Hypericum perforatum: a 'modern' herbal antidepressant: pharmacokinetics of active ingredients

Clin Pharmacokinet. 2006;45(5):449-68. doi: 10.2165/00003088-200645050-00002.


Hypericum perforatum (St John's Wort [SJW]) counts among the most favourite herbal drugs, and is the only herbal alternative to classic synthetic antidepressants in the therapy of mild to moderate depression. Several clinical studies have been conducted to verify the effectiveness of ethanolic or methanolic extracts of SJW. Alcoholic SJW extracts are a mixture of substances with widely varying physical and chemical properties and activities. Hyperforin, a phloroglucinol derivative, is the main source of pharmacological effects caused by the consumption of alcoholic extracts of SJW in the therapy of depression. However, several studies indicate that flavone derivatives, e.g. rutin, and also the naphthodianthrones hypericin and pseudohypericin, take part in the antidepressant efficacy. In contrast to the amount of documentation concerning clinical efficacy, oral bioavailability and pharmacokinetic data about the active components are rather scarce. The hyperforin plasma concentration in humans was investigated in a small number of studies. The results of these studies indicate a relevant plasma concentration, comparable with that used in in vitro tests. Furthermore, hyperforin is the only ingredient of H. perforatum that could be determined in the brain of rodents after oral administration of alcoholic extracts. The plasma concentrations of the hypericins were, compared with hyperforin, only one-tenth and, until now, the hypericins could not be found in the brain after oral administration of alcoholic H. perforatum extracts or pure hypericin. Until now, the pharmacokinetic profile of the flavonoids in humans after oral administration of an alcoholic H. perforatum extract has been investigated in only one study. More data are available for rutin and the aglycone quercetin after administration of pure substances or other flavonoid sources.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthracenes
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds / pharmacokinetics
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds / pharmacology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Flavonoids / pharmacokinetics
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hypericum / chemistry*
  • Perylene / analogs & derivatives
  • Perylene / pharmacokinetics
  • Perylene / pharmacology
  • Phloroglucinol / analogs & derivatives
  • Phloroglucinol / pharmacokinetics
  • Phloroglucinol / pharmacology
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacokinetics
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Terpenes / pharmacokinetics
  • Terpenes / pharmacology


  • Anthracenes
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds
  • Flavonoids
  • Plant Extracts
  • Terpenes
  • Perylene
  • hypericin
  • Phloroglucinol
  • pseudohypericin
  • hyperforin