Ashwagandha vs. St. John’s Wort: Similarities & Differences Explained

Ashwagandha and St. John’s wort are two herbs that are frequently compared to each other due to their similar benefits for mental health. Keep in mind that there are several …

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Written by: Daniel Powers, MS
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Ashwagandha and St. John’s wort are two herbs that are frequently compared to each other due to their similar benefits for mental health.

Keep in mind that there are several key distinctions between these two plants that you should be aware of before making a selection.

In this article, we’ll compare the main differences between ashwagandha vs. St. John’s wort, as well as their similarities.

ashwagandha vs. st. john's wort: differences and similarities

Ashwagandha Overview & Uses:

Ashwagandha is a well-known herbal remedy in Ayurveda, used for its adaptogenic properties.

This plant has been utilized in India for thousands of years to treat a variety of health issues. Inflammation, bronchitis, sleeplessness, ulcers, and asthma are just a few examples. It’s also said to help people live longer, healthier lives.

However, recent research is catching up with ashwagandha’s long history of traditional usage. New studies show that ashwagandha may aid in the treatment of mild anxiety, improve sleep quality, and increase stress resilience.

ashwagandha vs. st. john's wort: ashwagandha

1. May Help to Reduce Stress

Ashwagandha is classified as an herbal adaptogen. As a reminder, adaptogens are herbs that work to balance the body’s stress response. As such, ashwagandha is thought of as a key herb for stress reduction.

A clinical trial involving stressed individuals showed that ashwagandha helped to reduce perceived levels of stress. Additionally, compared to the placebo group of participants, the participants receiving ashwagandha had significant improvement in sleep quality.

Another human clinical trial involving individuals with chronic stress found that taking ashwagandha daily helped to reduce stress scores. Additionally, serum cortisol levels were also substantially reduced.

This study, along with other studies, shows that ashwagandha may be an effective herb for stress management.

2.  May Reduce Mild Anxiety

In line with its stress-busting properties, ashwagandha also appears to be helpful in cases of mild anxiety.

A research review of 62 clinical trials involving ashwagandha found that it is a helpful herb for reducing mild anxiety. The researchers identified 5 key clinical trials that looked at the impact of ashwagandha and mild anxiety. All five studies found that ashwagandha intake resulted in greater score improvements in outcomes on anxiety or stress scales.

A placebo-controlled study found that ashwagandha helped to reduce anxiety levels in individuals diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

Another study showed that ashwagandha extract was shown to reduce anxiety, as measured by various anxiety indexes.

3. May Improve Sleep Quality

Research indicates that ashwagandha may help improve sleep quality and reduce instances of insomnia.

A research review that surveyed data from 400 study participants found that ashwagandha can help to improve sleep.

A clinical study looking at the impact of ashwagandha on sleep found that it improved numerous indicators of sleep quality in people who had previously reported sleeping difficulties.

You can read our entire article on the benefits of ashwagandha here.

St. John’s Wort Overview & Uses:

St. John’s wort is a perennial herb that grows throughout Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The Latin name for St. John’s wort is Hypericum perforatum L.

This herb has a long history of usage dating back to ancient Greek times. 

St. John’s wort is widely used for treating mild depression. However, this herb has additional benefits, such as the ability to reduce menopausal and PMS symptoms; it also supports skin healing. It also helps to manage obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

ashwagandha vs. st. john's wort : st. john's wort

1. May Relieve Moderate Depression

Research indicates that St. John’s wort is a safe and effective natural herb for moderate depression.

A 2017 research review looked at 27 clinical studies with over 3,800 participants and compared St. John’s wort and Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are a class of antidepressant drugs that are commonly prescribed to individuals with depression and anxiety disorders. The research review found that St. John’s wort is comparable to SSRIs in alleviating depressive symptoms for those with mild-to-moderate depression.

A clinical trial compared St. John’s wort and fluoxetine (an SSRI) in elderly patients with moderate depression. The researchers found that St. John’s wort was as effective as fluoxetine in managing depression and had no adverse effects on brain performance.

In another clinical trial, researchers compared St. John’s wort and imipramine (an antidepressant) in 250+ patients with moderate depression. Both treatments were shown to be effective in improving the quality of life in those with depression, with the St. John’s wort therapy shown to be better tolerated by the study participants.

2. May Help With Menopausal Symptoms

Research indicates that St. John’s wort helps to reduce menopausal symptoms.

