St. Johns Wort
Synonyms and Common names: Common St. John's Wort, perforate St. John’s wort, amber, goatweed, Johnswort, Klamath weed, Tipton weed.
Description and Habitat: St John’s Wort is a native British upright perennial growing freely wild to a height of one to three feet tall in uncultivated ground, in woodland, under hedges, on roadsides and in meadows. It grows throughout Britain and Europe and well into Asia and prefers open, sunny situations and dry calcareous soils.
The smooth stem branches in its upper part, bearing opposite, oblong leaves which exhibit numerous translucent oil glands, as well as a few dark ones on the underside.
The bright yellow five-petalled flowers, which are borne in a terminal corymb, have over fifty stamens, fused in the lower part into three bundles. The long lanceolate petals and shorter sepals are marked with dark dots. Its flowers bloom June to August, followed by numerous small round blackish seeds which have a resinous smell and are contained in a three-celled capsule; odour peculiar, like turpentine; and tastes bitter, astringent and balsamic.
Harvesting: June to August - the entire plant above ground should be collected when in flower and dried as quickly as possible.
Parts used: Aerial parts used to make an Infusion, but only the fresh flowers are used to make the oil.
Constituents: naphthodianthrones (including the red pigment hypericin, pseudohypericin and their biosynthetic precursors), flavones and flavonols (quercetin glycosides including quercitrin, rutin, quercetin, kaempferol, luteolin), carotenes, essential oil, resin, tannins, pectin.
Actions: Anxiolytic, sedative, astringent, anti-inflammatory, topically analgesic and antiseptic.
Indications: Excitability, neuralgia, fibrositis, sciatica, anxiety, mild to moderate depression. Topically for wounds. Specifically indicated in menopausal neurosis.
Therapeutics and Pharmacology: St. Johns wort has a thymoleptic action which results in an improved sense of well-being.
It has long been used as a nerve healer in melancholic conditions, depression, exhaustion and convalescence. It is also used to treat conditions where there is a degree of over-tension, such as insomnia, cramps and colic of the viscera and uterus, epilepsy, diarrhoea, and enuresis in children.
Of the many conditions where nervous tension and depression occur together, one of the most common is the problems that can arise during menopause, and St John’s wort helps to counter these symptoms.
Both the restorative and relaxing actions of the herb are relatively long-term ones, so treatment should be continued for some time. Clinical trials have reported improved sleep quality, an increase in deep sleep phases, and an improvement in cognitive functions as well as significant improvement in mood and levels of interest and activity. In a preliminary study of a St John’s wort preparation combined with light therapy in patients with seasonal affective disorders, the antidepressant effect of St John’s wort was shown to be enhanced by light therapy.
St John’s wort has a reputation as an analgesic, and is used either internally or externally to treat neuralgic pain. The macerated oil can be applied externally for neuralgia and will ease the pain of sciatica. It also soothes burns by lowering the temperature of the skin.
St John’s wort can also be used to treat local and peptic ulcers and inflammation of the lining of the upper digestive tract. Its astringent action is due primarily to the high levels of tannins in the flowers, and the volatile oil has an anti-inflammatory action. St John’s wort has been shown to stimulate the formation of granulation tissue, and an antibacterial action, attributed to hyperforin, has been observed experimentally, particularly against Staphylococcus aureus. Some anti-viral activity has been reported for hypericin against the HIV and hepatitis C viruses.
Contraindications: St John's Wort has been shown to cause break-through bleeding in some women using the pill - indicating reduced efficacy, though there have been no reported cases of pregnancy as a result.
Pregnancy due to its ability to stimulate the uterus, and if breastfeeding.
If you are taking conventional anti-depressants or are suffering from severe depression.
Some individuals with fair skin have experienced an increased sensitivity to the sun whilst taking St. John's Wort. It is therefore recommended that you avoid excessive amounts of sun exposure and wear a good quality sunscreen (as you should do anyway) if you anticipate being exposed to the sun for long periods of time.
St John's Wort affects the function of a group of liver enzymes termed the Cytochrome P450 enzymes, and can therefore affect the metabolism of a variety of drugs by either clearing them more quickly or slowly from the body. This is of particular importance if you are taking the contraceptive pill, anti-coagulants (such as warfarin), digoxin, cyclosporine, theophylline tablets for asthma or chronic bronchitis, statin drugs, protease inhibitors, e.g. Indinavir, or medication for epilepsy or migraines as the herb may stop them from working properly.
Preparation and Dosage The recommended dosage for various forms of St John's wort as recommended by the British Herbal Medicine Association Scientific Committee (1983) are as follows
Dried herb: 2-4 g or by infusion three times daily
Tincture 2-4mL (1:10 in 45% alcohol) three times daily
As with other antidepressants, Hypericum should be taken for at least four weeks before its effectiveness can be properly assessed.
Oil or cream: To treat inflammation, as in wounds, burns or haemorrhoids, an oil-based preparation of St. John's Wort can be applied topically.
Additional Comments & Folklore: The name Hypericum was given by the Greeks to a plant which was placed above religious figures to ward off evil spirits.
The common name, St. John’s Wort, is believed to come from the fact that it’s yellow petals ‘bleed’ when crushed and that it flowers around the 24th of June, the date on which St. John the Baptist was beheaded.
The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem used it to treat wounds during the Crusades.
Being yellow, the herb was used in the past, according to the Doctrine of Signatures, to treat jaundice and ‘choleric’ humours.
From Russia to England, Europeans used Saint John’s wort to cure a variety of illnesses and to drive out illness of mind and spirit. Oil of Saint John’s wort was commonly called the blood of Christ and was used both in healing and as an anointment during religious ceremonies.
Christian tradition held that Saint John’s wort flowers, with their five petals that resemble a halo, represented the sun and sunlight. That, plus the fact that it blooms right at the solstice, linked Saint John’s wort with the Christian Saint John who is said to symbolise light.
The red spots on Saint John’s wort’s foliage are said to mimic stigmata in part because they are only seen on mature plants, those that are ready to be picked, just as the stigmata only show on those who are ready for a life of intense service to Jesus Christ.
In magic, Saint John’s wort was used in a variety of ways to banish evil spirits, such as demons, ghosts, and poltergeists. For these purposes, flowers were gathered on Midsummer’s eve and passed through the smoke of the night’s celebratory fire to purify them.