A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
St. John's Wort
St. John's wort (botanical name Hypericum Perforatum) is also known as Tipton's weed, Klamath weed and goat weed. It is an aromatic perennial plant belonging to the Hypericaceae family. The herb is native to Europe, but over the years has been introduced to several temperate regions across the globe, especially in the United States, and is found to grow naturally in numerous meadows. The herb derived its name St. John's wort because it bears golden yellow blossoms that appear in abundance particularly on June 24 - the day customarily commemorated as the birthday of John the Baptist. The aerial parts of the plants, including the leaves and flowering tops that are therapeutically applied are harvested at about that time. On the other hand, the genus name Hypericum is derived from the Greek terms ‘hyper' (denoting above) and ‘eikon' (meaning picture) indicating that once the plant was conventionally used to protect against evil by hanging the plants over a religious symbol in the house during St John's day. The herb's species name ‘perforatum' denotes the existence of small oil glands in the leaves that resemble windows and are visible when they are held against the light.
The therapeutic properties of St. John's wort was known to men since ancient times and even primeval authorities on medicine like Dioscorides and Hippocrates were aware of the plant's remedial benefits. In fact, the herb was recommended for effectively treating several medical conditions right from the Middle Ages. However, like in the instance of several other medicinal plants, St. John's wort was disregard during the latter part of the 19th century and its remedial virtues were virtually forgotten by people. It was only recently that a tea prepared with the herb attained new repute as a useful stimulant for the nerves, particularly in Europe. The tea has also been found to be effectual in treating nervousness, depression and restlessness. Many people who have used the herbal tea claim that the formulation is also useful as a diuretic as well as for treating a number of medical conditions, including insomnia and gastritis.
An extract of the flowers of St. John's wort blended with olive oil turns reddish when it is left in the sunlight for a number of weeks. This reddish oil obtained from the herb's flowers is taken internally to treat the conditions that are cured with the tea prepared with the plant's leaves. In addition, this supposed red oil is also applied topically to alleviate symptoms of inflammation as well as facilitate the curative process. The oil is extremely appreciated in treating hemorrhoids.
Chemical analysis of St. John's wort has revealed that the herb encloses several elements that also include about 10 per cent of tannin and approximately one per cent of unstable oil. Tannins present in St. John's wort are believed to be responsible for healing wounds by means of their actions of precipitating astringents and proteins. Earlier, herbalists attributed most of the remedial properties of St. John's wort to the presence of a reddish dianthrone pigment called hypericin. Researches conducted with St. John's wort in those days hesitantly related the plant's anti-depressant properties to several xanthones and flavonoids enclosed by the herb. Nevertheless, latest studies have positively hinted that apart from hypericin and its associated compounds, other elements obtained from extracting the whole plant are responsible for the effectiveness of the herb in treating gentle to restrained conditions of depressions. Presently, scientists are studying the actions of hyperforin, one such element present in St. John's wort, in treating depression.
Thus far, scientists are yet to ascertain the precise method by which the elements enclosed in St. John's wort work to alleviate depression. It is believed that the process to relieve depression may entail the dopaminergic system (associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine). Among the other theories put forth by scientists regarding the mechanism by which the compounds in St. John's wort work to alleviate depression include augmentation of the neurotransmitters, variation in the actions of cytokine, slowing down of catechol-O-methyltransferase, photodynamic consequences and influence of hormones. Some scientists are of the view that probably the compounds present in the herb work by a collection of these methods or some comparable method. This, according to these scientists, also explains why using the herb also results in negligible adverse after-effects.
