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ST. JOHN'S WORT IN PROFILE

St. John's Wort

© Kat Morgenstern, June 2002

(Hypericum perforatum)

Hyperiacae

Synonyms: Hartheu, Fuga daemonum, Hexenkraut, Unsere Frau Bettstroh, Waldhopf, Wilder Magram, Faerberkraut, Frauengliester, Unsere Liebe Frau Gras, Sonnwendkraut, Blutkraut, Loecherkraut, Jaegerteufel

Description:

A perennial herbaceous plant, which grows to about. 2ft high. The erect, upright stems bear two raised lines along their length and branch out in the upper parts. The opposite, sessile leaves are ovate to linear and covered with numerous translucent dots, the oil glands. The margins are entire and skirted with black dots. The five-petaled yellow flowers with their prominently protruding stamens are borne in clusters. They flower from June to August. The seeds are borne in capsules. The taste is aromatic, bitter, balsamic. The flowerbud, when squeezed and rubbed on the skin stains red, this is a good way of verifying the correct species.

Habitat:

St. John's Wort grows throughout central Europe and the British Isles. Its' habitat are verges, meadows, hedgerows, wood clearings and waste places. It has also been naturalized in many parts of the US, where it is regarded as a noxious weed.

HISTORY

St. John's Wort just seems to know when midsummer is near and its time has come. Its flowering time coincides with the zenith of the midsummer sun and so it seems entirely appropriate that it has long been honored as a summer solstice herb. The little flowers resemble little suns themselves, while the reddish oil resembles blood, the sacred juice of life, which in the olden days was often sacrificed on this day to ensure the continuity of life. The proper gathering time for this herb has always been midsummer when its potency is said to be at its peak. Some sprigs were cast on the ceremonial bonfires, others were blessed and hung above doors, in stables and barns. It was thought to offer protection against the hazards of excessive sun, fire, lightning and droughts and to and scare off witches and demons. Christianity has absorbed much of these pagan traditions. The church dedicated the herb to St. John and continued to use it in similar ways within the context of their St. John's celebrations on the 24th of June. They hoped that its solar radiance would protect them against evil witchcraft and daemons of any and all descriptions. They even used it as a talisman to identify witches in conjunction of a magic formula:

SATOR
AREPO
TENET
OPERA
ROTAS

The formula was written on a piece of paper and it, together with some St. John's Wort gathered during the first quarter of the moon, was strewn on a piece of leather. This talisman was thought to reveal the identity of a witch. A charm containing the holy herb also protected against wounds from swords, knives and bullets. St. John's Wort was even used in Witch-trials. It was thought that in the presence of such an upright, open and radiant herb of the sun no evil could persist. (Why the honourable herb did not perish in the hands of the inquisitors remains a mystery). During the Middle Ages St.John's Wort enjoyed its greatest reputation. It was known as 'Fuga Daemonium' and thought to protect against all types of evil spirits and daemons. The Doctrine of signatures identified it as an herb of the sun. Its' sunny, upright character was used to dispel the daemons of depression and melancholy, while its punctured leaves and red oil signified its usefulness for treating wounds, cuts and burns.

Today St. John's Wort's magical association have largely been forgotten though it continues to play an important role in medical herbalism. In recent years it has enjoyed a great popularity as a natural anti-depressant. Yet, its very popularity has also created some controversy. In the US this sudden boom has been especially noticeable, even though authorities have been making efforts to suppress its use and brandmark St. Johns Wort as a potentially dangerous herb and noxious weed. The allegations are that its photosenzitising properties are dangerous and that it can produce unwanted side effects when used as an anti-depressant. St. Johns Wort does have photosensitizing properties, but the most likely victim of this effect is grazing lifestock, which may consume great quantities of this herb and at the same time may be exposed to high temperatures without any sheltering shade on the ranges. This problem can particularly severe in southern parts of the US. While internal use of St. Johns Wort rarely poses this threat to humans, one should avoid exposing areas of skin treated with the oil directly to sunlight or the ulraviolet rays of a solarium. As regards its safety in the treatment of depression, caution is advised. St. Johnswort affects the Seratonin levels and thus can produce negative effects when used in conjunction with other anti-depressant drugs which also affect levels of neurotransmitters. Thus, before using St. Johns Wort as an anti-depressant it is advised to consult a qualified physician who is knowledgeable about drug/herb interactions.

