Depression Treatment The Health Benefits of St. John's Wort St. John's wort may ease depression symptoms By Cathy Wong Updated on May 06, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Elena Klimenko, MD Medically reviewed by Elena Klimenko, MD Facebook LinkedIn Elena Klimenko, MD, is a board-certified doctor in internal medicine and licensed in medical acupuncture and homeopathy. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Avalon_Studio / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Benefits of St. John's Wort Side Effects Dosage and Preparation What to Look For St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering plant named for its bright yellow flowers that were said to bloom for the first time around St. John the Baptist's birthday. The word "wort" means "plant" in Old English. Commonly Known As St. John's wortSaint John's wortHypericum (from the scientific name)GoatweedKlamath weedTipton weed People have been using St. John's wort for centuries. Its purported benefits include alleviating symptoms of depression, relieving anxiety, as well as treating the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause. Verywell / Jessica Olah Benefits of St. John's Wort St. John's wort is widely believed to boost mood and provide some relief from depression, but it's not exactly clear how it works. It may work because of the effect St. John's wort has on the brain. Researchers suspect that ingredients in the herb (hypericin and hyperforin) may increase levels of certain brain chemicals, like serotonin. People with depression often have low levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. One reason people may wish to try St. John's wort (as opposed to antidepressants that can increase serotonin) is that it tends to have fewer side effects than medications. The herb is also being explored for the following health concerns: Anxiety Menopause-related symptoms Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) Smoking cessation Viral infections St. John's wort may also benefit the skin. An oil made from St. John’s wort has been used topically for wound healing and a variety of other skin conditions such as eczema and hemorrhoids. Mild to Moderate Depression Although the benefits of St. John's wort are still being explored, research suggests the herb can be more effective than a placebo in alleviating mild to moderate depression. A 2015 review published in the Annals of Family Medicine examined whether antidepressants were more effective than a placebo for patients being treated for depression by their primary care doctor. The researchers examined 66 previously published studies (with a total of 15,161 participants) and found that both antidepressant medications and St. John's wort extracts were more effective than a placebo for treating mild to moderate depression. People taking St. John's wort were also more likely to continue treatment, as the herb was associated with fewer adverse effects compared to tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (NRI), a serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), and noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant agents (NaSSAs). Severe Depression The most comprehensive research on St. John's wort and major depression includes a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Researchers looked at 29 previously published clinical trials (with a total of 5,489 participants) that compared the effects of St. John's wort to a placebo or standard antidepressant medication for a period of four to 12 weeks. The study's authors found that St. John's wort extracts may be more effective than a placebo and were as effective as standard antidepressants. Additionally, the herb appeared to have fewer side effects. The authors noted that the studies conducted in German-speaking countries (where St. John's wort has a long history of use and is often recommended by physicians) reported more positive results than studies conducted in the United States and other countries. It's important to note, however, that St. John's worst isn't necessarily better than prescription antidepressants. Especially if your depression symptoms are severe, you should seek treatment advice from a doctor or mental health professional. Possible Side Effects People taking an oral St. John’s wort supplement for a short period of time may experience side effects. These may include: Mild stomach upsetDiarrheaDry mouthHeadacheTirednessDizzinessAnxietyRestlessnessTinglingAllergic skin reactionsSexual or erectile dysfunctionVivid dreamsLiver injuryPsychosis (rare) When used topically, St. John's wort may cause a skin rash. St. John’s wort (both oral or topical) can also increase the sensitivity of your skin and eyes to sunlight. If you have a condition such as lupus or are taking medication that can cause photosensitivity (such as some acne medications), review the risks and benefits of taking St. John's wort with your doctor or pharmacist. Yu may experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking St. John's wort. These symptoms include dizziness, chills, nausea, and fatigue that last up to a week. Be sure to talk to a doctor if you experience any withdrawal symptoms after stopping St. John's wort. Possible Drug Interactions St. John's wort can cause serious interactions with commonly used medications because of how it gets broken down by the liver. The herb can interact with medication in different ways. It can make some drugs less effective while making the effect of others stronger. The types of medications that may interact with St. John's Wort include: Antibiotics Antidepressants Oral contraceptives Immunosuppressants Blood thinners such as warfarin Sedatives and medications used to treat anxiety Drugs used to treat cancer, heart conditions, and HIV/AIDS Over-the-counter medications for sleep, coughs, and colds St. John's wort can also interact with other herbs and supplements. You should avoid taking any nutritional supplement or remedy that can raise serotonin, such as 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), L-tryptophan, or SAMe, if you are taking St. John's wort. Taking St. John's wort with antidepressants or any substance that raises serotonin can cause serotonin syndrome, a potentially dangerous condition resulting from an excess of serotonin. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include confusion, fever, hallucinations, nausea, loss of muscle coordination, sweating, and shakiness. