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St. John's Wort: Herbal Medications, What Works

St. John's wort, or SJW, (Hypericum perforatum) is one of the powerhouses of contemporary herbal medicine. It has become very popular in the United States in a short period of time, and is used primarily to combat depression.

Ancient herbalists, including the Greeks and Romans, used SJW for wound healing, as a diuretic, and for treatment of neuralgic pain. It was brought by early European colonists to the United States, where it was valued for its astringent, sedative, and diuretic properties. It was also used in the nineteenth century for depression.

St. John's wort is currently of keen interest to AIDS researchers, who are looking into the possible antiviral activity of one of its primary active compounds, hypericum.

In Germany, sixty-six million daily doses of SJW were taken in 1994 for the treatment of depression. German doctors now prescribe SJW far more frequently than Prozac, at ratios variously reported as twenty to one, six to one, or four to one (depending on the specific product cited).

Germany's Commission E recommends an average daily dosage of 2 to 4 grams of dried herb, containing 0.2 to 1.0 mg of hypericin, the constituent considered responsible for some of the herb's activity. However, there may be as many as ten active constituents.

  • In 1992, Reh and Laux compared SJW to placebo in a study of 50 depressed patients. Given daily for eight weeks, it produced a significantly greater improvement than the placebo in the patient's mood and ability to carry out daily activities, with no side effects.


  • In a study by Harrer and Sommer, SJW produced notable improvement in depression after only two weeks.


  • During a 1994 study by Woelk and associates of 3,250 patients with depression, depression was resolved or improved in about 30 percent of cases.


  • Based on a 1996 meta-analysis of twenty-three studies, reported in the British Medical Journal, SJW was compared with conventional tricyclic antidepressants. In the trials, 63.9 percent of patients responded favorably to SJW preparations, compared to 58.5 percent of those receiving tricyclics.





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Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, Inc.

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