St John’s Wort (SJW) also known as Hypericum perforatum is a shrub that has star shaped yellow flowers, leaves and stem commonly found in Europe and the US. Historically, it has been extensively used medicinal herb. The flowers and leaves contain active ingredients ‘hyperforin’ and ‘hypericin’ and new research suggests that taking the whole preparation (rather than just the two ingredients) is more beneficial. Described as a nervous system balancer and restorer it helps to ease anxiety, tension, seasonal affective disorder, mild to moderate depression and menopause. Beyond its emotional effects, SJW is also used to bring relief from physical pain and tension.
Herbal history has shown SJW to widely treat low mood, anxiety and depression. SJW’s mood elevating properties comes from its ability to increase levels of serotonin, a chemical found in the brain. Often serotonin levels are low in people with depression. Studies also show that it improves quality of sleep, which is a significant problem in people with depression. They also exhibited less sadness, helplessness, exhaustion and headache.
Unknown to many SJW has many uses beyond mental health benefits. SJW also has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and pain relief properties. In herbal medicine specific indications include trauma and damage to the nervous system either via an injury or viral infection e.g. neuralgias, sciatica, Bell’s palsy, pinched nerves or trauma to head and spine. With its antiviral and analgesic effects it is ideal for conditions like, shingles or herpes infections.
Several scientific studies have described SJW ‘s analgesic and antinociceptive properties for use in pain conditions. Animal studies have shown low dose SJW to block pain stimuli in acute and chronic pain conditions. In another study comparing SJW to morphine in rats showed that SJW has notable antinonciceptive activity for neuropathic pain but could also be useful in enhancing the effects of morphine. There are however legitimate concerns for drug-herb interactions such as; anti-anxiety, antidepressants, barbiturates, contraceptives, certain chemotherapy, immune suppressive drugs and statins. Therefore SJW’s ability to manage pain at low doses greatly reduces this risk.
SJW can be very effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, but particularly helpful if there are additional pain symptoms e.g. fibromygia where both anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties can offer added support to the condition. Dosage is 900 mg a day. Its use is generally safe if you are not taking any prescription medicine. If you are then you may need professional health advice to guide you.