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Health Benefits of St. John's Wort

St. John's wort may be best known for its use in the treatment of depression.  In fact, the National Institutes of Health reports that several studies have shown that this herb is just as effective as a prescription tricyclic antidepressant in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.  While it has not been determined if this herb is as effective as SSRIs for depression treatment, further research could yield exciting new information about the medicinal uses of St. John's wort. 


St.John's wort is called by many other names.  Some common synonyms include balsana, devil's scorge, witcher's herb and goatweed.  The scientific name for this herb is Hypericum perforatum and the common name is klamath weed.  The St. John's wort plant is found in the United States and Europe, particularly in southern Oregon and the northern part of California.  According to the University of California San Diego, the usual dosage for mild to moderate depression ranges from 500 to 1,050 milligrams of extract each day. 


The active ingredients in St. John's wort are xanthones, flavonoids, dianthrones and hyperforin.  Studies suggest that hyperforin and flavonoids are responsible for the antidepressant effect of this herb.  Hyperforin may also be responsible for inhibiting the reuptake of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.  This makes more of these chemicals available in the brain and can help treat depression. 

Possible Health Benefits 

In addition to the treatment of mild to moderate depression, St. John's wort has shown promise in treating other medical ailments.  Preliminary studies suggest that this herb can be used in treating eczema, somatoform disorders and seasonal affective disorder.  However, further research is needed to strengthen these claims.  This herb is also traditionally used to treat cold sores, anxiety, infections, wounds and recurrent ear infections, but there is little scientific support for these claims.  Further research is needed to demonstrate these additional health benefits. 


Side effects of St. John's wort are rare, but it is possible that this herb can cause allergic reaction, fatigue and gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea.  Other potential side effects include increased sensitivity to sunlight, dry mouth, headache, anxiety, dizziness and sexual dysfunction.  It is important to discuss St. John's wort with a doctor if you already take prescription medications.  This herb can affect the way some drugs are metabolized by the body.  It is possible that St. John's wort can create adverse interactions with digoxin, cancer drugs, birth control pills, antidepressants, blood thinners and the drug cyclosporine.