St. John’s Wort: A Potential Answer to Life’s Worries

St. John’s Wort

Story at-a-glance -

  • This herb is named after St. John the Baptist, since it’s usually in full bloom by June 24, the saint’s feast day
  • Apart from its connection to St. John the Baptist, St. John’s Wort is very unique because of its positive impacts on your mind and soul
  • Try this herb today to improve your health and clear your mind of worry

Did you know that there are numerous herbs named after popular religious figures? One example is the St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) plant.1 This herb is named after St. John the Baptist, since it's usually in full bloom by June 24, the saint's feast day.

St. John's Wort has wild yellow flower2 clusters with oval and elongated petals,3 while the plant itself is shrubby and has pale green leaves.4 Although primarily found in Europe, St. John's Wort has since spread to the Americas, Russia, Asia, China and the Middle East.5

The plant blooms in June to August in uncultivated ground, woods, hedges, roadsides and meadows. Once St. John's Wort grows, many small, round and black seeds appear that have a resinous smell and are stored inside a three-celled capsule.6

Important Benefits of St. John's Wort

Undeniably, St. John's Wort's antidepressant effect is its strongest point. The herb contains a rare combination of antidepressant chemicals that prevent or delay the reuptake of hormones serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, thereby reducing depressive symptoms.

St. John's Wort also works in combatting anxiety and mood swings and in delivering additional energy and pleasure.7,8 This herb may be ideal for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, a condition that occurs during the winter months because of a lack of sunlight and goes into remission during the spring and summer months.9

St. John's Wort aids in enhancing your metabolism and internal clock to battle sleeplessness, irritability and chronic fatigue, and in removing chronic stress hormones from the body, boosting health and cognitive function. This herb is also beneficial for women's health, since it helps reduce sensitivity of pre-menstrual symptoms, improves conditions of women having pre-menstrual and menopausal mood swings and helps alleviate pregnancy-related hemorrhoids or other stretched out areas of the body.

St. John's Wort regulates hormonal activity, too, since its active ingredients have strong effects on hormone regulation. The herb can lessen hypothyroidism symptoms and aids the thyroid gland in producing adequate amounts of hormones.

St. John's Wort's soothing nature and rich concentration of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds can ease pain caused by arthritis, gout, joint discomfort and muscle aches, and help reduce inflammation of the cardiovascular system, helping lower blood pressure levels and stress levels on the heart.

Plus, if you or someone you know is struggling with withdrawal symptoms against cigarettes, alcohol or other addictive substances, St. John's Wort may curb these addictive tendencies. However, studies are still being conducted on this. Other known health benefits of St. John's Wort include:

  • Fighting viral infections: New research highlighted that St. John's Wort could prevent or reduce risk for viral conditions like AIDS and hepatitis. A caveat to this is the high dosage needed for the antiviral effect to take place, raising a person's risk for numerous side effects. Additional research is still needed to determine the proper balance.
  • Helps reduce cancer risk
  • Soothing the nervous system

What Are St. John's Wort's Uses?

St. John's Wort was used as folk medicine for the wounded, especially by the Knights of St. John during The Crusades. During Medieval times, St. John's Wort was used to drive out the "inner devil" in people. Meanwhile, a Swiss alchemist and doctor,10 Paracelsus, recommended St. John's Wort to be used against hallucinations.11

However, St. John's Wort's history of medicinal use actually dates back even further to ancient Greece, where its flowers and leaves were used as a medicine.12 Nowadays, St. John's Wort is common in European countries such as Germany as a natural antidepressant, although therapeutic use is now growing in other parts of the world.

The herb is also used topically via salves or tinctures to speed up the healing process of burns, bruises and scrapes. St. John's Wort stimulates circulation of oxygenated blood to those skin cells to stimulate repair.13,14 St. John's wort's leaves and flowers are harvested, dried and used either as a liquid or tincture, or as a tablet or capsule.15 Herbalists typically use a fluid extract, although St. John's Wort tea and oil are available, too.16,17

Give St. John's Wort Tea a Try

Dried St. John's Wort leaves can be used to make tea.18 Apart from being a good source of flavonoids, phenolic acids, glycosides, rutin, tannins, resins and essential oils, St. John's Wort tea delivers these powerful benefits:19,20

Helps deal with anxiety, irritability and depression

Lifts spirits and stabilizes emotions to assist with anger and stress management and break through periods of sadness

Assists with calming the nervous system

Reduces chronic fatigue and insomnia

Lessens physical pain due to sore nerves or muscles

Combats inflammation that could trigger muscle pains, sciatica, tennis elbow and other nerve pains