PARTS USED: Aerial parts, collect when in flower, for the oil usually only the buds and flowers are used, though many people report good results with oil produced from the flowering tops.
CONSTITUENTS: Essential oil - caryophyllene, methyl-2-octane, n-nonane, n-octanal, n-decanal, a-and b pinene, traces of limonene and myrcene, hypericin (photosensitizing), hyperforin, Glycosides (rutin), tannin, resin, pectin
ACTIONS: Antidepressant, sedative, nervine, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, astringent, vulnerary, diuretic

MEDICINAL USES:

Internal Use:

St. John's Wort is a tonic for the whole body. It is a gentle rather than a cathartic cleansing remedy that improves overall function and tone of the vital body systems. It strengthens and regulates the metabolism and tones the stomach, liver and kidneys, thus helping to clear toxins from the body. The ancients used it to help the eliminative processes of the kidneys and to support the liver. Internally, a small amount of the oil or better still, the expressed juice, taken on an empty stomach is said to be effective for stomach ulcers and gastritis. In the olden days expressed St. Johns Wort juice was used to stop internal bleeding,the spitting of bood as well as diarrhea, especially if this was also accompanied by blood.

It is also an excellent nervine with a calming and sedative effect on the nervous system. It is an old remedy for headaches and migraine and can also be used to treat anxiety, melancholy and irritability, especially during menopause or for cases of PMT. Old herbalists also recommend it for cases of 'shaking and twitching' (Parkinson?) It is said to be effective for treating bedwetting in children, especially when due to a nervous disposition or anxiety. For this purpose, 1 tablespoon of the infusion given at bedtime is said to suffice, though one may also massage a little bit of the oil into the lower back. As a diuretic, St. John's Wort helps to eliminate wastes and toxins from the body, which assists the treatment of gout and arthritis. The tea is also effective for indigestion, stomach catarrh and as a vermifuge. It is recommended to only use the fresh herb or tincture as the dried herb looses much of its potency.

External Use:

In the olden days the external uses of St. Johns Wort were much more common. It was known as an excellent wound healer that could purify the wound and knit the skin together The expressed juice or a compress made from fresh bruised herbs is best, though modern herbalist are more inclined to use diluted tincture. The compress can be applied as a vulnerary to treat wounds, cuts, bruises varicose veins and burns. Tabernaemontanus reports that the powdered dried herb can be strewn directly into putrefactive wounds to clean and heal them. In his days it was also used as a fumigating herb by midwiwives to help women who were encountering severe problems during their pregnancies or child birth.

St. John's Wort Oil

Traditionally the flowers were steeped in Poppy seed oil to produce a bright red oil. However, since Poppy Seed oil has become virtually unobtainable, Olive oil can be substituted. Fill a jar with flowering tops and cover with oil. Macerate for 2 weeks. Strain and press out the flowers, repeat the process using the same oil, but adding fresh flowers. This oil is used for treating sunburn, other mild burns, neuralgia, sciatica and rheumatic pain as well as sprains and strains, cuts, wounds, as well as muscle and nerve aches and pains. It is also said to reduce scarring. Tabernaemontanus mentions an elaborate recipe for a combined oil which, among other things includes a variety of gums and resins such as frankincense, myrrh, mastix etc and other herbs, including Plantain leaves, Yarrow and Tormentil to make, what he claims to be a superior wound oil effective for just about any kind of ache or pain.

CAUTION:

Since St. John's Wort contains the photosensitizing agent hypericin it is recommended to avoid direct sunlight after both internal and external use. If you are on any other medication, especially anti-depressant drugs, consult a doctor with regard to negative drug-interactions before use.

For questions or comments email: kmorgenstern@sacredearth.com

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