St John’s Wort


Today the sun rose at 7:55am and will set at 4:44. The length of today is 8 hours, 48 minutes and 12 seconds. Tomorrow the day will be approximately 3 minutes shorter. Until December 21, each day losses 3 minutes of sunlight. For those who hibernate, this is a welcome time. Its time to catch up on sleep and books waiting to be read and projects finished.  For others, who seek the sun to warm their bodies, hearts and minds, the dark time of the year brings fatigue, restlessness and a generally feelings of unhappiness. Clinically, this unhappiness is called SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.


St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), with medicine from its bright yellow flowers, may help one overcome the dark moods of winter. 


Traditionally, St John’s Wort was considered a herb to heal wounds. Squeeze the flowers of St. John’s and out comes a red oily substance. Before clinical studies, herbalist sought to understand a plant’s use by its appearance. This tradition is called The Doctrine of Signatures. St John’s Wort’s Doctrine of Signatures was the red oily substance stored in its flowers and leaves that resembles blood. Herbalists through the ages therefore offered St John’s when they felt there was a deep wound in the body that needed healing. It was also used to heal superficial wounds, bruises and burns


However, in the 1980’s, Japanese scientists discovered that St John’s Wort had strong anti-depressant actions for those suffering with mild to moderate depression. St John’s became the darling of the alternative health media and was tooted as Nature’s anti-depressant. Its sales rose to $550 million a year. Not too bad for a weed.


Initially scientist hypothesised that a chemical called hypercin, was responsible for the anti-depressant effect. St John’s was then standardized to increase hypercin levels with aim to increase the plant’s anti-depressant effect. Clinical studies were then held. One group was given the standardized herb and the other non-standardized herb. To the scientists’ surprise, the non-standardized herb had a stronger anti-depressant effect. It was then concluded that other chemicals, particularly the flavonoids, were essential for the absorption of hypercin. In the standardized St. John’s, there were fewer flavonoids.


Today, science is baffled by St John’s Wort’s anti-depressant action. It has been found that hypercin does not have any role in enhancing one’s mood. Some now feel it’s the flavonoids in the plant that promote feelings of optimism and well-being. It appears that St John’s influences a number of neurotransmitters associated with easeful happiness. It increases dopamine and GABA levels in the brain, both promote relaxed states of mind. St John’s has only a limit effect on the reuptake of serotonin by the brain. Currently, some scientists theorize that St John’s Wort happiness effect has nothing to do with neurotransmitters but its ability to enhance the activity of the immune system.


Herbalists have long used St. John’s Wort to help overcome viral infections. It is used effectively against Hep C, chicken pox, shingles and the herpes virus. In the 1990’s clinical studies were held on its effectiveness against the AIDS virus. The studies showed promise. Due to effectiveness of the current cocktail of AIDS drugs the studies on St John’s were scrapped. This is unfortunate, perhaps the research would have revealed a cost effective treatment for those who do not have health benefit plans to cover the enormous costs of the pharmaceutical cocktails.    


At the end of June, on St John Batistes Day, I make a sun infused oil of St. John’s Wort. At this time of year, the red oil is easily squeezed from the flowers. To make the oil, fill a jar with the yellow flowers and cover with olive oil. Put a lid on the jar and place it on the back step in the sun. Let the oil mingle with the flowers for a couple of weeks. The oil will turn bright red. Strain and keep in the fridge. This oil can be applied to burns and wounds of all types. It can be massaged into aching back or neck injuries and over a pained sciatic nerve. It can be used on diaper rash.  


For internal use, I prefer a tincture of the fresh flowers over a tincture made with dried plant material. A folk tincture can be made in a similar was as the sun infused oil. Use vodka instead of olive oil.


St John’s Wort can interact with a wide number of pharmaceutical drugs. Before choosing St John’s, be sure to research its drugs interactions.


Interestingly, the main side-effect of St John’s is the appearance of a red rash on skin when exposed over time to the sun. This is called photosensitivity and occurs after prolonged internal use of St John’s Wort. Curiously a plant that helps over come the blues caused by the loss of sunlight, over sensitizes our skin to it. Perhaps, within this paradox the answer to St John’s anti-depressant effect lies.    

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