St. John’s wort is a shrub that is native to Europe and has been used for centuries to treat mental health conditions. Both the leaves and the yellow flowers of the plant contain active ingredients, such as hypericin and hyperforin, which are credited with giving it its medicinal qualities. Science is still exploring the potential benefits of St. John’s wort.
Perhaps its most common use, St. John’s wort is used as a natural antidepressant. Several studies have shown the plant to be as effective as certain prescription medications in treating mild to moderate depression. However, more research is still needed to support the use of St. John’s wort in treating severe depression.
Be sure to consult your doctor before taking St. John’s wort, and remember that, since there is no standard dose of St. John’s wort, strength and purity can vary between brands.
Chemicals in St. John’s wort, like hypericin and hyperforin, can provide sedative effects that work to lessen anxiety and reduce irritability. In particular, studies suggest that St. John’s wort could be effective in helping to treat somatic symptom disorder—a condition characterized by severe anxiety about physical symptoms such as pain, weakness, and shortness of breath. The plant also provides a promising alternative to benzodiazepines—tranquilizers prescribed for mood disorders and anxiety—as it offers a wider range of safe dosages and fewer side effects.
Helps with migraines
While St. John’s wort alone has not been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines, early research has shown encouraging results in reducing migraine pain when taken three times daily. Other research has shown that when St. John’s wort is administered in combination with sodium valproate both the severity of migraine attacks and migraine frequency can be reduced. While the causes of migraines aren’t completely understood, genetic and environmental factors can play a role.
Speeds wound healing
When applied topically, St. John’s wort can help speed healing of wounds and burns, thanks to the plant’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as its ability to stimulate collagen production. For example, research has shown that burns treated with St. John’s wort ointment can heal at least three times faster than burns treated using more conventional methods.
Provides anti-cancer effects
The flavonoids, hypericin, and hyperforin found in St. John’s wort provide the plant with its anti-cancer effects. In studies, hyperforin has been shown to inhibit tumor growth and cause tumor cell death. Likewise, in both in vitro and in vivo studies, St. John’s wort has demonstrated the ability to inhibit cancer cell growth and induce cancer cell death. Check out these other natural heroes with cancer-preventing properties.
Offers antiviral properties
St. John’s wort has antiviral properties have led scientists to investigate the plant’s ability to help fight back against a variety of viruses including influenza and herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2. Studies have shown that the hypericin content in St. John’s wort works as an anti-HIV agent, though concentrations required were found to be too high for clinical use. More recently, 3-hydroxy-lauric acid found in St. John’s wort has been identified as highly effective against HIV, renewing hope that further research may unlock a viable HIV treatment derived from the plant.
Works as an anti-inflammatory
St. John’s wort works as an anti-inflammatory to help relieve pain and soothe both acute and chronic inflammation. Among the plant’s key anti-inflammatory components are hypericin and hyperforin, which block several pro-inflammatory functions in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to a wide range of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease; check out these 10 simple food swaps to help sidestep inflammation.
Although psoriasis has no known cure, St. John’s wort has been found to help ease the size and severity of psoriasis patches when applied topically. As an inflammatory disorder, psoriasis causes skin cells to multiply too fast, resulting in patches of raised, dry, red, and scaly skin. St. John’s wort eases inflammation and slows the formation of new psoriasis patches.
Protects brain health
Evidence suggests that St. John’s wort has neuroprotective effects, likely due to the plant’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While further studies are needed, research suggests that low doses of St. John’s wort can improve short-term memory. Since oxidative stress plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, the plant’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may also make St. John’s wort a useful tool in the fight against such neurodegenerative diseases.