All said and done, St. John's herb is an excellent medicine for treating disorders of the nervous system, easing stress and apprehension as well as improving the mood of an individual. The herb is regarded to be especially beneficial to treat poignant problems faced by women during menopause. The herb has a sedative effect which is said to be owing to the actions of hypericin. This element present in St. John's wort helps to lower blood pressure and lessen the fragility of capillaries as well as maintains the health of the uterus. In effect, using St. John's wort has proved to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of painful, intense and sporadic menstruation and premenstrual syndrome or PMS. In addition, the herb also possesses diuretic properties and reduces fluid withholding as well as speeds up the process of eradicating toxins through urination. St. John's wort is also an effective medication to cure bedwetting by kids and children. Moreover, the herb has proved to be helpful in treating painful conditions like arthritis and gout.
St. John's wort is also an expectorant and helps to clear phlegm from the chest. Hence, the herb is useful for fast recuperation from conditions like chest infections and coughs. Among its other medicinal virtues, St. John's wort also possesses anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, is effective in combating tuberculosis (TB) and influenza A. Presently, scientists are exploring the possibilities of using the herb to treat deadly diseases, including HIV, AIDS and cancer. As discussed earlier, the astringent and anti-microbial actions of St. John's wort makes it a useful medication for treating ailments of the digestive tract, including gastroenteritis, dysentery and diarrhea. The herb is also believed to be effective in curing peptic ulcers (sores in the wall of the stomach or duodenum) and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach). St. John's wort may be used both internally and externally and is an excellent medication for treating nerve pain and all types of sufferings and strains caused to the nervous system.
In addition, St. John's wort is often recommended to treat trigeminal neuralgia (sharp and convulsive pain all along the course of a nerve) and sciatica (any painful condition spreading from the hip downwards to the back of the thigh and adjoining areas), back pain, fibrositis (a condition distinguished by unceasing pain in the muscles and soft tissues adjacent to the joints, fatigue, and soreness at particular areas in the body), shingles (an ailment caused by the varicella-zoster virus), headaches as well as rheumatic pain. The herbal oil extracted from St. John's wort alleviates and cures burns, lesions, cuts, tenderness, and ulcers as well as soothes inflammation or tenderness.
Flowering tops, aerial parts.
St. John's wort possesses several remedial properties, but perhaps the most significant use of this European herb is to treat depression and other nervous disorders. Since long back, herbal medicine practitioners have used the herb as a stimulant for nervousness, anxiety, depression and insomnia or wakefulness.
The herb is especially effective in treating depression linked to menopause. In fact, when the herb is administered to women enduring depression owing to menopausal disorders, it relieves the symptoms of hormonal alterations. In addition, the herb is also useful in healing reduced vigour among women in the menopausal phase. At the same time, the herb is a helpful stimulant for the gallbladder and liver.
The oil extracted from the St. John's herb has a reddish color and is an exceptional antiseptic. The oil is applied topically to heal injuries and burns and also to alleviate cramps and neuralgia or nerve pain. The oil is also administered internally to treat peptic ulcers and gastric tenderness or irritation. In addition to being an excellent antiseptic, St. John's wort oil also possesses antiviral as well as anti-inflammatory properties and heals equally well when applied externally or used internally.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
Although St. John's wort is indigenous to Britain and other regions of Europe, it may be found growing naturally in many regions of the world now. Normally, this herb is found growing in the pastures, on the river banks and beside the railroads. The plant has a preference for chalky or dusty soil and thrives well in sunny locations. One may propagate St. John's wort from the seeds during spring or, alternately, by root division during the autumn. The flowering tops of the plant, which possess remedial properties, are picked during the middle of summer.
Numerous researches have been conducted with St. John's wort across the globe to ascertain the plant's remedial properties. A study conducted by scientists in Austria recently found that around 67 per cent of patients enduring gentle to restrained depression showed signs of improvement when they were administered an extract of the herb. The findings of this study validated the results of previous experiments with St. John's wort and established the fact that formulations prepared with the herb were beneficial for patients enduring depression.
The reddish color of the oil extracted from St. John's wort is attributed to the products of a substance present in the herb - hypericin. This ingredient is known to be an antidepressant and, it is also a potent anti-viral. Owing to the latter property of the herb, presently scientists are conducting researches with St. John's wort to find if it can be used to treat the deadly diseases HIV and AIDS. Researches conducted with the herb so far demonstrate that the entire herb possesses properties that are highly useful to combat several types of viral infections.
