St. John's Wort: Perk Up Your Tea

Often, sipping a cup of hot tea is enough to take the edge off. But some herbal teas—particularly blends made with St. John's wort or valerian—deliver a bit more in the serenity department.

Improving your mood is just one benefit offered by a unique line of pharmaceutical herbal teas. Called Good Earth Medicinals, they have been proven safe and effective in helping to ease symptoms of the flu, insomnia, tension, colds and indigestion. Based on formulas developed by Swiss herbalist Johannes Kuenzle, they're produced in Europe under standards that are stricter than those in the U.S.—the ingredients are grown to pharmaceutical specifications and the packaging facilities hold a pharmaceutical license.

Many herbal remedies have been proven highly effective. St. John's wort is often used for alleviating anxiety, stress, seasonal affective disorder, insomnia and depression. James Duke, an ethnobotanist and author of The Green Pharmacy calls it "simply the best herbal treatment for depression."

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Like serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, St. John's wort is believed to work by allowing more serotonin to linger in the brain, as low serotonin levels have been linked with depression. The herb may also lower levels of the protein interleukin-6—high levels of this protein are also associated with depression.

In Germany, physicians prescribe St. John's wort about 20 times more often than Prozac, according to the American Journal of Natural Medicine. An analysis of 23 European studies published in the British Medical Journal found St. John's wort to be a viable treatment for mild to moderate depression. Several additional studies are evaluating its long-term effectiveness, including a large National Institutes of Health-funded trial under way at Duke University Medical Center

St. John's wort is generally safe, but there are a few caveats. Depression is a serious illness, and St. John's wort shouldn't be mixed with other antidepressants, so check with your physician before using it. The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine warns that the herb also reduces the effectiveness of some prescription drugs, so consult your doctor before adding it to your regimen.

Still, if taken correctly, a tea enhanced with St. John's wort may be just the recipe for lifting your spirits. "Everyone goes through stressful situations," notes Mindy Green, education services director for the Herb Research Foundation in Colorado. "If you hit one of life's little road bumps and are having a hard time, it wouldn't hurt to give this a try"

And if you're suffering from insomnia, another of depression's various symptoms, Green recommends drinking tea with valerian. Dubbed the "Valium of the 19th century," it has long been a part of the herbalist's pharmacy for treating insomnia and is considered one of the more powerful herbal sedatives. Green also notes that unlike synthetic sedatives, valerian is not considered addictive, and you won't have to battle a groggy morning-after hangover.

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