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Herb of the Month – St. John's Wort


Last updated 12/16/2020 at 9:11am

Thomas B. from Pixabay.

Image of St. John's Wort

St. John's Wort is an erect plant with a 2-ridged stem and small elliptic leaves dotted with pellucid glands and containing caproic acid which gives off the unpleasant smell of wet goat's fur when handled. The French call the plant mille-pertuis, a thousand perforations. The tiny black dots also appear on the sepals and petals of the flowers which are bright yellow and borne in terminal corymbs. The conspicuous stamens are arranged in five bundles. The plant has much the same uses as the common privet and is found in similar places, mostly deciduous woodlands and about hedgerows or shady banks, growing in calcareous soils.

The leaves when held up to the sun appear perforated with needles. These holes are actually transparent oil glands (as are the flowers' dots with their red oil). The odor of the dried material is distinct, slightly sweet and aromatic, somewhat balsamic. Taste is slightly sweet, mildly bitter, somewhat resinous and astringent.

Cultivation: St. John's Wort is considered an invasive weed in many parts of the world. Eradication programs have been developed in Canada, California, and Australia to eliminate it as it is particularly aggressive in rangelands with dry summers.

St John's Wort is best propagated from root divisions made in spring or fall, or by spring cuttings. In nature it reproduces from seed or from rhizomes at the base of the stem. Seed germination can be enhanced by brief exposures to temperatures from 212-250F. The germination of new seeds is accelerated by washing them in water. Seeds will remain viable for many years.

The plant is not particular about soil conditions, growing in any average garden soil. It does like good drainage, a slightly acid situation and full sun. Semi shade is tolerated but with fewer flowers. It likes it fairly dry and is drought tolerant, although oil content increases with some moisture. pH: 6-7.

The herb is harvested just as the plant comes into bloom. The fresh herb/flowers are used as hypericin is mostly lost in drying. Even though hypericin is found in the flowers the whole plant minus root is used for many ailments because of other important constituents.

Actions: astringent, analgestic, antidepressant, antispasmodic, stimulates bile flow, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, sedative and restorative tonic for the nervous system.

History: The plant takes its name from St. John the Baptist for it usually begins to bloom on his feast day, June 24. It was reputed to bleed on the anniversary of the saint's beheading. The word wort simply means herb. At one time, St. John's Wort did flavor brandy, and bakers added a pinch to flour to improve bread's texture. In the Victorian Language of Flowers, St. John's Wort represents animosity.

Cosmetic Uses: Used in skin care products for healing inflamed, dry and cracked skin. The tea is also applied as a compress or in a facial steam especially for skin that is oily and blemished. Combine with equal parts of Witch Hazel for a facial wash. For hair: Collect and dry a handful of leaves, grind them to a powder and mix a small cupful with ½ pint of hot water to form a paste. Massage well into the hair and leave for 20-30 minutes. Rinse in lukewarm water containing a little lemon juice.

Medicinal Uses: It's been used for centuries for depression, melancholy and hysteria. Paracelsus was one that prescribed it for these afflictions. One study by Dittmann, Hermann and Palleske showed that Hyperforat, a preparation based on a total extract, gave a well-reproducible specific inhibition of anaerobic glycolysis in secretions of brain tumors. An infusion of leaves and flowers in olive oil is excellent for skin burns. The herb/flowers are the parts used for lung problems, bladder complaints, diarrhea, dysentery, depression, hemorrhages and jaundice. Steep 2 teaspoonfuls of the herb per cup of water for twenty minute. Take one half cup in the morning and one-half cup at bedtime. Bedwetting is helped by a nightly cup of the tea or 5-10 drops of the tincture.

The research on St. John's Wort has been substantiated on its effects on mild to moderate depression. In a series of studies that were presented in 1992 at the Fourth International Congress on Phytotherapy in Munich, Germany, it helped well over half of those in the study. In less than a month of taking this herb, the depression and accompanying disturbed sleep and fatigue experienced by participants in these studies generally improved.

In another study in Germany in 1984, depressed women were given a tincture of St John's Wort. These women's symptoms, including anxiety, anorexia, lack of interest in life and psychomotor problems, all changed for the better. Research was also conducted in Russia where it was combined with psychotherapy to treat alcoholics suffering from depression. A suggested tincture is 1 tsp tincture of St. John's Wort leaf, ½ tsp tinctures of licorice root, ginseng rot, lemon balm leaf and ashwagandha leaf. Combine ingredients. Take 1 dropperful 3 times a day. The mood-lightening effect does not develop quickly-it is necessary to take it for up to two to three months. The first effects will be felt within two to three weeks.

The aerial parts taken internally can lighten the mood and lift the spirits. They make a restorative nerve tonic, ideal for anxiety and irritability, especially during menopause.

They are also good for chronic, longstanding conditions where nervous exhaustion is a factor. They can relieve a variety of nerve pains such as sciatica and neuralgia. It is also a valuable tonic for the liver and gallbladder.

TOXICITY: Since it's an MAO inhibitor it interacts badly with wine, cheese and smoked or pickled foods and medications such as cold and hay fever remedies, amphetamines, narcotics, tryptophan and tyrosine. You should not take if you're pregnant.

The plant does contain phototoxins which may cause photodermatitis in fair skinned persons who take the herb internally and then are exposed to bright sunlight. Despite this potential, there are no reports of human photodermatitis as the result of ingesting it.

Editor's note: Have questions for the herbalist? Email them to: [email protected]


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