A perennial herb native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia with oblong leaves and yellow flowers that bloom in midsummer. Saint-John’s-wort has long been used for medicinal purposes in Europe, where its flowers were harvested around the time of a festival celebrating St. John the Baptist. It is thought that this is the derivation of the plant’s name; wort means “plant” in Old English.
Ancient Romans used the herb to treat battle wounds. Medieval healers used it to treat people who suffered hallucinations and other mental disorders. In modern times the herb has been used to treat depression. Several European clinical studies indicated regular supplements of the herb were superior to placebo and as effective as antidepres-
sant drugs such as Prozac in treating mild to moderate depression.
Saint-John’s-wort first appeared in the United States as an herbal antidepressant in the mid-1990s, and its popularity soared amid reports of its mood enhancing abilities. There have been conflicting reports about the herb’s effectiveness in treating major depression. A recent study found that Saint-John’s-wort could interfere with the effectiveness of other drugs, including some that are used to lower blood cholesterol and treat cancer and AIDS. There is also some concern that the herb can interfere with general anesthesia. Before undergoing surgery, patients should always tell their doctors if they have been using Saint-John’s-wort. This herb may be unsafe for pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Linde, K. et al. “St John’s Wort for Depression: An Overview and Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials,” British Medical Journal 313 (1996): 258–261.