St John’s Wort: Safe Natural Remedy for Depression?


For sufferers of depression the natural, herbal remedy, St John’s Wort was welcomed with open arms. The remedy is derived from a common, yellow-flowering hedgerow plant and is proven to be effective for mild to moderate depression. It is viewed by millions of advocates as a kind of Prozac but without the stigma or risk of a proper drug.

Research in Germany which was undertaken in the 1990s showed that St John’s Wort was more effective than the placebo used and equally as effective as the anti-depressant drugs used in the study. There were also fewer side effects from the herbal remedy.


But beware. Studies show that the remedy can interact with other medicines and cause them to metabolize in the body too quickly. The Medicines Control Agency issued a warning those patients who are taking any of an alarmingly long list of medication should not take St John’s Wort until they have consulted their doctor. In the Irish Republic the remedy is only available on prescription.

The United States Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) found that the herb might interfere with HIV medication or similar including that given to heart transplant patients.

St John’s Wort can cause cataracts or nerve damage when exposed to bright sunlight. It is thought that this is due to the active ingredient, hypericin which does react with sunlight. This research is particularly significant for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder should they decide to combine a course of St John’s Wort with light-box therapy and spend long periods of time sitting bathed in bright light.

The herbalist’s opinion:

Qualified herbalist, Keith Robertson who is Director of Education at the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine has been prescribing the herb for over a decade for mild depression and has not experienced any problems with it.

Mr Robertson stresses that the plant itself is made up of over a thousand different ingredients contained in its different parts. The most effective way to take the remedy is in a combination of these constituents as prescribed by a herbalist. The tablets available over-the-counter only contain the standardized active ingredient, hypericin and none of the other substances in the herb and are not recommended.

Mr Robertson advises giving up taking the herb when the depression lifts as unlike prescription anti-depressants, natural remedies can have a much more rapid effect. It’s better to use them when they are needed rather than to take them habitually. He is convinced that the herb is safe and that it does work to relieve depression when taken as directed by a qualified herbalist but stresses that it should never be used with prescription drugs or other herbal remedies without prior consultation with a medical professional.


So it would seem that St John’s Wort is a way forward for the mildly depressed but users should proceed with caution and take heed of the warnings issued with the remedies. The medication would appear to be potentially very effective but just because a product is natural does not guarantee that it is safe.

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