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St. John's Wort

Hypericum perforatum

Herbs gallery - St. John's Wort



Common names

  • Amber Touch-and-heal
  • Goatweed
  • Hypericum
  • Johnswort
  • Klamath Weed
  • Rosin Rose
  • St. John's Grass
  • St. John's Wort
  • Tipton Weed

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.

Parts used

Flowering tops, aerial parts.

Uses

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.

Research

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.

Constituents

St.John's wort contains glycosides, flavonoids (including rutin), volatile oils, tannins, resins.

Usual dosage

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.

  • People taking any form of prescription anti-depressant, especially any of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac, should never use St. John's wort. Taking any SSRIs and the herb concurrently will result in a severe drug interaction known as serotonin syndrome. It is essential to consult your physician beforehand in case you are already taking a prescription anti-depressant and also desire to use St. John's wort for treating other medical conditions, for instance insomnia or premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In addition, it is never advisable to do self-medication with St. John's wort, especially if you are already taking any prescription anti-depressant or SSRIs.
  • It is advisable never to take hypericum for treating bipolar disorder (also called manic depression) or if you are experiencing acute depression involving suicidal thoughts or tendencies. While a number of studies have advocates using a very high dosage of hypericum - about 1,800 mg or more daily, to effectively cure severe depression, most scientists are of the view that more extensive research is needed in this regard to substantiate the recommendations of these studies. As of now, the herb is only recommended for treating gentle to restrained cases of depression as well as a remedy for seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
  • St. John's wort should never be used by women who are either pregnant or lactating. Thus far, scientists have not examined St. John's wort for teratogenicity. In other words, it is yet to be ascertained whether the use of the herb by pregnant women caused any harm to the fetus or still unborn child. However, St. John's wort has been traditionally used as a tonic for the uterus as well as a gentle stimulant for the uterus. It may be mentioned here that so far at least one research involving animals in laboratory has confirmed that St. John's wort possesses the property to stimulate the uterus.
  • Children under the age of 12 years should never be given any medical preparation with St. John's wort. It is advisable not to even apply the herb externally on them. For instance, since long people have been effectively using St. John's wort to treat babies having colic (a condition wherein the baby experiences bouts of abdominal pain). The treatment of colicky babies involved soaking the affected babies in a bathtub containing warm water with flowers and leaves of St. John's wort or the liquid extract from the herb. It may be noted that St. John's wort possesses anti-spasmodic, tranquilizing and analgesic properties which are effective in curing colic. Taking a bath with warm water containing a liquid extract of St. John's wort is believed to be an exceptional remedy for nervousness, restiveness as well as stomach cramps.
  • People enduring substance abuse problems or are addicted to alcohol, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines or crack should never use St. John's wort under any circumstance. Taking St. John's wort concurrently with any of the above mentioned substances will result in a severe drug interaction. This is despite a number of unreliable reports that St. John's wort is a useful medication for detoxification or getting our body rid of toxins. Before you use the herb as a ‘detox' medication, it is essential that you consult your physician or a counsellor to find if St. John's wort is suitable for your conditions. You may, however, consider taking St. John's wort during the recuperation stage with a view to treat anxiety and insomnia related to your conditions.

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.

  • People enduring chronic heart, kidney or liver ailments should necessarily use St. John's wort only under the supervision of a competent and practiced medical practitioner. The same applies for people who have been diagnosed with ailments of the connective tissues like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus (an uncommon type of tuberculosis of the skin.) People enduring chronic diseases of different organs usually experience a severe weakening of the body's resistance system and, hence, they are often unable to successfully absorb and digest several medications, including bio-medicines. In fact, it has been found that people suffering from heart, kidney and liver ailments are particularly vulnerable to severe side effects caused by the medications administered to them. They experience side effects even when they take a mild herbal medication like St. John's wort. It may be noted here that in the instance of connective tissue diseases like photosensitivity, systemic lupus and acute skin reactions owing to sunlight are the real symptoms of the ailment. Here is a word of caution: never engage in self-medication with St. John's wort, an herb known for its photosensitizing properties. This may result in the worsening of the symptoms experienced by the patients.
  • People suffering from chronic high blood pressure or hypertension should always use St. John's wort with utmost concern and always under the supervision of a competent and qualified medical practitioner.
  • If you have cancer, hepatitis, AIDS or it has been detected that you have HIV or tuberculosis, hypericum enclosed in St. John's wort may be used to treat the conditions. However, the underlying fact remains that this substance should only be used under the supervision of a qualified medical practitioner. Several studies conducted with St. John's wort have established that the herb possesses anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-viral as well as immune-enhancing characteristics. Consequently, it is believed that St. John's herb has immense remedial virtues and has the potential to control and treat the medical conditions mentioned above. However, scientists are of the view that more extensive researches need to be undertaken on this subject since clinical trials on humans so far have either been restricted or controlled strictly. In effect, people enduring any of these ailments ought to carry on with the usual treatment procedures and only use St. John's wort as an encouraging or collateral treatment essentially under the advice and supervision of a qualified medical practitioner.

