St. John's Wort (Hypericum)

Modern medicine has shunned its past. There was a time when medical students, nursing students and pharmacy students were taught about herbal medicines. That’s because many of the drugs they prescribed or dispensed originated from natural sources. It would have been unthinkable for health professionals to graduate without some understanding of these treatment. That has totally changed!

Imagine running a cooking school but not teaching the student chefs anything about dessert. You might well argue that sweets are not good for people, but your graduates would have a hard time finding work. Restaurants know that people eat dessert whether it’s good for them or not.

Schools that teach doctors, nurses and pharmacists are a lot less pragmatic. Most refuse to recognize herbs as an important part of the curriculum. As a result, these health professionals often know very little about the botanical medicines their patients are taking.

Medical Skeptics Doubt the Value of Herbal Medicines:

Health professionals have been told directly and by innuendo that herbs and dietary supplements are marginal at best and snake oil at worst. They have received virtually no education on potential uses, side effects or interactions with standard pharmaceuticals.

The FDA is equally negative on the use of plant-based medicines. The agency is quick to publicize any misadventure with herbs, despite the fact that many more people are injured or killed each year by prescription drugs.

The medical community has been led to believe that research on herbs is not up to the rigorous standards used for synthetic pharmaceuticals. But even when reputable scientists publish good research on herbal medicines, it is frequently overlooked.

St. John’n Wort:

One example is St. John’s wort (SJW). Although this herb has been prescribed frequently by physicians in Germany, their American counterparts look down their noses at this natural product.

A randomized double-blind study published in the British Medical Journal (Dec. 11, 1999) established that St. John’s wort is significantly better than placebo and as effective as the conventional antidepressant imipramine in relieving symptoms of depression. Fewer patients taking the herbal medicine experienced side effects: 22 percent of those on St. John’s wort compared to 46 percent of those on imipramine and 19 percent of those receiving placebo.

A more recent review of St. John’s wort “for major depressive disorder,” was published in the journal Systematic Reviews (Sept. 2, 2016). The authors reviewed 35 studies involving 6,993 patients. The conclusion:

“SJW monotherapy for mild and moderate depression is superior to placebo in improving depression symptoms and not significantly different from antidepressant medication.”

The Dangers of St. Joh’s Wort:

More than 20 previous clinical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of this herb. Yet few American physicians are aware of the research or recommend this product to their patients. Nor do they know that St. John’s wort may interact unfavorably with sunlight. This herb can harm the eye when it is exposed to ultraviolet light. Here is a link to more information about this adverse reaction:

St. John’s Wort Can Lift Mood, but May Damage Eyes

Many health professionals may not realize that SJW can interact with prescription medicines such as digoxin (Lanoxin), olanzapine (Zyprexa) and certain antidepressants as well as oral contraceptives.

The Head-In-The-Sand Problem:

By ignoring what their patients are taking, doctors and pharmacists discourage open dialog. Many patients are capable of reading body language that suggests herbs and dietary supplements are not to be discussed. This means that people may get into trouble with herb-drug interactions when taking herbal medicines in conjunction with their regular pill regimen.

To protect their patients, doctors, nurses and pharmacists need up-to-date information on indications, dosing, side effects and interactions of herbal medications. One place to find these data is in our herb library. The entries are written in language both health professionals and consumers can understand.

Given the incredible popularity of dietary supplements and natural products, it is time for professional schools to take them seriously. And consumers need to do their own homework to use such products safely.

Share your own story about using plant-based treatments for healing. Have you ever tried aloe vera gel, plantain, thyme, rosemary or turmeric? We’d love to hear about your experience.

