Known by other names such as Perforatum, Hypericum, Tipton’s weed, Klamath weed, etc., St Johns wort or Hypericum perforatum is an herb that grows in many parts of Europe, New Zealand, Australia, the U.S. and Eastern Asia.
What Is St John’s Wort?
Belonging to the Hypericaceae family, the plant gets its name because of its bright yellow flowers that usually bloom around the birthday of St. John the Baptist and “wort” means “plant” in old English. The use of St John’s wort dates back several centuries where it was used in ancient Greece to treat many ailments.
St John’s wort contains biologically active compounds, hyperforin, hypericin and flavonoids in its flowers and leaves that have medicinal properties. St John’s wort may also have antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. And, today, it is used to treat menopausal symptoms, depression, nervous disorders and heal burns and wounds.
Benefits Of St John’s Wort
St John’s wort has medicinal properties and is used commonly to treat several conditions including:
- Depression: Several studies show that St John’s wort offers therapeutic benefits in treating mild-to-moderate depression and is as effective as TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants) in treating depression. The herb may be also as effective as other drugs used for the treatment of depression such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft) without as many side effects.
- ADHD: St John’s wort may help to improve some symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). However, there is more research required to support this.
- Atopic Dermatitis: St John’s wort in the form of a topical cream may help to treat mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis.
- Somatoform Disorders: The herb may help in treating the symptoms of somatoform disorders such as pain, weakness, breathlessness, etc. that are not linked to any organic disease; however, more research is needed to support this.
- Menopausal Symptoms: The herb is often used to treat the symptoms of menopause and helps to improve mood, reduce hot flashes and anxiety. St John’s wort may be used alone or along with other herbs like black cohosh.
- PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome): St John’s wort may help to relieve PMS symptoms in women like irritability, breast tenderness, cramps and food cravings.
- Healing Wounds, Burns, Eczema and Hemorrhoids: The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of St John’s wort may help to relieve the symptoms and treat minor burns, wounds, skin irritation, etc. when used topically.
- SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder): Studies have shown that St John’s wort can help to improve mood in people suffering from SAD and is more effective when used along with phototherapy.
- Other Benefits: Other conditions that may benefit from the use of St John’s wort include social phobia, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), HIV, burning mouth syndrome, nerve pain and post-operative pain.
Daily Recommended Dose Of St John’s Wort
The most common dosage of St John’s Wort for adults is 300 mg of the herb 3 times a day in the form of a dry tablet or capsule. The herb is not recommended for use by children.
However, the preparations of St John’s Wort in the U.S. contain different amounts of the active ingredient and so you must be careful about the dose you’re taking. You can take St John’s Wort in any of these ways:
- 300 mg 3 times daily for up to 6 weeks
- 300 mg – 600 mg 3 times daily for 6 weeks
- 400 mg 2 times daily for 6 weeks
- 250 mg 2 times daily for 6 weeks
- 350 mg 3 times daily for 8 weeks
- 200 mg to 600 mg 3 times daily for up to 26 weeks
When using St John’s Wort, use according to the instructions on the package label. Consult your pharmacist or medical practitioner before starting the herb. Make sure not to use the product more than the recommended dosage.
Avoid using the various forms of St John’s Wort i.e., capsule, tablet, tincture, liquid, tea, etc. at the same time because using varying formulations of the herb together can increase the risk of overdose.
It may take around 4-6 weeks for the herb to start working and if there is no effect after this period, then it is better to look at other options of treatments. And, if the condition for which you’re taking the herb becomes worse, then consult your doctor.
How To Take St John’s Wort
You can find St John’s Wort easily at the chemists, in health food stores or supermarkets. St John’s Wort is available in various forms—as a capsule, tablet, supplement, dried herb, liquid extract, oil, tincture, tea, salve or topical cream.
If you’re growing the herb and using it, make sure to use the flowers and buds, as these are the parts that contain most of the active ingredients.
Always store the herb or St John’s Wort products at room temperature and keep them away from heat, light and moisture. The St John’s Wort can become inactive when exposed to light.
While the other forms of St John’s Wort can be consumed, the topical forms of the herb are to be used only on the skin and should not be consumed.
If you have trouble sleeping after taking St John’s Wort, then take it in the morning. St John’s Wort may increase the risk of heart or other problems during surgery and so if you’re undergoing any surgery, you must stop taking the herb two weeks before the procedure.
Side Effects Of St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort is generally safe to use and can be taken orally for a period of up to 12 weeks in the recommended doses. However, taking the herb may cause certain side effects such as dizziness, headache, dry mouth, stomach upset, constipation, diarrhea, restlessness, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, sedation, light sensitivity, skin reactions or sexual dysfunction.
Avoid taking St John’s Wort if you’re pregnant or nursing. If you want to stop taking St John’s Wort, then you should do it gradually so that there are no side effects.
Avoid using the herb if you suffer from depression as an alternative to the treatment recommended by your medical practitioner, as your depression may become worse if the herb is not effective.
St John’s Wort may interact with certain medications and cause side effects and so, if you’re taking medications for any health conditions, consult with your doctor before taking the herb.
It is better to avoid taking St John’s Wort if you’re taking medications such as oral contraceptives, anticonvulsants, digoxin, cyclosporine, warfarin, theophylline and anti-HIV drugs.
If you’re taking SSRI antidepressants then taking St John’s Wort can increase the effect of the medications and lead to a significant increase in serotonin and cause symptoms like tremors, low body temperature, diarrhea, muscle stiffness, confusion and even death.
Studies show that fluoxetine and St John’s Wort have a similar profile and when taken together, they can have serious reactions. Taking St John’s Wort may trigger psychosis in some cases and may cause mania in people suffering from major depression or bipolar disorder.
In conclusion, while St John’s Wort is a natural herb derived from plants and has been used for centuries to treat several health conditions, it contains chemicals that can be dangerous for you and cause serious side effects if not taken according to the recommended doses.
If you suffer from some other health conditions or take medications that can interact with the herb. So, it is always a good idea to check with your medical practitioner before taking St John’s Wort to treat any health condition or as a health supplement.