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.

Applications

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.

Aerial parts:
Different preparations, such as infusion, tincture and wash, are made from the aerial parts of St. John's wort and are used to heal different conditions.
INFUSION - Prepare an infusion by simmering the aerial parts of the herb in water, allow the substance to cool down and filter the solution for internal use. The infusion is used to treat fretfulness, nervous strain, tetchiness or emotional disorders, particularly when they are related to menopause or premenstrual syndrome.
TINCTURE - Tincture prepared with the aerial parts of St. John's wort should be taken for a prolonged period to cure certain conditions. For instance, people having enduring nervous tension resulting in fatigue and depression should take the tincture continuously for a period of two months. To treat bedwetting during childhood, five to ten drops of the tincture should be given to the child at night-time daily.
WASH - The infusion prepared with the aerial parts of the herb may also be used as a wash to cleanse skin sores, open wounds and bruises.
Flowering tops:
The flowering tops of St. John's wort may be used as a cream or infused oil and applied externally for alleviating pains, inflammations as well as an antiseptic.
CREAM - Cream prepared with the floral tops of St. John's wort is primarily used to alleviate local or restricted nerve pains, for instance sprains, sciatica and cramps. Moreover, the cream may be applied externally as an antiseptic as well as astringent on sores, scrapes and ulcers.
INFUSED OIL - The infused oil prepared from the floral tops of the herb is generally applied externally to heal burns as well as muscles or joint inflammations, such as neuralgia, tennis elbow and sciatica. One may blend a few drops of lavender oil with the St. John's wort infused oil and apply the blend on burns or blend yarrow oil with the infused oil for inflammations for quick healing.

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:

  • 1 1/2 oz (50 g) St. John's wort flowers
  • 2 cups (500 ml) olive oil
  • 1 colored glass jar (blue, brown or green)

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.
St. John's oil is useful in treating insignificant burns, bruises as well as to alleviate neuralgia (sharp and paroxysmal pain along the course of a nerve) and rheumatism (any disorder of the back distinguished by pain and stiffness). The oil is an effective remedy for all types of internal and external pains, as it has a soothing effect. The oil will have a longer shelf life if you add five per cent lavender essential oil to it.

Comments

From William Bradshaw - May-04-2013
I have had back pain for over 20 years and I decided to make an oil of St. John's wort. I got 8 powdered capsules of St. John's wort - 300 mg strength - opened the capsules and mixed the powder in a glass with olive oil and left in the window facing the sun for 2 weeks. Then I massaged the oil into the whole of my back. Then I lay down on my tummy for 1hour to allow oil to penetrate. Then I showered off with cold water. The following day pain was gone and my back was like a new back. I repeat this every 3 days. Totally recommend it.
From Lynne - Jun-01-2012
I have been experiencing a side effect from taking the St. John's extract daily. After being exposed to the sun for any period of time (normal summertime sun exposure up North) my skin has a kind of super sensitive feeling to cold or pain. Sometimes it tingles or feels like the sensation of tasting a fresh mint in my mouth...a cool sensation. I may burn a bit easier also. I take a high dosage of the liquid ( 6 ml a day). Tried reducing this but need it for my nervous system. I was previously on Prozac for 12 years. Tried to get off but withdrawal symptoms. Finally found a Dr. to get me off. However it seems to have damaged my adrenal glands and after 2 years of strict adrenal diet, rest, and supplements still found myself struggling with being able to cope with anything emotional. I am still taking the St. John's wort tincture as it is the only supplement that seems to really help.
From Alexa Porter - 2010
I have some depression & noticed immediate (wonderful) effects from St. John's wort, but this article says it's also a diuretic which explains why I'm running to the bathroom all night. (It also helps with insomnia which is contradictory - believe me, sleeping and peeing do not go together.) I'll have to take it only in the mornings and find a substitute! Too bad - it gave me an immediate "uplift"!
From Dana - 2010
I have 6 kids - had them all without pain meds so I'm kind of a health nut - I have been on St. John's wort for 16 years - helps loads - I see what it said here about not taking it when nursing or pregnant - but I didn't know that it helped so much with my post part. depression I got, so, I took it 6 weeks before delivery and then no dep. - it keeps me level - now in menopause. It helps too. Everything for me has been a mild to moderate depression though.
From Mark - 2010
I can report that people with Type "A" personalities can greatly benefit from St John's wort. It very much relaxes the user. Combine that with a vigorous exercise program and you are on "easy street" with no hangover.
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