St. John’s Wort: Uses, dosage, and risks

St. John’s wort is a herb that has long been thought to have medicinal qualities, especially for the treatment of depression.

It also appears to have antibacterial properties and may act as an antiviral agent.

Also known as Perforate St. John’s wart, Tipton’s Weed or Klamath weed, St. John’s wort comes from a flowering plant called Hypericum perforatum. It is available in teas, tablets, capsules, and as a topical treatment.

The plant contains the active chemical hypericin, and this may be what gives the herb most of its efficacy. Other ingredients such as hyperforin and flavonoids may play a role.

St. John’s Wort can clash dangerously with some prescription drugs, so care must be taken with its use, and any use should be first discussed with a health care provider.

It can also lead to increased photosensitivity, or sun sensitivity, stomach upset and allergic reactions.

Fast facts about St. John’s wort

St. John’s wort is named after St. John the Baptist, as the plant is in full bloom on 24th June, St. John’s feast day.

The herb is used in alternative medicine to treat depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

It can be taken in the form of tablets, tinctures, or as an infusion, using teabags.

St. John’s wort has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription use in the United States (U.S.).

What is it?

St john's wort
St John’s wort is a herb with antidepressant and potentially antiviral qualities.

St. John’s Wort is named after St. John the Baptist, whose feast day (24th June) occurs when the plant is in full bloom.

Red spots are said to appear on the plant’s leaves on August 29th in the northern hemisphere, traditionally the anniversary of the death of St. John the Baptist. The red spots are said to represent the blood spilled when St. John was beheaded.

Some say the herb was used to treat the wounded in the crusades by the Knights of St. John.

How it works is unclear, but its action may be similar to that of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) such as fluoxetine, or Prozac, in increasing the availability of the brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

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Other uses

St. John’s wort has been tested a number of conditions, with varying results.

Depressive disorder: For the treatment of mild-to-moderate major depression, short-term studies, lasting up to 12 weeks, indicate that the herb is more effective than a placebo and as equally effective as tricyclic antidepressants TCAs in treating depression.

Studies comparing St. John’s wort with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac (fluoxetine) or Zoloft (sertraline), are more limited, but there is some evidence that the herb may be as effective as these drugs and with fewer side effects.

There is not enough evidence to support its use in children.

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