Thursday, August 1, 2013
SAINT JOHN'S WORT
St. John's Wort-Hypericum Perforatum, Hypericum Anagalloides, Hypericum Formosum
Also known as: Klamath weed, goatweed, tipton weed, devil's scourge, rosin weed, god's wonder plant, amber, Mary's sweat, St. John's blood, etc.
Parts used: Aerial parts
Meridians/Organs affected: liver, nervous system, digestive, respiratory
Properties: sedative, anti-inflammatory, astringent, antidepressant, antiviral, antispasmodic, styptic, expectorant, anti-anxiety, vulnerary, nervine, diuretic, resolvent, antibacterial
This plant is in a class of its own. That is the 'Hypericaceae' family. The smooth upright stems on this mid-sized perennial are highly branched. The leaves are arranged perpendicular to each other and are elliptical to oblong and covered with tiny translucent dots that are visible when held up to the light. The top is covered with clusters of bright yellow flowers that bloom June to September. Rubbing the flowers between one's fingers will produce a red stain. The seeds germinate readily and can even germinate after long periods of being buried. It grows best in rich soil and full sun although it can also be found in dry, sandy places. It is common along highway banks, median strips, grasslands, vacant lots, stone walls, rock out-croppings, meadows, etc. It is best gathered on hot sunny days if one is planning to use the plant fresh in oils and tinctures. (The hot sun brings out the most medicinal components of this plant). It can get up to 3 feet high and is found in almost every country. By 1830 here in the states it was considered to be a serious weed as it would make animals that consumed it photosensitive. There are 300 species of Hypericum worldwide but the most commonly used variety is the Hypericum Perforatum.
The Latin term 'hypericum' comes from the 'Hyper-Ikon' which was a term used to describe an image of this plant that was placed about the picture of John the Baptist which meant it could give one power over ghosts and evil spirits. Indeed, hypericum in the Greek means "over the apparitions". It was believed that one needed to ask the plant for help on the eve of St. John's day to ward off witches and demons. It was considered to be a powerful sun herb that could dispel darkness which incidentally is where the 'perforatum' name comes from (referring to the translucent dots signature of St. John's Wort). The sun is also believed to control the solar plexus in the body which is why it is believed St. John's Wort helps with digestive and nervous system issues. As such it has been used for bed-wetting (especially in children), menstrual issues and menopause.
For centuries St. John's Wort has been known by herbalists as a vulnerary and was carried by the Crusaders when going to battle. The red juice from the plant was believed to symbolize the blood of John the Baptist for whom the plant is named. It is best known for its antidepressant abilities. (St. John's Wort is also known as 'Nature's Prozac). In fact, there have been a series of studies to that effect. Twenty five double blind studies on a total of 1,592 patients were conducted using standardized St. John's Wort extract. Fifteen of those were to compare it to a placebo and ten of those to compare it to other antidepressants on the market. In the studies, St. John's Wort was shown to improve depression, apathy, insomnia, anxiety, anorexia, feeling of worthlessness and many other psychological issues. The advantages of using St. John's Wort over a pharmaceutical are numerous some of which being that it is much cheaper to take, has far less side effects (aside from making one sun sensitive it can also cause minor stomach irritation) and it was found to satisfy the bulk of the patients who took it. In one such study regarding SAD (seasonal Affective Disorder), patients were given 300 mg, 3 times daily of standardized extract of St. John's Wort for four weeks. At the end of the study 60% of the people had seen a significant improvement in their symptomology. It was even more so when combined with light therapy (72% improved). However, St. John's Wort does far more than just help with depression and mood disorders. It has been used for sciatica and rheumatism due to its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic capabilities. It is a well known anti-viral agent that is now being studied for possible applications in HIV and AIDS. Due to its astringent affects it has been employed by many an herbalist for lacerations, deep wounds, severe burns and infections. It also has a reputation for being hemostatic as it has been used to control bother external and internal bleeding. It is also used as an expectorant to expel mucus from the lungs and respiratory system. The oil has been used for bruises, sprains, surgical scars, burns, injuries caused by crushing or any kind of trauma or nerve damage, tennis elbow, sciatica and severe wounds. When taken in tincture, tea or capsule form it has been used to relieve anxiety, shingles, nervous tension, bed-wetting in children and issues relating to menopause. According to Jethro Kloss (author of Back to Eden), it is a powerful blood purifier. It has been used over the millennia for boils, tumors, diarrhea, dysentery, jaundice, hysteria, chronic uterine issues, pains following childbirth, etc. It has been used as a poultice for sores, ulcers, breast complaints and wounds in general. Parkinson said of St. John's Wort, '...it is as singular and herbe as any other whatsoever, eyther for inward wounds, hurts or bruises, to be boyled in wine and drunke or prepared into oyle or ointment, bathe or lotion outwardly....it hath power to open obstructions, to dissolve tumours, to consolidate or soder the lips of wounds, and to strengthen the parts that are weake and feeble.' If we follow the doctrine of signatures a yellow flowered plant is good for liver conditions. It is said to be one of the very best herbs for shingles if one takes the oil and applies it to the painful areas while drinking the tincture at the same time.
St. John's Wort is not without its vices. Anyone taking this herbs should not be out in the sun, especially those who are light skinned and prone to sunburn. Also, St. John's Wort interferes with the absorption of many pharmaceutical medications including antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, psychotropic medications, anti-seizure medications, anti-hypertensive medications, heart medications, diabetic drugs, cancer drugs and anticoagulants (possibly because St. John's Wort competes for those as well). Pregnant women, the elderly and small children should consult with a physician before using this herb. It is also not recommended for long term use (again possibly due to the fact it makes one phototoxic).
The tincture of good quality dried leaves and flowers of St. John's Wort is one of the exceptions to the rule of sun maceration. This tincture whether fresh or dried should be done in the dark.
As with all of my postings I have included some links below for your benefit. Use them as you see fit. Be happy and stay healthy!