Hypericum Perforatum! : The Clinical Uses and Limitations of St. Johns Wort

By: Samantha Mahabeer

Hypericum perforatum!

No, this is not a spell recited by the infamous Harry Potter, but rather a five petal yellow flower that has been used to treat mental disorders for centuries. Ever thought a plant once used against demonic possession and “evil spirits” could have actual clinical uses? Well many scientists seem to agree that this is the case for Hypericum perforatum, also known as St. John’s Wort. This herb has been used mostly as an antidepressant, however it is also utilized for its anti-inflammatory and wound-healing qualities. It has been used widely throughout Europe as treatment for mild to moderate depression

However, don’t be so quick to run to your local store to buy a bottle of this magical herb if you’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. While clinical trials have shown that St. John’s Wort can have antidepressant-like effects, this is only fully proven for mild to moderate depression. For major depressive disorder, recent studies have found that this form of alternative medicine can have serious side effects. It has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States as a prescription or over-the-counter medicine. Research has proven that St. John’s Wort can interact negatively with many medications in individuals with major depressive disorder. For example, its combination with certain antidepressants can actually lead to a potentially dangerous increase in serotonin, the chemical associated with depression. This condition is called serotonin syndrome, and can cause diarrhea, tremor, confusion, muscle stiffness and even death.

Another rare but possible side effect of using this medication is the onset of psychosis, a disorder which causes an individual to lose touch with reality, experiencing hallucinations and delusions. This plant has also been shown to decrease the efficiency of many prescription medications when used simultaneously, including antidepressants.

                Individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder should continue using prescription medications. Because unlike a Harry Potter spell that it sounds like, Hypericum perforatum cannot be used to defeat mythical creatures, disarm an opponent, or defend oneself against Dementors. While it is significantly powerful in fighting mild to moderately severe depressive disorder, it is not proven to be fully effective against all forms of depression, particularly major depressive disorder. While it would have been cool to have an all-natural, all-powerful remedy for depression, St. John’s Wort is not exactly the universal source of healing we are looking for.


Hypericum Depression Trial Study Group. Effect of Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s wort) in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2002;287(14):1807–1814.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. St. John’s Wort and Depression. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Web site. Accessed at nccam.nih.gov/health/stjohnswort/sjw-and-depression.htm on October 23, 2013.

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