St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)
St. Johnswort is a shrubby perennial plant commonly found in dry, gravelly soils, fields, and sunny places in many parts of the world, including eastern North America and the Pacific coast. A woody, branched root produces many round stems which put out
runners from the base. The stem has two raised lines which makes it appear pressed flat. The leaves are opposite, oblong to linear and when held to the light, reveal translucent dots, giving the impression that the leaf is perforated. The dots are not holes in the leaf, but a layer of colorless essential plant oils and resin. Flat topped cymes of yellow flowers, whose petals are dotted with black along the margins, appear from June to September. The fruit is a three-celled capsule containing small, dark brown seeds. The whole plant has a turpentine-like odor.
Family: Hypericaceae (St. Johnswort family)
Other Names: Amber, Goat-weed, Johnswort, Klamath weed,
Flowers: June – September
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers
Habitat: Fields & roadsides. Alien. Originated in Europe.
History: St.Johnswort has been used in herbal healing for more than 2,000 years, most notably for its ability to speed wound healing. In the first century, the Roman naturalist Pliny prescribed St. Johnswort in wine as a cure for the bites of poisonous snakes. And the Greek physician Dioscorides recommended it externally for burns and internally as a diuretic, menstruation promoter, and treatment for sciatica and recurring fevers (malaria). The Greeks and Romans also believed the herb was a protector against witches’ spells.
In the 16th century John Gerard recommended it as a “most precious remedy for deep wounds.” The first London Pharmacopoeia in 1618 advised chopping St. Johnswort flowers, immersing them in oil, and placing the mixture in the sun for three weeks. The resulting tincture was a standard treatment for wounds and bruises for several hundred years.
Seventeenth century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper called St. Johnswort “A singular wound herb; boiled in wine and drank, it healeth inward hurts or bruises; made into an ointment, it opens obstructions, dissolves swellings, and closes up the lips of wounds. . .it helpeth all manner of vomiting and spitting blood (tuberculosis).”
Early colonists introduced St. Johnswort into North America but found the Indians using the native American herb in much the same way Europeans used the Old World plant—as a tonic and treatment for diarrhea, fever, snakebite, wounds, an skin problems.
Constituents: Hypericin, Pseudohypericin, Procyanidins, Glycosides, Flavonoids, Tannins, Resin, Volatile oil
Properties: Aromatic, Astringent, Nervine, Stimulant.
Main Uses: Used for cuts, burns, neuralgia, depression.
Wound Healing: Several studies have supported St. Johnswort’s traditional use in wound healing. The hypericin and other antibiotic chemicals in the herb’s red oil may help prevent wound infection. In addition, the plant’s potential immune-stimulating flavonoids help reduce wound inflammation.
Antidepressant: In a German study, 15 women in treatment for depression obtained significant relief after taking St. Johnswort, including increased appetite, greater interest in life, improved feelings of self-worth, and more normal sleep patterns. But St. Johnswort is not an instant antidepressant. According to German medical herbalist Rudolph Fritz Weiss, M.D., the effect “does not develop quickly. . . it takes two or three months.”
There are many studies documenting the effects of St. Johnswort as an antidepressant treatment with a minimum of side effects. It has been demonstrated to increase theta waves in the brain. Theta waves normally occur during sleep and have been associated with deep meditation, extreme pleasure and heightened creative activity.
Preparation And Dosages:
For wound treatment: Apply crushed leaves and flowers to the affected area after you have cleaned it with soap and water.
For an infusion to help treat depression and possibly stimulate the immune system, use 1 to 2 teaspoons of herb per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 to 15 minutes. Drink up to 3 cups a day. St. Johnswort tastes initially sweet, then bitter and astringent.
Tincture: Fresh plant (1:2), in 60% alcohol. Take 20 to 30 drops up to 3 times a day. The dried plant is nearly inactive.
Note: If you are pregnant or lactating or taking anti-depressants like Prozac,
check with your physician before taking St. Johnswort. St. Johnswort is known to interfere with a number of prescription medications, including anticoagulants, oral contraceptives, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, drugs to treat HIV or prevent transplant rejection.
CAUTION: Taken internally or externally, hypericin may cause photodermatitis (skin burns) on sensitive persons exposed to sunlight.