on the severity of the symptoms. Signs of burnout, exhaustion and depression, may call for a higher dose of St. John’s Wort extract (capsules) over a period of several weeks to control anxiety, insomnia and restlessness.
Using St. John’s Wort in tea provides the same relief in treating less severe manifestations. An infusion of St. John’s Wort three times a day, for example in combination with valerian root, hawthorn (to strengthen the heart and circulation), green oats, and passion flower serves as a solid combination.
Those who mix such teas themselves should not use more than two or three ingredients. Consider altering the combination after a period of use.
Massage the chest around the heart with St. John’s Wort oil to warm and relax
Whether its nervousness, inner restlessness, irritability, difficulty in life, contributing to a depressing, energy-sapping and negative basic attitude, before physical consequences arise, take action. Otherwise, individual symptoms quickly turn into depression or inner burnout. Constant nervousness and tension cost us the strength we need to remain effective in the everyday life.
Try to avoid heavy medications for sedation or improved sleep except as a last resort, or in extreme cases. Self-medicating, using alcohol or other substances creates more problems than benefits. The gentle support of nature often achieves convincing and lasting results. Experience has established that St. John’s Wort tops the list of natural remedies to address restlessness, nervousness, anxiety and temporary inability to cope with stress.
Virtually Any Form of Delivery for St. John’s Wort Benefits
The method of delivery for St. John’s Wort plays less of a role in the herb’s overall effectiveness. Tea works slower, while the results from a high-dose extract operate somewhat faster. They all have a lasting effect on the mood and strengthen the nerves. Those affected regain energy and vitality, while regaining clarity and concentration to set priorities. The paralyzing fear of coping with everyday life gives way to a confident mood.