The most popular herbal remedy for depression today has got to be St John’s Wort. This little yellow flower is available to us over the counter in the form of tablets, teas and extracts. Its efficacy has caused much controversy: some studies arguing it is the same, if not better than prozac, others finding it does no more than a placebo. Either way, our use of it against depression is comparatively recent in the plant’s history.
Although St John’s Wort features prominently in the recipe books and herbals of the seventeenth-century, there is no evidence that it was advised for melancholia or that people in the early modern period used it as such. There are many recipes for making St John’s Wort oil in seventeenth-century recipe books but not for the treatment of melancholy. Instead they are labelled as ‘for the joints’ or ‘for all sorts of ills’.