Historical Uses of St. John’s Wort

For centuries people have successfully used St. John’s wort for the treatment of ailments such as depression, anxiety and sleep disorders

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a bushy perennial with yellow flowers, which blooms around St. John the Baptist's day in June.  Commercial products are derived from the dried flowering tops or aerial parts of the plant; these parts are harvested shortly before or during the flowering period.  Hypericum preparations include the dried herb (chopped or powdered), alcoholic extract, oil and tincture. 


St. Johns Wort FlowersSt. John’s Wort’s Latin name is Hypericum perforatum, which derives from Greek, meaning “over an apparition,” referring to the belief that the herb was so offensive to evil spirits that the merest whiff of it caused spirits to depart.  The legends surrounding this herb share a common theme. One legend based in folklore has it that red spots appeared on the leaves of the plant on the anniversary of John the Baptist’s beheading, the spots being symbolic of his blood.  

In medieval times, it was believed that if a person placed a piece of St. John’s Wort under his pillow on St. John’s Eve, St. John would appear in that person’s dreams to bless him or her and prevent that person from dying in the year to come.

Historical Use

References to the use of St. John's wort can be found in the last 2,000 years, dating back to the early Greeks.  For centuries people have successfully used St. John’s Wort for the treatment of ailments such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, viral infections, wounds, menstrual cramping and kidney and lung ailments.

In folk and traditional systems of medicine, various species of Hypericum have been used orally to treat anxiety, bedwetting, dyspepsia, excitability, exhaustion, fibrositis, gastritis, gout, hemorrhage, pulmonary complaints, rheumatism, sciatica and swelling.  

Antidepressant Use

The most common application of St. John's Wort these days is for the treatment of depressive disorders. Analyses of small studies conducted over the past 20 years and several randomized clinical trials [link to Xantol DS - Clinical Studies of St. John’s Wort - Aphios HWC] have found that St. John's Wort is more effective than a placebo and just as effective as tricyclic antidepressants in the short-term management of mild to moderate depression.

St. John's Wort is widely used in the United States and abroad. It is generally considered a benign, well-tolerated herb used for depression. Learn More

Other Historical Uses

St. John's Wort also has been used orally as an anthelmintic, an anti-diarrheal and a diuretic.

Various dosage forms of Hypericum have been used topically as an astringent and to treat injuries or conditions such as blisters, burns, cuts, hemorrhoids, inflammation, insect bites, itching, redness, sunburns and wounds.