St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is an herb with a long and colorful history. Extracts, tinctures, capsules and teas are made from the plant's yellow flowers. While scientific studies of its benefits in treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety are mixed and St. Johns Wort has not earned FDA approval, it is widely prescribed in Europe, where it is a native perennial.
St. Johns Wort isn't confined to Europe, however; it has naturalized across zones 4-9 and is often considered invasive While it prefers full sun, this low-growing herbaceous shrub does well in partial shade, and thrives in poor soils.
The plant gets its name from St. John's Day, June 24, which is also the approximate summer solstice, when St. Johns Wort is known to bloom.
According to History of St Johns Wort by W. Pöldinger (2000), its first recorded use was by Roman military doctor Proscurides in early 1st century AD, and in the Middle Ages, it was "used to protect humans and animals against witches, demons, and evil diseases".
This early use may be due to the common belief that supernatural entities were the cause of mental illness. Eventually, as European understanding of mental health improved, St. Johns Wort became known and prescribed for its mood-lifting abilities.
Mental Health Studies
In some studies, subjects taking capsules made from St. Johns Wort reported better results than subjects taking placebo pills, or even commercial antidepressants.
In other studies, the outcomes were less than or no different than reported results from subjects receiving placebos.
One factor that vexes scientists is determining consistently accurate dosage. Hypericin and hyperforin are the two compounds in St. Johns Wort that are associated with the herb's proven, beneficial effects. Use of dried flowers in powder form is difficult to qualify due to variances in soil structure and growing conditions. Therefore, anecdotal reporting is what continues to fuel the herb's demand.
Regardless of conflicting studies, the overall consensus indicates that hypericin and hyperforin are effective in treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. And many say that the very sight of the pretty yellow flowers, either encountered in the wild or in a decorative floral arrangement, is enough to brighten one's mood.
Another obstacle to St. Johns Wort's scientific success is product inconsistency. According to ConsumerLabs.com, which conducts independent research on herbal supplements, "Some of the St. John's Wort supplements on the market seem to have little of the herb while others provide substantial and clinically meaningful amounts." ConsumerLabs claims that only 40% of commonly marketed supplements provide effective quantities of hypericin and hyperforin.
"For example, the amount of hypericin found in daily servings of the supplements ranged from as little as 0.11 mg to 2.6 mg — a 20-fold difference. There was even greater variation in amounts of hyperforin, which ranged just 0.13 mg to 36.4 mg. This means you could be getting 280 times as much hyperforin from one St. John's Wort supplement than from another. These enormous differences are likely to impact the effectiveness of products."
Considering that St. Johns Wort rings up annual U.S. sales topping $57 million, gardeners may opt to cultivate their own plants.
There are serious dangers associated with the herbal remedy when combined with other serotonin-moderating prescription medications. St. Johns Wort may also reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills, fully contradicting its intended use as an anxiety-reducing supplement.
As with any over-the-counter medication or supplement, consult your physician or pharmacist to ensure the herb does not conflict with your current medications or existing conditions.
If you are experiencing demonic possession, please call a priest.