The historical use of medical St. John’s wort (Hypericum) is well documented. Commencing 2400 years ago St. John’s wort was used as a nerve tonic, a painkiller for arthritis, menstrual cramping, gastrointestinal problems (such as diarrhea, nausea . . . ) as well as ulcers. In 350 BC, the Greek physician and writer Hippocrates prescribed the herb’s extracts for relief from such ailments as insomnia and hysteria.
In the first century St. John’s wort was referred to in Pliny the Elders famous book on natural history for its bracing quality in treating diarrhea and promoting urine flow and bladder troubles.
During medieval times, the Europeans used the plant to treat all forms of madness (They thought St. Johns wort had magical properties) as it blooms near the Summer Solstice. The Saltenitan drug list of the thirteenth century also referred to St. John’s wort as herba demonis fuga–an herb to chase away the devil.
The oil made from the flowers was listed in the first Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (1618). 1630 Angelo Sala stated that St. John’s wort treated illnesses of the imagination, melancholia, anxiety and disturbances of understanding. He wrote, “St. John’s wort cures these disorders as quick as lightening.” Gerard wrote that its use as a balm for wounds, burns, ulcers and bites was without equal (Gerard 1633).
Today, St John’s Wort is used primarily to relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.
The debate over the effectiveness of St John’s Wort in fighting depression has recently been re-visited. Three recent clinical trials and a critical review of the literature have examined whether the herbal supplement is an effective treatment for depression. The data all indicate that St John’s Wort is indeed safe and effective for people who are mild to moderately depressed. The evidence on how it affects moderate-to-severe depression remains unclear.
This is particularly noteworthy because two prior studies – including a 2002 study sponsored by the National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institute of Health in the US suggested that St John’s Wort was no more effective than a placebo in treating mild to moderate depression.
The flowering tops of St John’s Wort are used to prepare teas and tablets containing concentrated extracts of the active ingredients hypericin or hyperforin. Many people who regularly take St John’s Wort note improvements in overall mood and sleep.
Researchers believe that the antidepressant effect of St John’s Wort is due to its inhibition of serotonin uptake by certain receptors in the brain – the same mechanism attributed to many widely prescribed antidepressant drugs.
Do not expect instant results. Like other antidepressants, St John’s Wort requires several weeks before its antidepressant effects take hold.
Although St John’s Wort is generally considered safe, it can have unfavourable interactions with some herbs, other supplements or prescription medicines. We recommend that you seek advice from a medical practitioner before ingesting St John Wort in any form.