For more than 2,400 years, the herb St. Johns wort, also known as hypericum perforatum, has been used medicinally. While originally people ingested the plant to treat problems such as arthritis pain, menstrual cramps, and gastrointestinal bugs, in more modern times it's been employed as a depression cure. But does this perennial plant grown throughout the world and commonly marketed in tea, oil, capsule, or extract form actually help lift depression symptoms?

Many people believe it does. European health-care providers commonly prescribe St. Johns wort for depression, although it's not available in this country as a prescription medication. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, says there is scientific evidence that St. Johns wort can be effective against mild to moderate depression, although it cites two major studies that show the herb to be no more effective as a cure for moderate depression than a placebo is. The Mayo Clinic claims that these two studies were flawed in design and that other studies have, in fact, shown St. Johns wort to be more effective than a placebo. It's unclear, however, whether the herb is as effective as certain antidepressants in curing the condition. And whether it has any impact on severe depression is also murky.

Although generally well tolerated, St. Johns wort has a number of notable side effects. Some users may noticed an increased sensitivity to sunlight, higher anxiety levels, dizziness, dryness in the mouth, fatigue, headache, sexual dysfunction and gastric distress. The herb also interacts with certain drugs, either speeding up or slowing down their breakdown in the body. These drugs include antidepressants, oral contraceptives, and a number of medications used to treat cancer, blood clots, heart problems, and HIV infection. Therefore, it's imperative to discuss St. Johns wort with your doctor before beginning to use it.



National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine,

Mayo Clinic,