A clinical trial involving perimenopausal women who experienced menopausal symptoms found that St. John’s wort help to reduce symptoms. After 12 weeks of treatment with 900mg of St. John’s wort extract taken daily, the researchers found that St. John’s wort decreased hot flashes and fatigue and improved sleep.

A clinical trial looked at the effects of a herbal combination of St. John’s wort and Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) in menopausal women. This herbal combination was found to be effective in reducing various menopausal complaints.

3. May Promote Skin Healing

St. John’s wort has been used in traditional medicine to help improve skin health.

A clinical trial looked at the effects of a St. John’s wort ointment as a topical treatment for psoriasis. The researchers found a significant decrease in skin redness, thickness, and scaling in the study participants.

Commission E, a medical organization in Germany, approves the usage of St. John’s wort for external use for acute injuries, muscle pain, and first-degree burns.

Similarities Between Ashwagandha and St. John’s Wort:

When it comes to comparing St. John’s wort vs. ashwagandha, there are many similarities between these two herbs.

First off, both of these plants have a relaxing, anti-anxiety effect on the body. Ashwagandha does this by building stress resilience and improving sleep. St. John’s wort does this by working on serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (more on this below in the differences section).

Second, both herbs are well regarded as being safe to take for most individuals.

Third, each of these herbs has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years.

Differences Between Ashwagandha and St. John’s Wort:

There are quite a few differences between ashwagandha and St. John’s wort.

The primary difference is that ashwagandha is useful for anxiety and St John’s wort is more for depression.

Although anxiety and depression are often conflated, they are two separate clinical diagnoses.

Ashwagandha reduces stress and anxiety by promoting sleep and reducing cortisol. This helps to relax the body and reduce anxiety/stress levels.

On the other hand, St. John’s wort works to relieve mild depression. It does this by working as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. It works to reduce the uptake of serotonin at neuronal synapses, as well as dopamine and norepinephrine. Elevated levels of neurotransmitters are believed to be helpful when treating depression.

Additionally, ashwagandha has more of a full body effect in that it supports sleep, and may also help to improve hormonal balance.

St. John’s wort is primarily focused on brain health. Its benefits for relieving menopausal symptoms and supporting skin health are secondary.

Which Herb is Right for You?

If you’re trying to decide whether to take St. Johns wort or ashwagandha, there are a few main factors to consider.

Ashwagandha is an ideal herb if you’re looking for an anti-stress herb that helps to improve resilience within the body. Ashwagandha root has also has been shown to improve sleep as well as testosterone production.

If you are stressed and need support in your ability to adapt to stress, then ashwagandha is a great option. Its testosterone-building properties are a fantastic secondary benefit.

With St. John’s wort, it’s a great herb for combatting mild depression. It has other secondary benefits, but its primary ability is its support for mental health.

Can You Take St. John’s Wort and Ashwagandha Together?

Yes, you can take both St. John’s wort and ashwagandha together. These herbs don’t have any known negative interactions with each other. It may be best to try each herb individually before combining them.

Both of these herbs together may help to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. When taken together, there may be synergistic benefits. However, there is no research showing the conclusive benefits of taking these herbs together.

Potential Side Effects & Interactions:

Like most things, herbs may have the ability to interact negatively with the human body.

Ashwagandha is a safe herb that is typically well-tolerated by most individuals.

According to research, moderate doses of ashwagandha root extract (around 300mg daily) are not associated with major side effects or adverse reactions.

St. John’s wort has more safety implications.

It should not be used during laser, ultraviolet, or other phototherapy treatments. Excessive sunlight exposure in fair-skinned individuals taking St. John’s wort is not recommended as it has the potential to cause skin damage.

St. John’s wort should not be taken in combination with anti-depressant medications as it can increase their effects.

It’s vital to run any new herbal treatment by your personal doctor for approval before using it, as with all herbal medicines.

Conclusion:

If you are looking for a herb to support your body against anxiety and depression, St. John’s wort and ashwagandha are great natural options.

Ashwagandha has a host of calming cognitive adaptogenic effects that help to ease anxiety. On the other hand, St. John’s wort may help to reduce depression.

Both herbs are generally well tolerated and safe to take, but there may be some differences in how they affect you personally.

Try both herbs either together, or separately, to see how they impact your body.

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About Daniel Powers, MS

Daniel has a master's degree in herbal science from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. He has a passion for herbal medicine and how it can be used to support everyday health & wellness.

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