Medications prepared with different parts of St. John's wort are available in different forms - herbal extracts, capsules and tablets. Several patients daily take 500 mg of the medication that is homogenized to enclose a mere 0.2 per cent of hypericin. However, a higher dosage of extract from St. John's wort, around 900 mg daily, may be administered to patients in specific cases. It is essential to take the St. John's wort just before or after meals. In the event of using the extract of St. John's wort for treating depression, it is essential to appraise the efficacy of the treatment after a period of four to six weeks by a physician with experience in nutrition. Tinctures and infusions of the herb are also available and they are usually administered in dosages of one to two ml thrice daily. In addition, oil prepared with St. John's wort is applied externally to alleviate pain and rheumatism.
Side effects and cautions
Using any form of St. John's wort makes the skin more sensitive to light. Hence, it is advisable that people with fair complexion and using St. John's wort ought to keep away from exposure to powerful sunlight as well as all sources of ultraviolet (UV) light - for instance, tanning beds. In addition, such people should also keep away from specific foods, including red wine, yeast, cheese and pickled herring. Here is a word of caution for women using St. John's wort. This herb or medications prepared with it should never be used by pregnant women and nursing mothers.
When not to use St. John's Wort
The therapeutic properties of St. John's wort notwithstanding, using the herb may result in a number of side effects. In addition, this herb should not be used by people enduring certain conditions or women when they are pregnant or lactating. A number of instances are mentioned below wherein St. John's wort should not be used under any circumstances. Precisely speaking, use of the herb in the conditions mentioned below is strictly prohibited and if used may prove to be detrimental for the patient's health.
When to use St. John's Wort with caution
Although it is a very useful herb that is effective in treating a number of conditions, St. John's wort should be used with extreme caution. Below are a few instances to help you use St. John's herb with prudence.
While it is not advisable to use St. John's wort in children below the age of 12 years, even older people using this herb should do so only on the advice and under the supervision of a competent medical practitioner. Never ever attempt to do self-medication with St. John's wort as the consequences are likely to be detrimental for your condition and overall health.
How it works in the body
First and foremost, St. John's wort has an effect in the nervous system. The hypericin present in the plant works in combination with additional elements having an antidepressant effect. Several studies conducted in America have demonstrated that St. John's wort may possibly be used along with ginkgo biloba with a view to augment the antidepressant effect of the herb. Nevertheless, one should first consult his or her physician or herbal medicine practitioner if they are already taking any antidepressant medication and also wish to take St. John's wort for speedy recovery. The same applies for people who desire to use St. John's wort along with other herbs. In general, St. John's wort is also a stimulator for the nervous system and for instance, may be used in the reproductive system of women during menopause, which worsens physical transformations owing to psychological as well as emotional weakness. This herb is also beneficial for the digestive system as it maintains the health of the liver, while the anti-viral properties of the herb makes it a useful medication for the respiratory system, particularly when people are enduring conditions, such as flues and colds. Overall, the anti-viral properties of the herb are utilized to strengthen the immune system.
The oil extracted from St. John's wort is also applied externally as an antiseptic medication to cure injuries as well as to alleviate pain, especially in the instance of shingles and recurring strain injury.
The above ground or aerial parts of the herb, its flowering tops as well as the oil extracted from St. John's wort possess medicinal properties and are used in various forms to cure different conditions.
St. John's oil
Oil extracted from the flowers of St. John's wort is effective in healing a number of conditions. To prepare the oil, you need the following ingredients:
Pick the flowers of St. John's wort on any arid and sunny day. Place the fresh flowers in the colored jar and swathe them with olive oil. Keep the jar in a dark place away from light and stir its contents frequently. Allow the flowers to macerate or soften in the oil for around two months and then filter the liquid by compressing the contents in a cheese-cloth.
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