In recognizing the efficacy of St. John’s wort in treating depression, Germany has come out ahead of all other countries, including the United States. Noted German physician Dr. Klaus Linde of Munich conducted twenty-three randomized trials of the botanical and concluded that it was not only as effective as standard antidepressants but also exhibited fewer side effects. Today, German physicians are much more likely to prescribe Hypericum (short for Hypericum perforatum, the scientific name for St. John’s wort) than they are to prescribe pharmaceuticals like Prozac.
In America, St. John’s wort has been evaluated in comparison to Prozac, but findings have oftentimes not been so conclusive. Nonetheless, the botanical is one of the strongest hopefuls in contemporary herbal medicine in the country, having become very popular over a short period of time. About 50% of the people who take antidepressants like Prozac experience side effects, some of which are serious. It’s hoped that St. John’s wort will prove as effective as Prozac without the adverse effects.
Hypericum perforatum is a perennial weed that’s native to Europe and Asia but has been naturalized on most of the other continents. It blooms from June to September in the Northern Hemisphere, reaching a height of one meter. The tops of the plants – the leaves, buds and flowers – comprise its important (at least, for medicinal purposes) portion. Its Latin name loosely translates to “above an icon”, which refers to how one would place it to ward off evil spirits. Its common name relates to religious beliefs and the growth cycle of the plant: June 24th (when Hypericum typically blooms) is the date of the feast of St. John and August 29th (when red spots are said to be visible on the leaves) was the date upon which he was beheaded.
Hypericum is prescribed in a standardized extract form for patients suffering from mild to moderate depression. Preliminary evidence supports the idea that twice the typically allotted dose could prove effective in treating severe depression. Studies done on animals have demonstrated that Hypericum can make them sensitive to ultraviolet rays; and, though no clear conclusions have been drawn so far as humans are concerned, people are cautioned about sun exposure while they’re taking it, particularly if they are fair skinned or are taking high dosages.
One doesn’t need to be diagnosed with depression, however, to enjoy the soothing effects of St. John’s wort. Crushed and powdered forms of the herb are available in health and natural foods stores; a couple teaspoonfuls make a fine tea. The herb has a growing reputation for promoting healthy emotional balance and for helping people maintain a positive attitude. Best of all, there are no known side effects of taking St. John’s wort in its whole herb form at suggested dosages.