Revised: Joe Graedon, 10/13/16

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  1. Cindy M. Black
    Seattle, WA

    Yes, a second comment from me!
    It occurs to me to mention this, re St. John’s Wort: First, it IS concerning that SJW has possible negative effects on one’s vision. HOWEVER, people should know that if you’ve had cataract surgery then you’re in the clear — because the SJW apparently acts upon the lens of the eye. So if you have fake lenses, the SJW can’t hurt your vision. A friend of mine in ophthalmology told me this.
    ALSO, I happen to take SJW myself and can attest to its good efficacy (I’m a little high-strung and angst-ridden by nature), and its lack of side effects. Also, since I’m always having surgeries for broken bones (mainly ski injuries), I can tell you that MY blood pressure has NEVER “tanked” while receiving anesthetic. (see comment from Mary Jane in NYC).

  2. Cindy M. Black
    Seattle, WA

    I have totally given up on EVER even MENTIONING natural supplements, food remedies, vitamins, etc., to any regular doctor. This is because every time I ever did, I was met with a blank stare and/or complete dismissal of the idea that “natural remedies” were anything but a bunch of hooey. Therefore, I put very little faith in doctors and rarely ever follow any of their orders or recommendations. I only use one to set a bone or something like that. This has got me to age 68 in very fine form and most people think I’m approx. 45 — 20+ years younger than I am! (That said, it IS incumbent on the person to do a lot of research on their own! And you have to get lots of opinions from lots of sources, so you can “average them out” to find the best representation of “truth.”)

    By the way, ISN’T IT STRANGE that so many people seem uncomfortable with “natural remedies,” saying, “yes, but they could be dangerous….” when Rx meds are the ones with the most dangerous and debilitating side effects! Sheesh.

  3. Pamela

    When I worked as a nurse, I always recommended that patients confer with the pharmacist before buying and using any OTC(over the counter meds) and alternative/herbal remedies so that the pharmacist could check the computer programs to see if there would be a reaction with their prescribed medications.
    We also had an anesthetist who refused to give anesthetic to any patient, for an elective procedure, who took St. John’s Wort, as their BP would crash during the procedure.
    Just be because a herbal remedy is “natural” does not mean it is safe. It’s better to check first before taking, than regret it after the fact.

  4. Mary Jane

    Most doctors have sold their souls to Big Pharma, knowing only one way of handling a patient’s medical issues.

  5. Jim
    Southern Oregon

    Just by chance I have as a PCP an Integrative FNP. It remains a mild surprise that medical care is comprises any other perspective. Utilizing whatever might work, herbs or standard medical products, does require patient involvement. One can’t expect any single individual to be up on all the available research. In the end, it’s up to the individual patient to take care of themselves.

  6. John
    North Carolina

    Sonogram revealed that I had 60 percent blockage in my right and left carotid arteries a year ago. At age 76, I was concerned because my father died of a stroke at the same age. I started taking 610 mgs of Fenugreek three times a day with my meals. I also started drinking 12 oz of watermelon water every other day. The results a year later were dramatic. My blockage dropped from mid-stage III (on a scale of I to V) to mid to low stage II, and I have every reason to believe that the blockage will continue to be reduced. I have always had very high cholesterol and I am allergic to statins. I would like to believe that the reduction of plague in my carotids is a sign that the rest of my circulatory system has experienced a reduction as well.

  7. omar

    its not that they dont know about herbs and other natural things that are good for, they do know, its just they can’t recommend they might get sued or lose their license.