Eases menstrual pain and discomfort

Helps regain hormonal balances, especially among women

Lowers heartburn

Fights free radicals' destructive effects and protects DNA

Enhances the body's defenses and prevents illnesses

Relieves cough, colds and sore throat, and clears chest congestion

Heals the liver, helping treat jaundice and hepatitis

Helps treat serious lung problems like bronchitis, asthma and tuberculosis

Calms down spasms in the digestive tract and relieves peptic ulcers

Improves digestion

Treats skin rashes (even psoriasis)

Assists with clearing burns and cleaning edges of wounds and cuts when applied as an infusion

Allows skin traumas to heal faster

Speeds up tissue recovery, especially those affected by burns

Helps with urinary problems like incontinence and bed-wetting in children

Be wary that this tea can have side effects. For starters, it is not ideal for pregnant or breastfeeding women, since it's linked to drowsiness and increased risk for colic to the baby. It should also be avoided by people suffering from severe mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, dementia or bipolar disorder.21 St. John's Wort tea could cause harmful drug interactions when taken with antidepressant medications.

Furthermore, the tea should be avoided at least two weeks before surgery, as its calming effects could interfere with anesthesia and trigger heart complications. Lastly, St. John's Wort tea can induce photosensitivity, especially if used topically. This can make a patient feel that light is hurting their eyes or that their skin is burning. Although these side effects are rare, it's best to stop taking St. John's Wort tea if these occur.

How St. John's Wort Oil Can Boost Your Health

There are ways you can use St. John's Wort oil to your advantage:22,23

  • Remedy for minor burns: St. John's Wort oil helps relieve the pain and heals the burn. Grab a bowl or basin, pour some of the oil and soak the burnt area immediately. You can also take a muslin cloth, soak it in the oil and apply to the area for an hour. Dab the cloth several times onto the skin during the day.
  • Faster healing of cuts, scrapes and/or scratches: This is one of St. John's Wort oil's advantages. Plus, the oil's anti-inflammatory capabilities lessens redness and inflammation. Just apply the oil at home because it can attract dirt that could possibly cause an infection.
  • Controls oily skin: This oil has astringent qualities, and is useful for teenagers or adults with naturally oily skin.
  • Relieves muscle strain and tension: Massage the oil onto sore and tense muscles several times a day to relax them.
  • You can also soak a cloth in very warm water, add a few drops of the oil and place the cloth over the affected area. Afterwards, cover the location with a warm compress.

Apart from its topical applications, St. John's Wort oil can also be used via direct inhalation, or added to perfumes and skin care blends to deliver an earthy, herbaceous and softly sweet scent. St. John's Wort oil also blends well with essential oils like clary sage, lavender, cedar, vetiver, rosemary and chamomile.24

Prior to using this oil, consult a physician or health expert and take an allergen patch test to check for potential side effects. Although it's non-irritant and non-sensitizing, St. John's Wort oil shouldn't be taken internally and must be handled with extreme care, especially among pregnant women and young children.

Furthermore, St. John's Wort oil is considered to be phototoxic and can damage your skin if you rub the oil on it and consequently expose skin to sunlight. Ideally, you should dilute it in a safe carrier oil prior to using.

Side Effects of St. John's Wort

Studies revealed that at least 3 percent of people taking St. John's Wort may experience certain side effects. However, it should be noted that St. John's Wort's side effects are generally fewer (and milder) compared to complications caused by conventional medicines used for treating depression.25 Known side effects of this herb include:

Anxiety

Restlessness

Tiredness or fatigue

Sedation

Confusion26

Dizziness

Headaches

Light sensitivity

Sexual dysfunction

Skin reactions

Stomach upset

Dry mouth

Generally, St. John's Wort is well-tolerated at higher-than-average doses. However, this doesn't mean you should use it abundantly and carelessly – make sure to use it in moderation. Patients taking any of these medications aren't advised to use St. John's Wort too, since there's a possibility that the medicines' effectiveness will be reduced:27,28

Anticonvulsants

Antihistamines

Anti-HIV medicines

Antifungal drugs

Anticoagulant like warfarin (coumadin)

Medicines that suppress the immune system like cyclosporine

Digoxin

Alprazolam (Xanax)

Reserpine

Oral contraceptives

Statin drugs

Certain calcium channel blockers

Any medicine broken down by the liver

Likewise, St. John's Wort shouldn't be taken alongside these medications because it can lead to additional complications:

  • Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics, nefazodone and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Triptan drugs used for migraine like sumatriptan
  • Clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • Dextomethorphan (cough medicine)
  • Aminolevulinic acid

During pregnancy, it is advised that you avoid St. John's Wort, since there's not much evidence showing its safety when a woman is either pregnant or breastfeeding.29 It is advisable to consult a physician or health expert if you're thinking about taking St. John's Wort, whether in supplement, tea or oil form.30

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