St. John's wort has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years and still remains popular due to its powerful health benefits. It was valued by ancient Greek physicians, especially for nerve disorders, and was believed to ward off evil.
When it comes to mood disorders like depression and anxiety, St. John's wort is one of the most recommended herbs. It also has powerful skin healing potential that makes it a prized ingredient for salves and skin oils.
Read on to learn more about the top St. John's wort health benefits and precautions you should know before trying it.
What Is St. John's Wort?
St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering perennial that's considered a hardy weed in many areas. It's originally native to Europe but now grows commonly in the United States and Canada.
You'll find St. John's wort growing wild in places like meadows, roadsides, and forest areas. It can easily be grown in a garden and loves sunshine and slightly dry soil.
This herb also goes by other names like goatweed and rosin rose but got its common name from John the Baptist because it blooms at the same time as the feast of St. John (in late June). The bright yellow flowers and buds are the main part of the plant used medicinally, but the leaf is sometimes used as well.
St. John's wort has become a very popular natural supplement, especially after getting attention for its potential benefits for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. This has been enough to take it from being viewed as a weed to becoming a valuable crop in countries like Australia.
European pharmaceutical companies produce standard formulations of St. John's wort that make a few billion dollars in sales every year. (1)
Key Compounds in St. John's Wort
St. John's wort has many powerful compounds, but two of the most studied (and with the most medicinal potential) are hypericin and hyperforin.
Hypericin and hyperforin also have antibacterial properties, which contribute to the wound and skin healing benefits of St. John's wort. (4)
Top St. John's Wort Health Benefits
Aids Depression and Other Mood Disorders
St. John's wort is most well known for its potential ability to help fight mild to moderate depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It's been favored by herbalists for centuries as an herb to lift the spirit and fight stress. It has now become the subject of many research studies.
Studies done on St. John's wort and depression have generally shown that it can be as effective as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) at treating mild to moderate depression. (Popular SSRIs include Prozac, Celexa, and Zoloft.) (5)
The exact way St. John's wort works to fight depression is unknown, but it does have fewer side effects than most of the commonly prescribed antidepressants.
Besides depression, St. John's wort also has benefits for anxiety and chronic stress. (Rosemary Gladstar. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide, pg. 198) Preliminary studies are showing that those who struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can greatly improve by taking St. John's wort consistently. (6)
If you are interested in trying St. John's wort, it's important to know that it should be taken at least 2-3 weeks and sometimes several months to help with stress, anxiety, and depression. (Gladstar, pg. 198)
Also, please do not stop taking any antidepressants or combine them with St. John's wort except under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Healing and Soothing for Skin
Apart from mood and nerve disorders, St. John's wort has traditionally been known as a vulnerary (wound healing) herb.
It has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe bruises, burns, and irritated skin and antibacterial properties that help abrasions and cuts to heal. (4) A small study done in Germany found that a St. John's wort cream significantly improved mild to moderate atopic dermatitis. (7)
If you don't want to try making your own skin remedy, try this Super Salve that contains St. John's wort along with other beneficial herbs.
May Relieve PMS and Menopause Symptoms
St. John's wort can also be beneficial for relieving PMS symptoms, especially those related to mood.
One study from the University of Leeds found that St. John's wort tablets improved physical and behavioral symptoms of PMS like fatigue, insomnia, food cravings, headaches, and crying. (8) The researchers concluded that further studies are needed to determine whether longer treatment with St. John's wort can improve symptoms even more.
Similarly, St. John's wort may also provide natural relief for menopausal symptoms, specifically psychological ones. (9) This is likely due to its ability to increase certain chemicals in the brain that can have an effect on hormones.
May Help Smoking Cessation
Another fascinating potential benefit of St. John's wort is that it may be able to relieve withdrawal symptoms for those who quit smoking.
A 2019 review explores St. John's wort as an alternative therapy for smoking cessation. It's thought to decrease the negative effects of tobacco withdrawal through various mechanisms and by inhibiting certain chemical reactions. (10)
How to Use St. John's Wort
There are many different forms of St. John's wort available for you to use.
You can harvest the fresh flowers and buds to make skin-healing salves, liniments, and oils. You can buy the dried herb whole to make tea and tinctures or in powdered form. It's also available already prepared as an extract, tablet, capsule, and cream.
To make an infused oil for minor skin injuries and irritations, infuse the fresh buds and flowers in olive oil for 2-3 weeks. Harvest the herb when there are about 70% buds and 30% flowers on the plant. This oil can be used as is or combined with beeswax to make a salve.
For a mild, spirit-lifting tea, try combining dried St. John's wort with lemon balm, spearmint, and red rose petals. Infuse the herbs in hot water and drink up to 3-4 cups daily.
St. John's wort is typically safe when used in recommended doses but can cause side effects like upset stomach, tiredness, dizziness, vivid dreams, trouble sleeping, allergic skin reactions, and diarrhea.
It's very important that you do not substitute St. John's wort for antidepressant medications unless under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional.
St. John's wort can interfere with certain medications (including antidepressants, contraceptives, and anti-seizure medications) because it causes the body to produce more enzymes that clear chemicals from the bloodstream. Larges doses and/or topical use can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.
Not recommended for internal use by pregnant or nursing women.
An Ancient Herb for Modern Day
With a long history of use and tradition behind it, St. John's wort continues to be prized for its health benefits. It can help depression and other mood disorders and is often used topically to heal skin.
Try it out for yourself in this skin salve or take it as a tea or tincture to reduce stress and tension.