There have been a wide variety of alternative treatments for all that ails us over the years, but few have demonstrated the popularity or longevity of the herb known as St. John’s Wort. This plant, which is native to Europe, has been used to treat various illnesses throughout the western world for hundreds of years. The first recorded mention of the plant was in around 290 BC, when a Greek doctor wrote of using it to treat his patients. One of Greece’s most noteworthy herbalists recorded four different subspecies, which he recommended as a treatment for sciatica and as a topical treatment for burns. Others used it to accelerate wound healing, relieve gout, and even exorcise demons.
Today, the plant has fallen out of use in mainstream medicine, but it remains a popular herbal remedy among those interested in alternative or complementary medicine. It is most commonly recommended as a treatment for mild to moderate depression, either on its own (mild) or in conjunction with prescribed antidepressants (moderate). Most of the evidence in favor of St. John’s Wort as a stand-alone treatment for moderate to severe depression is anecdotal, and though there are a handful studies that have demonstrated the drug’s potential, two of the biggest and most well-known experiments found that it did not perform any better than the placebo. It should also be noted that the pharmaceutical drugs in the experiment had the same results– they were equal to the placebo when it came to alleviating depressive symptoms.
In 2009, however, a review of 29 studies suggested that St. John’s Wort was more effective than the placebo, and involved fewer side effects than the standard antidepressant. This means there is no real consensus, at least in the mainstream medical community, as to whether or not the herb is an effective treatment for mild depression.
St. John’s Wort is usually consumed either as a tea, a liquid extract, or in a capsule. There are a variety of tea blends on the market which include the plant that claim to improve mood, but if someone with mild depression is seeking out this herb as a treatment, they need to be certain that the tea blend or capsule they choose contains a high concentration of St. John’s Wort. When taken in pill form, it is usually taken three times per day in 300mg doses. These products are often marketed as supplements, and as such, they are not regulated by the FDA. The lack of quality control may account for the inconsistent anecdotal reports.
It is important to note that an individual who is taking any other drug (prescription or over-the-counter) should consult their physician before beginning a St. John’s Wort regimen. Though this herbal remedy is generally considered safe, it can interact with pharmaceutical drugs in dangerous ways– particularly with antidepressants, wherein it can cause a life-threatening rise in serotonin levels. It can also limit the efficacy of other types of drugs. Psychosis is a rare but not unheard of side effect, so individuals with Schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis should refrain from using this natural remedy.