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A popular and controversial treatment for depression

St. John’s Wort is one of the most popular, and controversial, medicinal herbs used to treat depression. It has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate symptoms, but not for major depression. It is also used to treat anxiety.

St. John’s wort can be obtained in many forms: chopped or powdered or as capsules, tablets, tinctures, teas or skin lotions.

St. John’s Wort is generally well tolerated. In less than one percent of users, side effects have been found to be mild and included dry mouth, dizziness, digestive problems, sunburn, allergic reaction and sexual problems.

Scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort for depression is mixed. According to the National Institutes of Health, an analysis of the results of 37 clinical trials concluded that “St. John’s Wort may have only minimal beneficial effects on major depression but may benefit people with minor depression; these benefits may be similar to those from standard antidepressants.”

St. John’s Wort is available by prescription in Europe.

While not approved by the FDA as a drug, the U.S. National Library of Medicine, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that the herb “may help some people with mild depression only.” It also warns that St. John’s Wort can change the way other medicines work in your body.

According to the FDA, combining St. John’s Wort with certain HIV drugs significantly reduces their effectiveness. It may also reduce the effectiveness of prescription drugs for heart disease, depression, seizures, certain cancers or oral contraceptives.


The Food and Drug Administration issued a Public Health Advisory in 2000 warning that St. John’s Wort can cause serious interactions with prescription drugs, herbs or supplements. As with any herbal supplement, you should consult with your prescribing doctor before combining treatments.

For more information about individual herbs, including safety and side effects, go to MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health | Department of Health & Human Services or the University of Maryland Medical Center

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