…Useful for people who are in the dark, living a shadow life. It opens the emotional windows and lets the sunlight in.” ~David Winston, Adaptogens (2nd ed.)

In this herb spotlight, we will explore the popular herb, St. John’s wort. Its herbal actions include but are not certainly not limited to serving as a nervine, especially since it is trophorestorative to the nervous system, alongside carries the properties of an antioxidant, astringent, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, and (when applied topically) antiviral. Many sources indicate one can start feeling its effects range from immediate effect to within two to six weeks but most would benefit from it if taken for the long haul. In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of St. John’s wort as it relates to depression but it’s also useful “for insomnia, anorexia, anxiety or feelings of worthlessness.” (Tilgner, 2020)

St. John’s wort for Depression:

Per Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman (2013), depression, from a psychiatric perspective, is associated with someone experiencing “at least four…symptoms nearly every day for a period of at least two weeks” (p. 354). Symptoms are:

  • Poor appetite and significant weight loss, or increased appetite and significant weight gain
  • Insomnia or increased sleep
  • Agitation or retardation of movement and thought
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, decrease in sexual drive
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

Per Hoffman (2018), St. John’s wort extract (300 mg 3x/day) has been proven by extensive studies conducted in both the United States and in Europe, to be effective for the treatment of anxiety and depression when taken internally. Per Herbal Medicine: From the Heart of the Earth (2020) by Sharon Tilgner: “Saint John’s Wort (SJW) is indicated for depression due to feelings of isolation, lack of community, and a sense of being disconnected from the rest of the world…[It] facilities the body receiving sunlight.” (p. 187)

Metaphysical Properties:

Per the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft (2005), St. John’s wort is connected with the sun and “brings light and cheer and clarity where previously there was darkness and despair.” (p. 178) Its English name is derived from “the feast day of John the Baptist, which coincides with Midsummer’s Eve and the Summer Solstice.” An interesting tidbit about St. John’s wort:

In Greek tradition, sprigs of Saint John’s wort were hung over portraits of the dead so that whatever ills the decreased had suffered, whether physical, emotional or psychic, would be relieved. Their afflictions, pain, and suffering would be terminated so as not to infect the living with these emanations.

Drug Interactions:

Unfortunately, Easley and Horne of The Modern Herbal Dispensatory (2016) point out that St. John’s wort should not be taken alongside SSRI antidepressants (or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) like Olanzapine (15 mg) since its a combination of Olanzapine and Fluoxetine in which the latter is an SSRI or any type of mood-alternating drugs. This concern is also echoed by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. Per the American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook (2nd ed.), scientific research shows adverse reactions with the following drugs although this list is not exhaustive:

  • Antianginal: Ivabradine…
  • Antiarrhythmics: Digoxin, Verapamil…
  • Anti-cancer drugs: Irinotecan Imatinib…
  • Anticoagulants: Warfarin, Phenoprocoumon…
  • Anticonvulsants: Mephenytoin
  • Antidepressants: Amitriptyline…
  • Antifungals: Voriconazole
  • Antihistamines: Fexofenadine
  • Antiulcer agents: Omeprazole
  • Anxiolytics: Quazepam, Midazolam, Alprazolam…
  • Beta-adrenergic blockers: Talinolol…
  • Calcium channel blockers: Nifedipine, Verapamil…
  • Hormonal contraceptives: Ethinylestradiol, Norethindrone…
  • Hypoglycemics: Gliclazide
  • Immunosuppressants: Cyclosporine, Tacrolimus…
  • Statins: Simvastatin, Atorvastatin…

Easley and Horne (2016) encourage those interested in switching to St. John’s wort must first wean themselves off of a prescribed SSRI – of course, under the direction of their prescribing doctor. For example, the Drug Interaction Checker website indicates that Fluoxetine and St. John’s wort increase serotonin levels and should be avoided. Per the Mayo Clinic, symptoms associated with increased levels of serotonin include:

  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat/HBP
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of muscle contraction or twitching muscles
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Heavy sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Shivering
  • Goosebumps

Toxic levels could also be accompanied by symptoms like high fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and unconsciousness. It is imperative that you speak to your doctor whenever taking St. John’s wort alongside any prescription drugs as not to cause grave harm.

Herbal Methods & Dosage:

St. John’s wort can be taken internally – as a nourishing infusion or capsule – or externally – as an infused oil or salve. After weaning, dosages are as follows:

  • Nourishing Infusion: 4-8 ounces, 1-4 times daily
    • Add the appropriate amount to a cup of hot water, cover, and steep for 15-20 minutes, then strain and drink.
      • If using a good quality herb, the infusion will turn deep red. 
    • WHERE TO BUY: Organic St. John’s Wort – 1 lb by Starwest Botanicals sold on Amazon for $23.28.*
  • Capsule: 500-1000 mg, 3-4x daily; or 300 mg, 3-4x daily if standardized capsules with 0.3% hypericin.
    • WHERE TO BUY: St John’s Wort Aerial Extract 300 mg, Once Daily by Solaray | 60 ct. $14.49 via Amazon*

As always, without a healthy balanced diet in conjunction with appropriate multi-vitamin and/or multi-mineral supplemental support (when needed), herbs are great for the short term, but shouldn’t be a permanent solution.

*At the time of this writing.

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