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Herbal Medicine

In a document on Complementary Medicine and Mental Health published by the mental health charity MIND it was revealed that people with anxiety and depression often try complementary therapies like herbal medicine because of the side effects of anti depressant medication.  Research has indicated that herbs like St Johns Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) can have a beneficial effect on mild to moderate forms of depression but its not effective for severe forms.  Studies indicate that St Johns Wort is better tolerated and produces less side effects than antidepressants.
However contrary to popular belief St Johns Wort can and does have some potential for side effects in some people such as dry mouth, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, increased sensitivity to sunlight etc, but these are generally less severe than those of anti depressant medication.  Herbal medicines can take longer to work and are not as potent as conventional medication, having said this St Johns Wort is widely used in Germany, where doctors prescribed nearly 66 million daily doses in 1994 for psychological health problems, in fact German physicians prescribe St Johns Wort about 20 times more often than the anti depressant Prozac.
In order to obtain the best treatment for depression it is of paramount importance that you dont self diagnose or self treat by using St Johns Wort bought from a high street shop.  The quality of St Johns Wort can vary, for example in one research study, laboratory tests on 10 St Johns Wort products found that the potency varied.  You need to see your GP to get a correct diagnosis and consult a fully trained Medical Herbalist trained by the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, you will find them in the Yellow Pages under Herbalists, they should have the initials MNIMH after their surname.
For some people the severity of the depression is too severe and the St Johns Wort may not be effective.  The depression may get worse or  may develop suicidal thoughts and impulses.  In these cases its vital to see your GP and it may be clinically necessary to take antidepressant medication.
St Johns Wort should never be taken at the same time as antidepressant medication and caution must be taken if you are intending to take St Johns Wort with other prescribed medications such as the contraceptive pill, anticoagulants, anti organ rejection drugs, anti HIV drugs, etc. as St John's Wort can reduce the effectiveness of these medications.    Caution is also needed in cases of health problems such as diabetes,manic depression etc, it should be avoided in pragnancy and when breast feeding, but your medical herbalist will advise.  If you have to go into hospital for surgery make sure you tell your anaesthetist  you are taking herbal medicines.

Depression should never be treated by medication alone and this is applicable to St Johns Wort also.  Depression occurs due to a matrix of psychological and physiological factors and its important that these psychological factors are also dealt with by talking therapy and stress management which will help to improve your anxiety/depression resistance and help to reduce the chances of suffering a future depressive episode.


Herbs like St Johns Wort are thought to work a little bit like a class of antidepressants called Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) which can take up to 6 weeks to achieve therapeutic activity, it should be taken for 6 months but your medical herbalist will guide you on this matter.  It is also useful to note that research suggests liquid extracts of St Johns Wort are better than dried extracts.  Your Medical Herbalist will guide you on this matter.


Article on St John's Wort by National Institutes of Health


National Institute of Medical Herbalists



  • Bloomfield H. (1998) Healing Anxiety with Herbs, Thorsons
  • Hoffman D. (1986) The Holistic Herbal Way to Successful Stress Control.
  • Katzenstein L. (1998) Secrets of St Johns Wort, Hodder and Stoughton.