  8. LF

    I suffered for years with sinus infections which then of course drained into my chest causing bronchial infections, etc. Had to have my right submandibular gland removed because it had a stone in it which turned out to be an accumulation of bacterial debris from all those previous sinus infections. Nine months later, I had deviated septum surgery and still the sinus infections, sore throats, etc. persisted.
    In desperation my surgeon was going to put me in the hospital for IV antibiotic treatments, something he didn’t want to do since I had had so many antibiotics in the past year. Then a friend told me to try pantothenic acid (B-5) in 100 mg tablets. At the onset of any sign of sinus problems, take 500 mg. immediately and you should feel relief within an hour. I was willing to try anything at this point!!
    Well, it worked. That was 21 years ago. I have had 3 episodes since then that required seeing a doctor. Prior to that, I had seen 5 ENTs and been to the hospital twice in less than a year. My doctor was thrilled when he saw how well I was doing. I was almost embarrassed to tell him I had been taking a vitamin! As soon as I started to say panto–, he finished my sentence. Said it was wonderful vitamin and what it does is liquefy mucous so that it drains easily through the nose and not down into the chest wall or back of the throat. NO drainage, no infections!
    I take 5/100mg tablets the first day, then 4/100mg the next and so on until I am down to 1 tablet. That’s it. Only take it when you need it. It is water soluble and will not stay stored in your body. There are no drug interaction problems. It is safe, but still ask your doctor before using it. When I asked my doctor, why, if he was aware of this treatment, he didn’t prescribe it, he reply was that he is a doctor and can prescribe meds, but not vitamins. I was appalled that I had suffered so much for so long needlessly. He also told me that it only works for 50% of the population. I have found this to be true with friends who have tried it. But if you are one of the lucky ones, your life will be changed. Good Luck!

  9. Aunt Carol

    As a nurse and pharmacology teacher, I agree that both health care providers and the public need more education on herbal and other products, especially on interactions and the fact that “all natural” does not mean that a product is safe and there is no possibility of interaction, allergic reaction, etc.
    They also need to know that they should report taking these to their doctor and they should not stop prescribed drugs for these without a discussion with their doctors. Too little is made of these facts on radio, TV, etc.

  10. Ruth C.

    Have used the neti pot with the saline mixture for many years for my and my daughter’s sinus infections. Have used Traditional Medicinals teas for sinus problems cold care, coughs, etc., with good relief. Have used herbal cough remedies from B&T and Umpka for coughs. All work well if taken earlier enough during the course of the problem. Don’t wait too long though. If I don’t start it on a timely basis, my colds, etc., move into asthmatic bronchitis.
    Love the homeopathics because they don’t make me feel big headed or sick.

  11. CJF

    I have been seeing an endocrinologist for several years on an annual basis. I gone to see him because I could not (still can’t) lose weight. I wanted to have him check my hormones to see if something was amiss. My insurance will not cover naturopaths!!!! Spell check will not accept here!!! He checked A1c and it went from almost type II diabetes to totally normal. My thyroid was checked and is fine. He was amazed but refused to attribute it to my change of diet and some added herbs. He said don’t go to naturopaths, they will mess you up!!!! My primary doctor who was an Ob/Gyn also will not check other female hormones!!!
    I am 75 and they may be correct, but there is something going on as I have lost 3 pounds in over a year by cutting out white flour, rice, sugar, many carbs. I do not mix carbs and fat but every meal contains protein. I use low or non fat cottage cheese and yogurt. I use coconut flour, almond flour, truvia, coconut oil, heavy whip cream, almond milk. My changes are drastic and my risk of diabetes is gone. That is well worth it, but something is stopping my weight loss. I am also doing rebounder exercising as well. Others drop weight with these changes. I am so unhappy with docs refusing to consider alternatives.

  12. MLJL

    Regarding the diabetes comment…….Don’t worry, as a mother of a son with Type 1 Diabetic (since he was 8’months old) I know that when a person comments on diabetes, I always assume they’re referring to Type 2 Diabetes which is a totally different disease than Type 1 Diabetes.” These two diseases should not even have the same name”…….. That is the very first thing the doctor told me when my baby was diagnosed 19 years ago.
    Type 1 diabetics have no choice in having their disease. People with Type 2 do have a choice in whether they have their disease. They have chosen to abuse their bodies. I wish my son was a type 2…… All he would have to do to improve his health is eat a healthy, low carb diet and exercise. So simple! So easy! It’s not fair! He wants to be a marine…. He can’t! No GI Bill for him. His leukemia survivor (bone marrow transplant recipient) twin has a better chance of being accepted into the armed forces than he does. I wish cinnamon could help my son.

