How to Fight Depression: Hypericum / St. John's Wort

by Stanley Debenham

If you suffer from mild to moderate depression, before opting for strong antidepressants with hazardous side effects, you may want to consider a remedy successfully used and extensively tested in Europe:  A plant called St. John's Wort, or hypericum. 

In Germany it's the drug of choice for common depression.  It outsells all other antidepressants combined, including Prozac.

St. John's Wort, or hypericum perforatum as it's called in scientific terms, relieves depression often as effectively as strong antidepressant drugs, but without unpleasant side effects.  It is a common wildflower with vivid yellow flowers edged with tiny black beads.  When rubbed, the plant releases a red pigment containing hypericum, a pharmacologically active chemical.  

The name "St. John's Wort" comes from Christian folklore;  the plant's red spots are said to symbolize the blood spilled by St. John the Baptist when he was beheaded.  The plant also blooms around June 24 in Germany, the traditional birthday of John the Baptist.  "Wort", though sounding ugly, simply means "plant" in Old English. 

Studies showed that the botanical antidepressant improves mood, emotional fear, and psychosomatic symptoms, such as disturbed sleep, headache, cadiac troubles, and exhaustion.  One study showed that 70 percent of patients were depression-free after a month, wherein the symptoms best treated were lack of activity, tireness, fatigue and sleep disturbances. 

St. John's Wort can also relieve seasonal affective disorder -  the "winter blues", a common mood disorder due to sunlight deprivation.  Some judge it an alternative to light therapy, although the herbal medicine is more potent taken along with light therapy. 

Although a few people have seen relief rather quickly, typically it takes several weeks, for example four to eight weeks.  It may not work as well for everyone, but based on studies about 80 percent of those taking it will feel better. 

One of St. John's Wort's most attractive features is that its side effects are rare and relatively benign.  The complaint most often reported is gastrointestinal upset.  Allergies are unusual.  All side effects go away when you stop taking the herb.  Sometimes lowering the dose slightly to let your body adapt to the herbal medicine makes side effects disappear.  Don't take it if you are pregnant or lactating.  It should not be given to children without a physician's advice.  Seek advice from a physician first before taking it in combination with prescription antidepressants. 

For a lot of information about depression and hypericum, please visit Harold H. Bloomfield's website, http://www.hypericum.com