St. John's wort: answer to depression and other problems

by Dr. William Fullerton


St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is indigenous to California. Mature plant (left) is about 2 feet high; flowers (right) are about 1/2 inch in diameter.

hysicians treating depression today rely heavily on antidepressant drugs. Although these drugs are somewhat successful in alleviating depression, they are also associated with many side effects. New research together with long-standing empirical evidence may prove herbs to be viable alternatives for dealing with depression. Far safer than most prescriptions drugs, easily available and much less expensive, herbs are steadily growing in popularity.

Of all herbs, St. John's Wort is a specific for depression and mental burnout. It also helps raise immune response, which can be lowered by stress or depression. The antidepressive effect of St. John's Wort is thought to be due to mono-amineoxidase inhibition. The monoamine-oxidase enzyme converts amines such as catecholamines, serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine in the brain into inactive forms, thus preventing the excitability of nerves. St. John's Wort may also act on the cortical system by inhibiting the cytokine interleukin-6 and other cyto-kines excreted by cells of the immune system. Cytokines affect the nervous system both directly and indirectly.

A long history

 St. John's Wort is a medicinal plant. It flowers at the time of the summer solstice and for centuries the plant was thought to have the power to drive out evil spirits. With the spread of Christianity, the plant was associated with St. John the Baptist. It was said to bloom first on his birthday, June 21st, and to bleed on the day in August when he was beheaded. Further, St. John's Wort was thought to be most potent, medicinally, when harvested on St. John's Day.

The old English "wort" means plant or root. Hypericum comes from the Greek meaning "above an icon." Sprigs of the plant were set above images to clear the air of evil spirits. Perforatum comes from the little holes or oil glands in the leaves. The red color of the oil (hence the blood) is due to the hypericin chemicals which have the pharmacological effects. St. John's Wort is a valuable antidepressant.

Working with depression


 What are some of the symptoms of depression? To name a few, sleep disorders (e.g. insomnia), fatigue, eating disorders, feelings of guilt, thoughts of suicide, empty feelings, chronic aches and pains and excessive crying. The more of these symptoms that one displays, along with increased intensity and duration, the more one is likely to be depressed. It is estimated that 18 million Americans suffer from depression. Women are at least twice as likely (1 in 4) as men (1 in 10) to suffer a major bout of depression during their lifetime.

There is much confusion in the literature about how to specify the exact dosage of St. John's Wort for depression. The most common way is in milligrams of total extract (alcoholic). Since the strengths of the extracts do differ considerably, it is best to base the dosage in milligrams of total hypericin. As a daily (e.g. three times) dose this should total 2-3 milligrams of hypericin. For convenience it would be desirable to have 1 milligram of hypericin in a capsule, which would be equivalent to about 360 milligrams of St. John's Wort extract.


Other uses

 The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects of externally applied preparations of St. John's Wort are attributed to the chemical hyperforin. The whole herb can be taken internally as antiviral or antibacterial. It is especially helpful for menopausal problems, alleviating the symptoms of hormonal change and treating decreased vitality. The herb is an excellent tonic for the liver and gallbladder. It can be used as a diuretic for the treatment of gravely urine.

Homeopathically, it is used as a trauma herb. St. John's Wort has served as a sedative, painkiller and analgesic. It balances glands and has been used against mumps. St. John's Wort has been used for speech disorders - in fact, anything to do with nerves. It is currently being medically studied as a treatment for AIDS, several forms of cancer, rheumatic arthritis and skin diseases such as psoriasis.

However many uses St. John's Wort may have, it is used first and foremost to treat depression.

Dr. Fullerton is president Health Therapeutics Inc. 603 N. Hwy 101, Suite A, Solana Beach, CA 92075-1160 Phone (619) 794-0298, Fax (619) 794-0807.