by Gabriel MacSharry
In 2012 enough prescriptions for pharmaceutical antidepressants were written to cover half the population of Ireland. St John’s Wort has the botanical name Hypericum perforatum. Today it has become known as the king of herbal antidepressants. St johns wort has been used medicinally since ancient Greek times when, it is believed, the father of medicine Hippocrates used it to rid the body of evil spirits.
In 2012 enough prescriptions for pharmaceutical antidepressants were written to cover half the population of Ireland
An analysis by The Irish Examiner (19/03/2015 ) of the figures based on publicly-prescribed drugs under the General Medical Services (GMS) Scheme (which covers medical card holders) shows a whopping two million plus prescriptions were written for the top five in 2012, enough to cover half the population, but in fact for the benefit of 331,368 patients. But this is not the final figure are it doesn’t include prescriptions for the same pills under the Drug Payment Scheme (340,917), or the Longterm Illness Scheme (12,493), or private patients who don’t spend enough on drugs each month to qualify for the Drug Payment Scheme (DPS threshold 144).
Since the time of Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493 – 1541), it has been used to treat neuralgia, anxiety, neurosis and depression. Externally, it has also been used to treat wounds, bruises and shingles. The name ‘St Johns Wort’ is related to its yellow flowers, traditionally gathered for the feast of St john the Baptist and the term ‘wort’ is the old English word for plant.
A very powerful herb it comprises of 25% of all antidepressant prescriptions by doctors in Germany. Not surprising when it has shown in clinical trials to be as equally effective as the antidepressant drug “prozac”, without the undesirable side effects(muscular weakness, insomnia, sexual dysfunction and drowsiness).
What conditions does St John’s Wort treat?Today St johns wort can be used to treat a myriad of medical conditions. It is indicated and effective for treating the following: Sleep disturbances, mild to moderate depression, Seasonal affective disorder, low self esteem or lack of confidence, pessimism, hopelessness or despair, lack of interest in ordinary pleasures and activities, withdrawal from social activities, fatigue or lethargy, guilt or ruminating about the past, irritability or excessive anger, lessened productivity, difficulty concentrating or making decisions and menopausal symptoms.
More recently it has been shown in clinical trials to be effective for treating alcoholism and nicotine addiction. In a trial involving 34 smokers, where half were taking the nicotine patch and half were taking St johns wort, after 15 weeks treatment the results were equal. Suggesting that taking St johns wort is as effective as using the nicotine patch for quitting smoking.
St johns wort is a tonic to the nervous system and has a calming effect. It doesn’t however have a dumbing or sedating effect on ones behaviour and doesn’t have any ‘hangover’ type effect from taking it. The herb generally must be taken for at least 4 weeks before improvement can be evaluated
As a cream or a rub it is effective topically in treating sciatica, shingles, cold sores and other types of the herpes virus, this is due to is antiviral action.
Where to get St John’s WortIn 2000 St John’s Wort was banned from over-the-counter sale in Ireland due to its possible interaction with some pharmaceutical drugs. 75,000 Irish people were estimated to be taking it at the time.
Medical Herbalists are entitled to dispense St John’s Wort following consultation with the person who wishes to consume it, please contact my clinic for further details. Since October 2015 GP's may also start prescribing St Johns Wort via a standardized preparation called Pacifa
Its very important to note that when prescribed in the correct formulation and not when a person is taking one of the few drugs that it interacts with, St John’s Wort is a very safe and effective herb that one can take for all the conditions listed above, without developing a dependency on it.