What is St. John’s Wort and How does it Work?

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

St. John’s Wort is a bushy plant with a turpentine-like odor, with yellow flowers whose petals have red and white dots in the margins. An extract of the flowering portion (napthrodianthrones) is a powerful antibacterial and has been used in various folk remedies and herbal tinctures since Roman times for everything from saddle sores to to depression. It is used extensively in both the United States and Europe to treat mild to moderate depression.  A German study compared the effectiveness of St. John’s wort with imipramine, a well-known anti-depressant. The trials involved 40 outpatient clinics in Germany with 324 outpatients suffering mild to moderate depression. Participants were given either 75 mg imipramine twice daily or 250 mg Hypericum perforatum extract ZE 117 twice daily for 6 weeks. The study concluded that  Hypericum perforatum extract is therapeutically equivalent to imipramine in treating mild to moderate depression and is better tolerated.

Initial biochemical studies found that St. John’s wort inhibits the uptake of three promary feel good neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenalin (norepinephrine). However, other in vitro binding assays carried out using St. John’s wort extract demonstrate significant affinity for adenosine, GABA (A), GABA (B), and glutamate receptors as well. In vivo, St. John’s wort extract leads to a decrease in the number of beta-adrenergic receptors and an increase in the number of serotonin 5-HT(2) receptors in the frontal cortex and causes changes in neurotransmitter concentrations in brain areas that are implicated in depression.


Do you or your loved ones experience trouble sleeping, constant sadness, hopelessness, irritability, low energy, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, significant weight change, feeling worthless or guilty for no reason, and loss of interest in favorite activities?  If your answer is yes, you or your family member might be suffering from depression.

Clinical depression is an illness that affects your entire body.  It impacts your mood, thoughts, and behavior.  Depression can happen to anyone, at any age.  Each year, about 1 in 10 people have bouts with major depression.  For some people, one single event, such as losing a job or leaving a relationship can bring on the illness.  For others, a number of events may contribute to the cause.  However, people can also become depressed without warning.  Depression does not discriminate, and affects people from all races, gender, class, and social or economic status.  Depression is treatable and when managed with appropriate treatment, one can live a fulfilling life. More than 8 out of 10 people with depression can be helped.

We have all, to some degree, experienced days of depression, when nothing is going our way, when even the most trivial events can trigger tears, when all we want to do is crawl into a hole ask, “Why me?” For most people, these are isolated occurrences.  Most people feel great sadness at some point in life, but if sadness or depressed mood continues for a long time, it may be a sign of clinical depression.

Clinical depression is more than life’s “ups” and “downs.”  Depression is diagnosed when five or more of the below symptoms of depression are present for most of the day, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks.  At least one of the symptoms must be either persistent sad or “empty” feelings or loss of interest in activities.  You cannot “snap out of” clinical depression, nor can you will it away. Clinical depression is not a personal weakness, it is common, yet serious, and is a medical illness.  Although common, if left untreated depression can lead to further problems.

Use this checklist to help you decide if you are experiencing depression.

  • Feel sad and anxious, or have an empty mood that does not go away?
  • Feel guilty, worthless or hopeless?
  • Have trouble concentrating, remembering or making decisions?
  • Feel tired or lack energy?
  • Have trouble sleeping, staying asleep or find that you sleep too much?
  • Have little interest in eating or find you are eating all the time?
  • Feel irritated or restless?
  • Have aches and pains that do not go away no matter what you do?
  • Have little interest or find little pleasure in activities, including sex?
  • Have thoughts of death or suicide?

If your answers indicate that you or your loved one is suffering from depression, there is hope!  You do not need to live your life feeling anxious, sad or irritable.  You do not need to have nights without sleep.  To learn more about how St. John’s wort can support your depression, please click on either of the images of the flower above.