St. John's Wort

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Hypericum perforatum (L)    

 

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Synonyms and Common names: Common St. John's Wort, perforate St. John’s wort, amber, goatweed, Johnswort, Klamath weed, Tipton weed, Hyperici herba

German = Tupfelharthen, French = mille pertuis, Spanish = Hierba de San Juan, Italian = Perforata

Order: Hypericaceae

Description: Hypericum perforatum is a native British upright perennial, reaching a height of up to 90 cm. It grows throughout Britain and Europe and well into Asia and prefers open, sunny situations and dry calcareous soils. The smooth stem branches in its upper part, bearing opposite, sessile, oblong leaves which exhibit numerous translucent oil glands, as well as a few dark ones on the underside. The bright yellow five-petaled flowers, which are borne in a terminal corymb, have over fifty stamens, fused in the lower part into three bundles. The long lanceolate petals and shorter sepals are marked with dark dots. The fruit is a capsule which opens by three valves. 

Parts used: aerial parts. Only the fresh flowers are used to make the oil. 

Collection: During the flowering period, from June to August. To make the macerated oil, pour half a litre of sunflower or almond oil onto 120g of flowers in a glass jar, then place in direct sunlight for about six weeks or longer until the liquid has turned bright red. Strain through muslin and decant off from any watery layer.

Constituents: naphthodianthrones (including the red pigment hypericin, pseudohypericin and their biosynthetic precursors), flavones and flavonols (quercetin glycosides including quercitrin, rutin, quercetin, kaempferol, luteolin), carotenes, essential oil, resin, tannins, pectin

Actions: Anxiolytic, sedative, astringent, anti-inflammatory, topically analgesic and antiseptic.

Indications: Excitability, neuralgia, fibrositis, sciatica. Topically for wounds. Specifically indicated in menopausal neurosis.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Hypericum has a thymoleptic action which results in an improved sense of well-being. It has long been used as a nerve healer in melancholic conditions, depression, exhaustion and convalescence. It  is also used to treat conditions where there is a degree of overtension, such as insomnia, cramps and colic of the viscera and uterus, epilepsy, diarrhoea, and enuresis in children. Of the many conditions where nervous tension and depression occur together, one of the most common is the problems that can arise during menopause, and Hypericum helps to counter these symptoms. ESCOP recommends its use in mild to moderate depressive states (ICD-10, F32.0, F32.1). The flavonoid aglycones and quercitrin have an anxiolytic effect by inhibiting Type A monoamineoxidase (hypericin has a rather low activity). Both the restorative and relaxing actions of the herb are relatively long-term ones, so treatment should be continued for some time. Clinical trials have reported improved sleep quality, an increase in deep sleep phases, and an improvement in cognitive functions as well as significant improvement in mood and levels of interest and activity. In a preliminary study of a Hypericum preparation combined with light therapy in patients with seasonal affective disorders, the antidepressant effect of Hypericum was shown to be enhanced by light therapy.

Hypericum has a reputation as an analgesic, and is used either internally or externally to treat neuralgic pain. The macerated oil can be applied externally for neuralgia and will ease the pain of sciatica. It also soothes burns by lowering the temperature of the skin. Hypericum can also be used to treat  local and peptic ulcers and inflammation of the lining of the upper digestive tract. Its astringent action is due primarily to the high levels of tannins in the flowers, and the volatile oil has an anti-inflammatory action. Hypericum has been shown to stimulate the formation of granulation tissue, and an antibacterial action, attributed to hyperforin, has been observed experimentally, particularly against Staphylococcus aureus. Some anti-viral activity has been reported for hypericin against the HIV and hepatitis C viruses.

Combinations: Hypericum may be combined with Hamamelis Water as a lotion for contusions and as an application for haemorrhoids. It may also be combined with Calendula as a lotion for contusions or as a mouthwash.

Caution: There is no evidence of toxicity at therapeutic doses. However, cattle and sheep can develop photosensitivity if they consume the plant in large quantities, and several HIV+ve patients on large doses of Hypericum have reported rash, pruritis and erythema after exposure to UV light. This is thought to be due to the presence of hypericin. Therefore, excessive exposure to bright sunlight should be avoided whilst taking the herb. If a significant response in depressive disorders is not apparent after 6 weeks, the use of Hypericum should be discontinued; however, the antidepressive effect should not be expected until at least two weeks of treatment.

Preparation and Dosage: (thrice daily)

GSL, Schedule 1

Dried herb: Dose 2-4 g or by infusion.

Liquid Extract: 1:1 in 25% alcohol. Dose 2-4 ml.

Tincture: 1:10 in 45% alcohol. Dose 2-4 ml.

Additional Comments: The name Hypericum was given by the Greeks to a plant which was placed above religious figures to ward off evil spirits. The common name, St. John’s wort, is believed to come from the fact that its yellow petals ‘bleed’ when crushed and that it flowers around the 24th of June, the date on which St. John the Baptist was beheaded. The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem used it to treat wounds during the Crusades. Being yellow, the herb was used in the past, according to the Doctrine of Signatures, to treat jaundice and ‘choleric’ humours.

 

 

Bibliography

Bartram, T. 1995 Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine, 1st edn., Grace Publishers, Bournemouth.

Bremness, L. 1994 Herbs, Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Handbook, London.

BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Chevallier, A. 1996 The Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants, Dorling Kindersley, London.

ESCOP Monograph, 1996 Hyperici herba, European Scientific Committee on Phytotherapy

Grieve, M. 1931 A Modern Herbal, (ed. C.F. Leyel 1985), London.

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.

Hyperhealth 1996 Natural Health and Nutrition Databank, v.96.1 CD-ROM, ©In-Tele-Health

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Mabey, R. (ed.) 1991 The Complete New Herbal, Penguin, London.

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine, Penguin, London (First published in 1991 as Out of the Earth, Arkana)

Newall, C.A., Anderson, L.A., & Phillipson, J.D. 1996 Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals, The Pharmaceutical Press, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Polunin, M. and Robbins, C. 1992 The Natural Pharmacy, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Prihoda, A. 1989 The Healing Powers of Nature, Octopus, London.

Rogers, S.K. 1995 British and Chinese Herbal Pharmacopoeia, Healthlink Software Systems, Australia

Vickery, R. 1995 A Dictionary of Plant Lore, Oxford University Press.

Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.

 

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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ©Purple Sage Botanicals