St. Johns Wort
St. Johnís Wort has been valued since the ancient Greeks for its plethora of uses. The colorful common name refers to the red pigment and the German word "wort" which means wound. During the Middle Ages it was believed to have the power to cast out demons.
Traditionally, St. Johnís wort has been used as a pain reliever and helps to regulate the nervous system (nervine). It has also served as a mild sedative and antidepressant, astringent for hemorrhages and diarrhea, expectorant, diuretic, digestive aid and cholagogue (by encouraging the release of bile from the liver), uterine tonic (which may relieve uterine cramping) and abortifacient. It is also an emmenagogue (which promotes menstrual flow) and is anti parasitic.
Additionally, as the common name implies, this wonderful herb has been used for wounds, burns, sores, bruises and other skin problems. For topical use make an oil from St. Johnís wort by soaking the flowers in olive oil for 2 to 7 weeks and strain. Apply the oil to affected areas.
Recent studies have shown St. Johnís wort to work very well for depression which may be the modern equivalent of the medieval demons. These studies support many of the traditional uses, especially the antidepressant qualities. Tests show improvements in antidepressant activity, anxiety, apathy and low self-worth. Antidepressant results occurred after 4 to 8 weeks of use. Another study found that St. Johnís wort may be beneficial in Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD).
St. Johnís wort has also been compared with pharmaceutical therapies for depression. The results have shown that St. Johnís wort is just as effective as the pharmaceuticals but with fewer side effects. As compared to some pharmaceuticals, St. Johnís wort increased cognitive functions while some pharmaceuticals decreased them.
St. Johnís wort has also been found to increase deep sleep (although not length of sleep) and aids in sleeping regulation for both hypersomnia and insomnia. This mild sedative quality may also assist with headaches, exhaustion and muscle pains.
The anti viral properties are quite impressive. It has been shown to be effective in vitro against herpes simplex 1 and 2, influenza and vesicular stomatitis. Studies with HIV patients have shown general improvements or stabilizing effects with St. Johnís wort extracts. St. Johnís wortís anti viral qualities have also shown antiretroviral activity in vitro which could benefit Epstein-Barr and other immune related diseases. St. Johnís wort also has good antibacterial qualities.
With all these wonderful uses, St. Johnís wort would be a welcome addition to anyoneís herb shelf.
St. Johnís Wort Myths
One of the most talked about herbs these days is St. Johnís wort, due to its use for depression. Unfortunately, there are still some misconceptions about this valuable herb. Some early research reported that St. Johnís wort was a MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitor, but later research has found conflicting evidence depending on whether the whole herb was tested or merely the hypericin or other constituents. There are food restrictions with MAO inhibiting drugs (specifically foods containing tyramine, such as beer, wine and cheese). However, numerous clinical trials with St. Johnís wort find no food interactions reported. There are still published reports in circulation, based on the MAO assumptions, suggesting the unnecessary food restrictions for St. Johnís wort.
Another assumption from early research was that the hypericin found in St. Johnís wort was the only constituent responsible for the antidepressant property. Later research has found that the hypericin may not be the only part of the herb responsible for anti depression and that the whole herb may be needed. A good quality tincture, capsule or tea may work well.
Some health professionals feel there is not enough research on St. Johnís wort when, in actuality, it has been the subject of more research on depression with thousands of subjects than most pharmaceuticals. Yet, there is much to be discovered about its mode of action. The consistent result of these tests are that St. Johnís wort equals or exceeds its pharmaceutical counterpart with significantly fewer, milder and only temporary side effects.
St. Johnís wort works great for depression, although it takes four to eight weeks to obtain results. St. Johnís wort is not going to perform miracles and is not strong enough for extreme depression, such as in cases involving suicidal tendencies. However, for those looking for a natural alternative to antidepressant pharmaceuticals, this may be the ticket.
- Study Review of Hypericum Perforatum / St. Johnís Wort, Herb Research Foundation, 1996.
- Natural Healing With Herbs, Humbart Santillo, Hohm Press, 1990.
- The Herb Book, John Lust, Bantam Books, 1974.
From Spring 1996 Herbal Insights.
<< back to articles