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St. John's Wort as a Depression and Anxiety Treatment - Does It Work?

Updated on November 18, 2014

"St. John's wort? That's a weird name. What is this?", I said.

"I'm taking that to help me with my anxiety", my mother said.

"Aren't you supposed to take psychiatric medication for that? Does this even work or is this one of those fad things that are popular for a bit and then you never hear about them again??", I said smugly.

"St. John's wort has been around longer than you have and it has been used for the natural treatment of anxiety and depression symptoms. You and your annoying smug look should try it sometime."

Score: One for my mom, zero for me. Ouch!

What is St. John's wort?

I had been having all the classic anxiety symptoms for a while: Insomnia, chest pains, panic attacks, etc. but I refuse to take any kind of of medications. I thought that my mind could be controlled if I only tried hard enough, and I still believe that,but I think at this point some extra help wouldn't hurt.

I listened to my mom's advice and bought a bottle of St. John's wort.

St. John's wort is a plant that has pretty yellow flowers with little red dots. It gets it's name from St. John the Baptist because his feast falls on the time that this plant is in full bloom.

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) can go by different names such as Perforate St. John's wart, Tipton's Weed, goatweed, rosin rose or Klamath weed.

St. John's wort has been used for a long time for different and varied things. For example, the Greeks used this plant because they believed it was magical and had the power to expel demons. They used it as some kind of magic spell for love, happiness and health.

St. John's wort flower
St. John's wort flower | Source

Have you tried St. John's wort?

If you've tried St. John's wort, would you recommend it?

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St. John's wort for depression and anxiety

St. John's wort can be used for a variety of things, but it is most commonly used as a natural treatment for mild to moderate depression and anxiety. In fact, several people have felt that St. John's wort relieves depression often as effectively as strong antidepressant drugs but without the unpleasant side effects.

Here are some of the advantages of taking St. John's wort over prescription drugs:

  • Less side effects
  • Calms and balances the nervous system
  • Helps as a sleep aid because it increases melatonin levels
  • Reduces anxiety levels
  • Does not interfere with libido
  • Does not interfere with cognitive capacity.

It takes about three to four weeks to see any benefits, so don't give up on St. John's wort if you don't see any immediate effects.

Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your mental treatment.
Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your mental treatment. | Source

Did you know?

Germany's number one treatment for depression is St. John's wort.

St. John's wort has been proven to be an effective natural antidepressant.

The percentage of people whose depression symptoms improve when taking St. John's wort are about the same as those taking antidepressant drugs.

But does it really work? What do the studies say?

Several studies have been made comparing St. John's wort to placebos and other antidepressants. These studies have shown that about 60 to 80 percent of depressed individuals improve when taking St. John's wort.

The interesting part is that these are about the same percentages that are expected of antidepressant drugs.

A German survey of 3,250 patients of depression showed that 80% of them showed significant improvement or even complete freedom of symptoms after taking St. John's wort for 4 weeks.

A study performed by the University of Salzburg showed that 67% of subjects taking 900 milligrams of St. John's wort daily showed significant improvement on their mood, emotional fear and psychosomatic symptoms.

An analysis of 23 clinical studies published in the British Medical Journal in 1996 confirmed that St. John's wort does, indeed, have antidepressant effects in cases of mild to moderate depression.

So it's pretty much established that St. John's wort can help you improve or even get rid of your depression. What still isn't clear is what exactly in this plant helps you get well.

Chopped St. John's Wort
Chopped St. John's Wort | Source

How much should I take?

The recommended dose is 300 mg divided in three parts: One 100 mg pill three times a day.

What can St. John's wort be used for other than depression

When taken internally, St. John's wort can be effective for many things, such as:

  • As an analgesic. Helps calm muscular pain as well as pain caused by gout, arthritis and lumbalgia.
  • Helps regulate menstrual cycle
  • Effective as a natural treatment for mild to moderate depression, as well as for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
  • Helps with enuresis in children (bed wetting)

St. John's wort can also be used externally on your skin to help as:

  • Anti-inflamatory. Prevents inflammation in the case of contusions or injuries.
  • Healing agent. Helps heal burns, eczema, acne, sores, etc.
  • Can also be used for cramps and muscular spasms.

What are the possible side effects?

One of the best things about using St. John's wort is that it has very little, if any, side effects. The possible - yet rare - side effects would be:

  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Possible allergic reaction
  • Tiredness
  • Constipation
  • Restlessness
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Dizziness
  • Skin and eye sensibility to sunlight

Keep in mind that while these side effects could potentially happen, it only happens in rare cases.

Before you start antidepressants for your mild to moderate depression, give St. John's wort a try.
Before you start antidepressants for your mild to moderate depression, give St. John's wort a try. | Source

Words of Caution

  • Although there are several studies proving the efficacy of St. John's wort as an antidepressant, there aren't any studies that show the potential side effects of taking St. John's wort for a long period of time.
  • St. John's wort could worsen symptoms in people suffering from Alzheimer's diesase, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other mental disorders
  • Pregnant and lactating women should avoid St. John's wort as no studies have been made to prove its safety during these stages.
  • People who have received an organ transplant should avoid St. John's wort as it could cause the body to reject the organ.
  • In a small study, St. John's wort was associated with hyperthyroidism.
  • If you're antidepressants, don't stop taking them without consulting your doctor.
  • Don't expect St. John's wort to start working right away. It takes 3-6 weeks to see results.

Nature has many treasures - and cures - to offer. Keep learning, keep

Happy Living!


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    • Silver Q profile image

      Silver Q 3 years ago

      Hi joanCA:

      Yes, apparently St. John's wort can worsen some mental disorders, but most people with mild to moderate depression can take it and expect to see good results. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • JoanCA profile image

      JoanCA 3 years ago

      Great hub! I was reading about St. John's Wort recently and was surprised that while it's effective with mild and moderate depression, it can make major depression and bipolar disorder worse.