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop taking St. John’s wort and seek immediate medical attention. Without treatment, the condition can be fatal. Symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome Contraindications There may be certain situations where it would be unsafe for you to take a supplement such as St. John's wort or you will need an adjusted dose. For example, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to conceive, or taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills), it's important to talk with your doctor before you start taking St. John's wort. St. John's wort may worsen symptoms in people with certain conditions, including: Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Bipolar disorder (may bring on mania or increase speed of cycling) Major depression Schizophrenia (may increase the risk of psychosis) Alzheimer's disease Some research has indicated taking certain herbal supplements, including St. John's wort, may increase your risk of complications if you are put under anesthesia. You should not take St. John's wort for at least five days before having surgery. If you have received an organ transplant, you will need to avoid St. John's wort as it can interact with the medications given to help prevent transplant rejection. Dosage and Preparation There is not enough scientific data to provide a standard recommended dose of St. John's wort, though there are doses commonly used by researchers who are investigating the herb's effect on depression. In NIH-funded trials, participants were given a 300mg dose of a specific concentration of St. John's wort extract three times a day (900mg daily total). The maximum dose given was 1,800mg per day. By the end of the eight-week trial, the average daily dose was 1,300mg per day. The appropriate dose of St. John's wort for you will depend on several factors including your age, biological sex, and medical history. It's best to work with a doctor, pharmacist, and/or an alternative health practitioner to personalize your dose to ensure effectiveness and safety. St. John's wort can be found in several different preparations depending on how it will be used. There are dry, oil, and liquid preparations, including tinctures, capsules, elixirs, and teas. Each preparation of St. John's wort will have different potencies. The strength may also vary from one supplement brand to another. If you are taking St. John's wort for depression, you may find taking a daily capsule more effective than using a topical treatment (which may be better suited to treating muscle pain, for instance). While you can take St. John's wort every day, it's generally recommended that you don't exceed 1800mg per day and that you take it for a specific period of time, such as six to eight weeks. To help maintain its effectiveness, all preparations of the herb should be kept in a cool, dry, place. Active ingredients in St. John's wort may be affected by light, which is why the supplements are often packaged in a dark-colored container. Make sure to store the bottle or package out of direct sunlight. St. John's wort products need to be stored safely, just like any other medication. Unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements don't always come in child-proof containers. What to Look For St. John's wort is widely available in pharmacies, supermarkets, and health food stores and comes in different doses. Check the Supplement Facts label for the product you choose to ensure you are getting the appropriate dose. This label also provides information about other ingredients the supplement may contain. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests looking for products with a seal of approval from a third-party organization that provides quality testing, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia, Consumer Lab, or NSF International. A seal of approval from these organizations assures a product was properly manufactured, that it actually includes the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants. A seal of approval does not, however, guarantee a product's safety or effectiveness. Natural Antidepressants for Depression A Word From Verywell If you or someone you know is living with depression, you may be seeking different options to manage your symptoms. While the research on St. John's wort is promising, it's crucial that you work with your healthcare provider and discuss whether it's appropriate for you, rather than trying it on your own. Delaying or forgoing treatment for depression can have serious consequences. As you are deciding on treatment, remember to tell each health care provider you work with about all the medications you are taking, including herbal or nutritional supplements, to ensure no potentially dangerous interactions occur. Overview of Treatment Options for Depression 13 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Apaydin EA, Maher AR, Shanman R, et al. A systematic review of St. John’s wort for major depressive disorder. Syst Rev. 2016;5(1):148. doi:10.1186/s13643-016-0325-2 Baek JH, Nierenberg AA, Kinrys G. Clinical applications of herbal medicines for anxiety and insomnia; targeting patients with bipolar disorder. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2014;48(8):705-715. doi:10.1177/0004867414539198 Johnson A, Roberts L, Elkins G. Complementary and alternative medicine for menopause. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2019;24:2515690X1982938. doi:10.1177/2515690x19829380 Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L. St John's wort for major depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008(4):CD000448. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000448.pub3 Canning S, Waterman M, Orsi N, Ayres J, Simpson N, Dye L. The efficacy of hypericum perforatum (St Johnʼs Wort) for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome. CNS Drugs. 2010;24(3):207-225. doi:10.2165/11530120-000000000-00000 Mount Sinai. St. John's wort. Sood A, Ebbert JO, Prasad K, Croghan IT, Bauer B, Schroeder DR. A randomized clinical trial of St. John's wort for smoking cessation. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(7):761-767. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0445 Chen H, Muhammad I, Zhang Y, et al. Antiviral activity against infectious bronchitis virus and bioactive components of hypericum perforatum L. Front Pharmacol. 2019;10. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.01272 Wölfle U, Seelinger G, Schempp C. Topical application of St. Johnʼs wort (Hypericum perforatum). Planta Med. 2013;80(02/03):109-120. doi:10.1055/s-0033-1351019 Linde K, Kriston L, Rücker G, et al. Efficacy and acceptability of pharmacological treatments for depressive disorders in primary care: Systematic review and network meta-analysis. Ann Fam Med. 2015;13(1):69-79. doi:10.1370/afm.1687 Coppock R. Dziwenka M. St. John's wort. Nutraceuticals. 2016:619-631. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-802147-7.00045-0 Blumenthal M, Brinckmann J, Wollschlaeger B. St. John's Wort: Clinical overview. In: The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. American Botanical Council. Cleveland Clinic. St. John's wort. Additional Reading National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. St. John's wort and depression: In depth. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Depression Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.