What is St John’s Wort good for?

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Mahalia Freed, ND


For many years, St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been a top selling plant in the marketplace for depression. Long an important herb in European medicine, settlers brought it with them to North America and Australia, and it can now be found in sunny, dry fields around the world. It is well studied, and meta-analysis finds the herb more effective than SSRIs or placebo in treating mild-to-moderate depression. Hypericum can be an excellent herb for depression, and I regularly incorporate it in my treatment plans for people seeking mood support. But, look at the incomplete list of causes of depression, above. St John’s Wort (or St Joan’s Wort, as herbalist Susun Weed calls it) is not for all depressions. It is for healing.

Viewing at St John’s Wort as an antidepressant limits the power of the herb to what can be understood from an allopathic linear paradigm. An allopathic paradigm question is, what herb can act as an SSRI? But, herbs are not substitutes for drugs. Plants are living medicines, crossing body systems to heal people, rather than addressing diagnoses. St John’s Wort is no exception, and looking at the history of its use along with modern phytotherapeutic trials reveals the breadth of its role in healing.

This herb has long been used in topical applications for wound healing, and it is great for this. Think of it for scrapes, and think of it for healing the perineum post-partum. It is also antiviral against herpes, shingles, and even against HIV. It is famous in homeopathic  form for its efficacy in addressing nerve pain, whether from dental surgery or due to a skeletal issue like disc compression. Hypericum has been studied for PMS, and found more effective than placebo for physical and behavioral PMS symptoms. In clinical trial, it is also effective for menopausal symptoms in combination with Black Cohosh (another misunderstood herb!).

So, what is St John’s Wort for?
For healing.

Who is St John’s Wort for?

Since herbs treat people, this is a question with a juicier answer. Hypericum is for someone with Type A blood more than Type O blood. For someone who needs more sunshine (eg depression in winter), for frayed nerves. For a “weak” stomach, for normalizing stomach acid whether too high or too low, for liver support, for disinfecting and healing wounds (including deep wounds), for nerve damage, for third chakra issues, for emotions influencing the bladder, for radiation burns.

Who Shouldn’t Take St John’s Wort?

Anyone taking any prescription medication, including oral contraceptives, should consult with their herbalist or naturopathic doctor. St John’s Wort is metabolized through the liver and interferes with/decreases the effectiveness of many drugs. If taken at the same time as oral contraceptives, St. John’s Wort can diminish their effectiveness. i.e., this could – and does – lead to an unexpected pregnancy. So please ask your herbally-trained health care provider!

Additional Effects (Cautions):

Cows who graze excessively on Hypericum are known to get sunburns. This is almost never seen in people, as we do not consume it as a dietary staple.

Conversely, St John’s Wort oil is in fact an excellent sunscreen when applied topically (Per Susun Weed).

Selected Sources:

·      Bruton-Seal, Julie and Seal, Matthew. Backyard Medicine: Harvest & Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. New York, NY: SkyHorse Publishing. 2009.
·      Kaminski, Patricia & Katz, Richard. Flower Essence Repertory. Nevada City, CA: Flower Essence Society. 2004.
·      Weed, Susun. Lecture at the Association of Perinatal Naturopathic Doctors annual conference. Toronto: Oct. 13, 2012.
·      Wood, Matthew. Earthwise Herbal. A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. 2008.
·      Wood, Matthew. Herbal First Aide. Accessed online at http://www.woodherbs.com/Indispensable.html. July 7, 2013.

What’s good for what’s wrong with me? What is delicious?

 Mahalia Freed, ND

Have you ever asked an ND a seemingly simple question, like “what do you do for ___ (migraines/bloating/depression/fill in the blank)”?

Perhaps you were frustrated by the answer, as it wasn’t specific. The answer to that question is, “it depends”, or, “healing”.

What that healing looks like for YOU is as unique as your story, your history, your physiology, your life circumstances.

Let’s use the example of depression, a common concern in my practice.

What is good for depression?

Well, healing. Healing is what you need.

Why are you depressed?

Physiology: Depression can be related to low thyroid function, to food allergies (especially gluten), to depletion of neurotransmitters secondary to substance (ab)use, and to nutrient deficiencies (MTHF, B6, Vit D, EPA…), to name a few.

Life: Depression may stem from grief (a normal psychological state), from not living true to your life purpose, from feeling stuck in work or your relationship(s), or from a true feeling of powerlessness over hard circumstances (eg, living far below the so-called poverty line, unable to work due to chronic pain, and not being able to afford food, let alone herbal medicine or supplements)

Clearly, there are many “things” that are good for depression, then.

It is like asking, “what is delicious”? Babies’ feet are delicious. Freshly picked berries are delicious. Lying by a lake in the warm sun is delicious. Ice cream is delicious. Your mom’s famous ___ is delicious. Clearly, it depends. It depends on your tastes, your life context, your stories about the world.

Now, let’s flip the question.

What is ______ (any herbal medicine eg St John’s Wort, Gingko, Calendula) good for?

The answer, again – of course – is healing.

This is only the introduction to a larger conversation about healing. It is clear that in order to heal, individually and collectively, we need to ask different questions than what we have been taught to ask by our allopathically-oriented education systems. We need to jump into another way of seeing the world – another paradigm. The questions that arise from there can take us forward. I do hope you will join me.