St. John’s Wort is a flowering herb native to Europe. St. John's Wort belongs to the plant species Hypericum perforatum and its appearance is characterized by yellow-green leaves with transparent dots surface.
The plant's flowers typically bloom around the celebration of St. John’s Day, which is traditionally observed every June 24, hence its name. St. John's Wort has been used for years as a medicinal herb and now grows in temperate areas around the world.
St. John’s Wort may be purchased commercially in tablet or liquid form. The plant’s leaves may also be dried and used as tea.
Health Benefits of St. John’s Wort
This herb is known for helping to strengthen the nervous system and speed up healing in the body. St. John's Wort is traditionally used as a pain reliever, antidepressant and antiviral. This plant is also considered as a diuretic, which means it facilitates the increased flow of urine. It even promotes menstrual flow for women.
In some parts of the world, people use St. John's Wort to treat stomachache, insomnia, headache, menstrual cramps, anemia and lung problems. It is also believed to be an effective cure against bedwetting and intestinal worms. Furthermore, St. John’s Wort has also been used as a remedy for hypothyroidism, a condition caused by an underactive thyroid gland which results in weight gain, fatigue and mood problems. The leaves of this plant may also be crushed and applied directly to the skin for treatment of insect bites, bruises and burns.
St. John’s Worth and Depression
Among its many uses, the most widely studied and highly discussed may be the role St. John’s Wort plays in combating depression. According to scientific studies conducted in Germany, this plant contains chemicals associated with antidepressant activity. The compounds present in the plant work in similar ways to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which is a class of compounds used to treat depression.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical found in the nervous system transmits information from one part of the brain to another. The areas of the brain largely influenced by serotonin are those related to mood, appetite, sleep and social behavior. Therefore, this neurotransmitter plays a major role in mood regulation.
Extensive research found in patients suffering from depression and other mood disorders, the level of serotonin present in the nervous system is lower because it is being absorbed back too quickly by the same neurons which produce it. Because of this imbalance in serotonin levels, mood regulation is affected, leading to depression and other disorders affecting an individual’s mood. SSRIs work by inhibiting the swift reuptake of serotonin in different areas of the brain, thereby allowing the neurotransmitter to remain in the nervous system longer transmitting signals across the brain, primarily for mood regulation.
Just like SSRIs, St. John’s Wort also contains chemicals that seem to prolong the re-absorption of serotonin in the neurons of the brain. By increasing the level of serotonin that is present and actively transmitting messages across the brain areas, it helps relieve the symptoms of mood disorders. St. John's Wort is therefore believed to be a natural treatment for depression, having the same effect as laboratory-made antidepressants.
St. John’s Wort and Other Mood Disorders
Because of its antidepressant properties, studies are also underway regarding the possible effectiveness of St. John’s Wort in treating other psychological disorders such as premenstrual syndrome, menopausal mood syndrome, anxiety attacks, ADHD and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Research also suggests the plant may have a combative effect on the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and alcoholism.