St Johns Wort is the Happiness Herb

St Johns Wort is the Happiness Herb

This cheerful perennial plant (Hypericum perforatum) with pretty yellow flowers was apparently named for John the Baptist (it blooms in late June close to St. John's Day when the sun is at its apogee), as well as Hyperion, the Greek god of the sun.  One of my favorite plants, it has many intriguing qualities beyond its traditional medicinal uses as a mood enhancer. Because it always blooms at the summer solstice, it has historically been invaluable to anyone looking for the ideal harvest time. When the St Johns wort (SJW) blooms, it is time to pick your crops.

Like the sun, it elevates mood.

Maybe this is partly why the plant has always had a slightly mystical place in many cultures. The flowers are bright yellow like the sun and the stamens radiate out like rays from the sun. And like the sun, it is said to counteract the forces of darkness. The pleasant smell of the drying flowers was considered unpleasant to demons and was often hung on doors to ward off evil spirits. This may also be the original root of its use as a anti-depressant, driving out bad thoughts.

Some people believe that just picking SJW effects you in unusual ways, like causing a form of drowsiness, almost like an altered state, and a loss of accurate perception of time (this was thought to be due to the sun warming the volatile oils in the plant.) It was said that if you took SJW before sleeping, you not only slept well, but you could control your dream state.  Fascinatingly, a small percentage of people who take SJW become photosensitive to sunlight, so all these wort characteristics are curiously connected to the sun.

Around the 16th century, the famous physician, Paracelsus, documented its benefits as an anti-inflammatory, for healing wounds, burns, treating mental disorders, alleviating nerve pain, and as a sedative.  It was around 1985 that scientific studies began to investigate the role of SJW (hypericin and hyperforin) as viable alternative for antidepressant drugs, and has since become one of the best-researched medicinal plants. While not yet 100% conclusive, evidence is continually mounting that SJW has siginificant beneficial mood-balancing effects on the brain without any adverse risk or danger.

SJW firmly declared the natural antidepressant!

In Europe, the value of this plant for helping with depression was confirmed at the Centre for Complementary Medicine in Munich, where a meta-study of 29 studies involving 5,489 patients with mild to moderately severe depression showed that 'St John's Wort extracts tested in the trials were superior to placebo, similarly effective as standard anti-depressants, and had fewer side effects than standard anti-depressants.'

At the turn of the millenium, the College of Pharmacy at the University of Georgia gathered diverse study data and identified four significant studies on depression suggesting as strong efficacy for hypericin as other antidepressant medications and more effective than placebo. Researchers stated that "tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors can produce serious cardiac side-effects, such as tachycardia and postural hypotension, and many unwanted anticholinergic side-effects, including dry mouth and constipation. St. John's wort has proven to be free of any cardiac, as well as anticholinergic, side-effects normally seen with antidepressant medications." (St. John's wort: a new alternative for depression? Josey ES, Tackett R. Department of Clinical and Administrative Sciences. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther 1999 Mar.)

Although we are still figuring out the exact mechanism of hypericin on the brain, animal studies suggest that "acute treatment with hyperforin and hypericin caused significant increases in plasma corticosterone. This was associated with significant increases in brain cortical tissue 5-HT content." Essentially, a downregulation of beta-adrenergic receptors and an upregulation of serotonin (5-HT) leads to a positive effect on mood (Pubmed.)

Whatever the cause, the fact remains that for many people with mild to moderate depression, SJW offers serious benefits without risk. There are some interactions with pharmaceutical drugs though, so you should always talk to your doctor before starting any new regimen, especially if you are taking any prescription drugs. Furthermore, tests done on SJW supplements found that hypericin and hyperforin levels were often very different from what was labeled, and timing of harvesting has impacts on quality. Look for a premium-quality mood supplement containing high-grade St Johns wort hypericin. Combination with b vitamins, magnesium, calcium, 5-htp and DMAE have all been found to have valuable synergistic effects.

Related Posts: 
L-Theanine Benefits for Mood, Sleep & Weight Loss
Depression? Anxiety? Phenylalanine May be the Answer
5-HTP - One of the Best Natural Mood Enhancers
5 Creative Ways to Relieve Stress Relax Quickly

Mood supplement

References:
Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L.  St John's wort for major depression.  Cochrane Database Syst Rev  2008;4
Ebadi M.  Pharmacodynamic basis of herbal medicine. 2nd Ed.  Taylor & Francis Group.
Neary JT, Bu Y.  Hypericum LI 160 inhibits uptake of serotonin and norepinephrine in astrocytes.  Brain Res  1999
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: National Institutes of Health.  What the science says about St. John's wort for depression.
Butterweck V.  Mechanism of action of St John's wort in depression: what is known?  CNS Drugs  2003



The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


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