  13. CAR

    FOr several years I have taken herbal combos, one in particular that has turmeric, bromelain, & bosweila & know it helps my arthritis issues because I have had to stop taking them prior to having a colonoscopy or joint replacements since it supposedly thins the blood & I can hardly wait to start taking them again after the procedures. Makes a huge difference in how I feel & ability to move without pain. Have also taken pau’d arco & grape seed extract for over 20 years. These are known to help prevent cancers. I had breast cancer 22 yrs. ago & was highly allergic to the drug tamoxofin, but have successfully taken these herbs & have been cancer free to date.

  14. Leeb

    There are so many helpful (and proven) benefits of herbs. I think it is becoming more and more important for doctors to realize that many of their patients use herbs. It would be in the best interest of doctors everywhere to become educated in the side effects of herbs. I have tried several throughout the years and have found that they are very helpful.
    By the way, to the last person who wrote in about cinnamon: it is important to clarify the effects of cinnamon. Cinnamon is only helpful for those with type 2 diabetes. It really doesn’t help for those with type 1. And, by the way, there is a HUGE difference between the two types of diabetes.

  15. Marla

    My doctor is a “traditional” MD who after her own healing crisis, trained herself in alternative medicine including herbs. In addition to her regular practice she now teaches with the Institute of Functional Medicine, a group that is helping “retrain” doctors to look at patients from a more holistic perspective rather than the “cut it or drug it” approach taught in most medical schools (by the pharmaceutical companies) today. I wouldn’t go to any other kind of doctor.


    For me, severe acne was a problem for years-deep cysts that took months to heal. Deamatologists would lance them and prescribe tetracycline or RetinA. The tetra was the only thing I knew to prevent the breakouts, so I took it continuously for 19 years. So how is it that I have beautiful skin at age 62? An Indian shaman gave me supplements and herbs to support my liver and get my bowels working. I still take plant-based silica and magnesium along with B vitamins, a general vit/min supplement, and eat good quality food.
    Allergy/sinus congestion was also a problem. It would lead to a lingering cough each year. What did the doctor prescribe? corticosteroids and Claritan (The former would clear it up, but it would return; Claratin didn’t work). Quercetin, bromelain, and a netti pot were never suggested by a doctor. I found out about these myself and tried them. My allergies have been under control for several years now from using these natural remedies. Whenever I relate these experiences to the “pros” their response is polite but dismissive and patronizing.

  17. M

    I got some St Johns wort quite a few years ago. It upset my stomach so I don’t know about any benefits it might have had.
    If a prescripton medicine upsets ones stomach, chances are a 2nd drug would be ordered rather than prescribing something else.

  18. DAS

    I’m very fortunate that my grocery store pharmacist is very knowledgeable about drugs and herbs and will take time to check things out. My doctor dismisses any mention of herbs even though drugs frequently give me serious side effects. But I do see a Natural Health Consultant who not only enlightens me on herbs, but highly recommends talking to my pharmacist.

  19. Penny H.

    I have diabetes. I started eating cinnamon on my breakfast cereal and my fasting numbers dropped significantly even though I increased my sugar intake. That’s the only thing I was doing differently. My A1C reading dropped from 6.2 to 5.5 putting me back in non-diabetic range.

  20. JoeK

    I totally agree and no medical doctor would even discuss the good effects some herbs like Curcumin and Curamin have had in relieving pain and in reducing my and my wife’s high blood pressure. I sent letters to 4 surgeons about the excessive drugs tablets they prescribed after 4 surgeries and not one answered.
    They just do not care and do not wish to learn about the herbs.

  21. Sandy

    Aloe (leaf from plant), 1978, son (9 yo) was popping popcorn in an electric cornpopper with a butter melter. Corn stopped, son flipped it over to open it, butter spilled over his chest. Started turning red with slight blistering, I cut aloe leaf (always a plant in the kitchen, even now), split it and rubbed the gel on his chest. Almost immediately the burn left leaving not even a pink area.

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