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man harvesting st. john's wort

St. John’s Wort Is A Time-Tested Mood Master

A new wellness “must-have” seems to break TikTok every other day—but one of the latest trends on the platform actually isn’t new at all. In fact, the currently-buzzy herb St. John’s wort has been used for generations to support physical and mental health. 

New to TikTok scrollers but not to folks seasoned in herbal medicine, St. John’s wort has some pretty impressive research backing it. Long honored for its mood-boosting properties, this flowering plant also supports the nervous system, promotes wound healing, and more. 

Sounds pretty neat, right? Here’s a look at what St. John’s wort is all about.

What Is St. John’s Wort?

St. John’s wort (botanical name Hypericum perforatum) is a perennial herb of the Hypericaceae family that likely originated in Siberia, says Brandy Zachary, D.C., I.F.M.C.P., functional medicine expert and founder of the Functional Medicine Academy. The yellow flowers and buds were thought to guard the home against harm, warding off evil spirits and demons. Interestingly, the herb’s name was given after the midsummer festival it was often harvested on was Christianized as St. John’s Feast Day, Zachary explains.

Today, St. John’s wort is considered an invasive species in many parts of the United States, but it’s one the most popular botanical medicines used to support everything from low mood and feelings of anxiety to wound and sunburn healing, notes Iginio Stoppa, N.D., a naturopathic doctor with Sonoran University. It’s generally safe for long periods of use and can be consumed in many forms (tincture, capsule, tablet, or tea) or applied topically as an oil, cream, or ointment.

St. John’s wort contains some pretty unique compounds that make it particularly potent and powerful, Stoppa says. One of the most beneficial phytochemicals in the plant is hypericin, which is known for its antioxidant properties and support of healthy bacterial balance. Hyperforin is another powerhouse compound known for promoting a healthy mood, adds Zachary.

How St. John’s Wort Can Support Your Health And Wellness

St. John’s wort has been beloved for generations and remains a go-to in folk medicine for good reason. Here are the many ways it can nourish and restore wellbeing.

1. Boosts Mood

St. John’s wort has been shown to act as a natural mood booster that’s particularly beneficial for those experiencing low mood, says Zachary. It does this by increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, the brain’s neurotransmitters responsible for improving mood, per research published in the journal Cureus

In fact, research suggests that St. John’s wort is as effective (and safe) as traditional medical treatments for helping to ease low mood. It also boasts a significantly lower discontinuation and dropout rate than medication, Zachary notes. 

Read More: Ways To Boost—And Balance—’Feel-Good’ Hormone Serotonin

In addition to supporting serotonin production, the plant’s hyperforin may also ease feelings of anxiety by activating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, says Stoppa. GABA is a chemical messenger in your brain that plays a major role in controlling nerve cell hyperactivity associated with anxiety, stress, and fear—and St. John’s wort can help activate those receptors to produce a calming effect, he explains.

2. Offers Potent Antioxidant Properties 

The natural substance is known to be a powerful antioxidant, says Stoppa. Of its active compounds, studies suggest the plant’s hypericin and hyperforin are especially effective in working against bad-guy bacteria and promoting bacterial balance in the body.

St. John’s wort is also known to support the body in recovering from illness—and there’s research to prove it. Just note that St. John’s wort can interfere with antiviral medications, so clear it with your doctor before incorporating it on the daily.

3. Supports The Nervous System 

St. John’s wort is known as a “nervine tonic,” which means it works on the nervous system, says Zachary. “Nervine tonics help to nurture the nervous system and help it find balance again when things feel ‘off.’ In doing so, St. John’s wort can help support healthy energy levels, improve normal sleeping patterns, and ease nervous tension and stress, she explains.

More research is still needed on the proven effectiveness of St. John’s wort as a nervine tonic, but research out of the University of Rochester Medical Center supports that it may have a positive effect on your nervous system.

4. Promotes Wound Healing

In addition to its other benefits, St. John’s wort can also help facilitate wound healing, says Stoppa. In fact, it’s a go-to for those dealing with a sunburn! Research has shown that the active hyperforin and hypericin compounds absorb some of the stress of the damaged skin, ultimately shortening the healing time. 

On top of that, St. John’s wort also stimulates collagen production and fibroblast motility, which are both responsible for repairing damaged tissue in the body or on the skin, according to a study published in Planta Medica. Good news for healing all around.

Should You Try St. John’s Wort?

Anyone can try St. John’s wort and it’s generally well tolerated, but you should run it by your physician before regularly incorporating it into your routine, advises Zachary. 

The main concern here is that it may interfere with existing prescription or over-the-counter medications, particularly Alprazolam (Xanax) and SSRIs, birth control pills, Cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), Imatinib (Gleevec), and Digoxin (Lanoxin), she explains. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it altogether.

While it may sound contradictory given that St. John’s wort can support recovery from a nasty sunburn, higher doses can cause increased sensitivity to sunlight (a.k.a. photodermatitis), especially in those with fair skin, says Stoppa. Prolonged periods of sun can cause a serious skin rash when taking the herb, so be mindful of your sun exposure, he explains.

Otherwise, side effects are usually minimal, though some people experience gastrointestinal distress and stomach upset when taking St. John’s wort, says Zachary. Nausea, dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth, increased heart rate, and frequent urination may also occur, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Finally, keep in mind that St. John’s wort is not a cure-all—and Stoppa recommends those with mental health diagnoses speak with their healthcare team before trying it. It’s also vital that anyone experiencing major depression or other mental health concerns seek out care from a mental health professional.

Tips For Adding St. John’s Wort To Your Routine

If St. John’s wort seems like a good fit for your needs, keep these considerations in mind before getting started. 

1. Always Consult With A Professional

This one bears repeating: Since there are potential contraindications with St. John’s wort, Zachary recommends checking in with a medical professional before incorporating it into your routine. This is particularly important if you take medications. Once a pro gives you the go-ahead, they can give you specific details on the dosage, delivery, and length of use based on your unique circumstances, she adds. 

2. Prioritize Quality

As with all vitamins, supplements, and herbs, you should always buy St. John’s wort from a trusted source. Generally, Zachary recommends looking for an organic product that has been third-party tested for quality and safety. (We recommend plnt Full-Spectrum St. John’s Wort.) 

A top-notch product will also provide clear information on the quantity of the active compounds in St. John’s wort. In particular, look for products that have hypericin and pseudohypericin ranging from 0.05 to 0.3 percent, Zachary suggests. “This standardization ensures a consistent and reliable concentration of the active compounds responsible for the herb’s therapeutic effects.”

Read More: 6 Ways Stress Affects Your Long-Term Health

3. Consider Your Timing

The best time to take St. John’s wort is a matter of personal preference, but Stoppa suggests taking it when you wake up. “Although St. John’s wort has not shown to affect circadian rhythm, I would recommend taking it in the morning or mid-day as it can increase dopamine and norepinephrine,” he explains. 

Plus, taking St. John’s wort first thing in the morning also sets you up to receive its mood-elevating effects throughout the day, Zachary adds. That said, if you’re using it topically, you might want to opt for nighttime application to avoid any potential negative interactions with the sunlight.

4. Be Patient

How long it takes to see real results from using St. John’s wort varies. If you’re applying it topically to support the healing of a wound or burn, you might notice some improvements within a few days, Stoppa says. However, when taken orally, it typically takes three to four weeks (or more) for the herb’s mood-enhancing effects to fully set in, so be patient.

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