I am generally a very happy and passionate person, but every year, sometime around January or February and then again around August or September, I find myself generally discontented, angry about life circumstances, lethargic, and just bitching and moaning about everything. I start thinking my life is crap and I have fantasies of escaping to some more ideal existence. I start thinking about quitting my job, or getting a divorce, putting the kids up for adoption (kidding! … mostly…), or making some other drastic change in my life.
But instead of taking positive action on anything, I typically will have just enough energy to merely whine and complain and blame my misery on other people (if only they did this or that, then I would be happy…). If left to its natural course, this mood will quickly devolve to a state of helplessness and despondency over the things I cannot change. It usually takes a week or two in this state of mind for me to realize that I have the blues, but once I do, I have a wonderful herbal ally that helps me regain my perspective and start to feel really good again.
St. John’s Wort (or St. Joan’s Wort, as my feminist friends refer to it) is truly amazing in the way it lifts my mood and fills my heart with joy. I first realized the effects when I was using it as a muscle relaxer. I have occasional fybromyalgia-like symptoms, and St. J’s helps tremendously with the aches and pains. While taking it for that problem one winter I noticed I was also feeling more hopeful and positive than usual. In fact when I stopped to really think about it, I was feeling bubbly and joyful, truly effervescent! What a wonderful side effect!
After that, I started to look into the anti-depressant qualities of St. J’s and began to use it more intentionally for my seasonal affective disorder. Thus far I have not been disappointed in the wonderful help it has given me. It is truly a magical gift from the Creator!
Most scientific studies of St. John’s Wort are focused on studying how different dosages affect brain chemistry and depression symptoms as compared to standardly prescribed drugs. Several studies have shown that certain dosages of St. J’s can be just as effective in treating depression as some of the anti-depressant drugs, with many fewer negative side effects.*
Scientists still do not know exactly how this plant works its magic. They seek to figure it out by the usual methods of division and isolation of active ingredients. So far, no theory that any one part is responsible for its anti-depressant effects has proven true. It was once theorized that a single active ingredient of the plant, hyperforin, was responsible for its anti-depressant effect, until it was later shown that a preparation containing NO hyperforin also had significant anti-depressant effects. It currently appears to be a whole plant synergy that causes the desired effect instead of a single part. Because of this, no one has yet been able to turn this wonderful herbal remedy into a drug. Hurray!
(Drug = an isolated active ingredient of a plant, separated from the synergy of the whole, often dangerous to use and having significant side effects. Example: The coca plant is used regularly for an afternoon pick-me-up with no ill effects by natives of South America. An extract of the active ingredient of the coca plant, cocaine, is an addictive drug that ruins millions of lives world-wide)
These studies point to a fact that scientists often have trouble grasping, but that wise women have always known: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts!
Individual dosage will vary. Each batch of St. J’s can be different, chemically speaking. But since no one can say which particular chemical profile is better than another it is hard to make a recommendation for any sort of standardized dosage. Studies which showed a clinical effect similar to anti-depressant drugs used preparations with a minimum amount of certain active ingredients.
I personally use about 2 dropper fulls of tincture, 1 to 3 times per day. I do not have a regular schedule for when I will take it and how often. I let my intuition guide me. I have taken standardized extracts, as well as my own homemade tincture, which has no standardization whatsoever. The results from each of these have been exactly the same for me. So, if you are more scientifically minded, go with a standardized extract and regulate your dosages according to the latest research. If you are more intuitively inclined, use your own judgment.
How to make your own tincture
Gather the fresh flowering tops of St. Johns Wort, found in sunny meadows beginning late June/ early July. Fill a jar with the flowers and pour 100 proof vodka over them. Seal the jar and let sit for 6 weeks or more, shaking it occasionally. Then strain the liquid out and discard the herb (give it back to Mother Earth by sprinkling it in your garden or yard!) Using fresh herb like this is the best way to make a potent medicine of your own.
I, however, have not yet been able to find wild St. Johns Wort growing near where I live, so I have made mine with dried herb purchased from the health food store. I can tell from the color of my tincture that it is not as strong as ones made with fresh (which I have purchased from Red Moon Herbs).
Again, no matter which preparation I have used, from fresh or dried, or standardized or not, I have gotten exactly the same results with regard to mood enhancement. I think I probably end up using a little more of my homemade tincture than I do of the other preparations, which may account for the similar results.
St. John’s Wort is a gentle nourisher of the nervous system and is gentle enough to experiment a little with. See what works best for you!
*Many wise women have made the observation that virtually all of the known negative side effects have been produced when the dried herb in capsule form was used. Negative side effects are not reported when the herb is taken as a tincture.
Disclaimer: Only once in my life did I have a serious problem with depression, and that bout lasted for a couple of years. For me, the experience was a deep, dark night of the soul which ended through a spiritual renewal and awakening. I didn’t know about herbs then, and so I cannot share any insight on using them in overcoming such cases of deep depression. If you are here seeking herbal remedies for a deep depression, please know that there are others much more knowlegable than me on this topic. This article only addresses my personal experience with treating a milder form of seasonal depression, “the blues,” sometimes referred to as S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder). If your depression is more serious than this, I urge you to seek advice from a competent professional.