St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) – A herbal alternative to anti-depressants
St. John’s Wort is also known as Tipton’s Weed, Chase-devil, or Klamath weed.
St. John’s Wort has become popular again as an antidepressant. It is the number one treatment in Germany and has been extensively studied by Commission E, the scientific advisory panel to the German government. It contains several chemicals, including hypericin, hyperforin, and pseudohypericin, which are thought to be the major sources of antidepressant activity. In several studies of laboratory animals and humans, one or more of the chemicals in St. John’s wort appeared to delay or decrease re-absorption of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin by nerve cells.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages from nerve cells to other cells. Ordinarily, once the message has been delivered, neurotransmitters are re-absorbed and inactivated by the cells that released them. Chemicals in St. John’s wort may keep more of these antidepressant neurotransmitters available for the body to utilise. Multiple studies have shown that St. John’s wort may be effective in relieving mild to moderate depression, although maximum antidepressant effects may take several weeks to develop.
St. John’s Wort is an MAO inhibitor and should not be used with alcohol and some other foods.
St. John’s wort has also been studied for the treatment of other emotional disorders such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), menopausal mood swings, and premenstrual syndrome. In laboratory studies, it has shown some effectiveness for lessening the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and for reducing the craving for alcohol in addicted animals. It is believed that chemicals in St. John’s wort may act like other chemicals that are associated with relieving emotional conditions.
Possible antiviral effects of St. John’s wort are being investigated for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other viral illnesses. It is thought that hypericin, pseudohypericin, and other chemicals in St. John’s wort may stick to the surfaces of viruses and keep them from binding to host cells. Another theory is that St. John’s wort may contain chemicals that interfere with the production or release of viral cells. This antiviral activity is enhanced greatly by exposure to light. However, the doses needed for active antiviral effect from St. John’s wort may be so high that unbearable side effects may limit its usefulness as an antiviral.
Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, restorative tonic for the nervous system, sedative.
This bitter tasting herb works on the central nervous system and has been a popular cure for neuritis. It was once given to patients recovering from surgery because of its painkilling properties. It is said to prevent hemorrhages. Antispasmodic, astringent, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, blood purifier, tranquilizer, sedative, nervine, vulnerary, aromatic, diuretic, stimulates digestion.
Folk remedy for bladder ailments, stab wounds, shingles, gout, furunculosis, skin ulcers, swellings, depression, or worms. The calming properties have been used quite successfully in treating bedwetting, insomnia, stress reactions, hysteria and other nervous conditions. An oil extract can be taken for stomachache, colic, intestinal problems, and as an expectorant for colds and/or congestion in the lungs. A tea made from the flowers is good for anemia, headache, insomnia, jaundice, chest congestion, and catarrh, neuralgia, and rheumatic aches and pains. Excellent for pus in the urine.
Tea made from the herb has been used for uterine cramping and menstrual difficulties including irregular menstruation, pains following childbirth, suppressed urine, diarrhea, and dysentery. The oil extract makes a good external application for slow-healing cuts and burns, wounds, sores, bruises, tumors, vericose veins, boils, and other skin problems. It is applied as a liniment or poultice for sciatica, neuralgia and rheumatic pains.
Side Effects and Risks
The most common side effects of St. John’s wort include dry mouth, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and fatigue.
Research has shown that taking St. John’s wort can limit the effectiveness of some prescription medicines, including:
* Antidepressant medicines
* Birth control pills
* Cyclosporine, a medicine that helps prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs
* Digoxin, a medicine used to strengthen heart muscle contractions
* Indinavir and other medicines used to control HIV infection
* Irinotecan and other anticancer medicines
* Warfarin and related medicines used to thin the blood (known as anticoagulants)
When combined with certain antidepressants, St. John’s wort also may increase side effects such as nausea, anxiety, headache, and confusion.
Myths around St. John’s Wort
This herb has long been linked with magic. Its ancient name Fuga Daemonum testifies to its alleged ability to repel demons. (Fuga Daemonum or Scare Devil) The generic name, Hypericum, clearly shows that the herb was highly regarded as having power over evil spirits. It is taken from two Greek words, hyper and eikon (‘over’ and ‘apparition’). From earliest times people have accepted as perfectly natural the idea that man has a body and a soul. At death the body was easily disposed of, but what to do with the soul or spirit was a different matter. Special rituals were developed and performed to honor the departed as fear of what the disembodied spirit could or would do to the living. The ritual was really a way for people to protect themselves from the wrath of the dead. The problem of demons and uncanny beings who had never lived among mortals was also handled by special rituals. One way to protect one’s self was to use powerful plant magic, thus the use of St. John’s Wort. To the early Christians the yellow stamens and bright golden flowers suggested the light of the sun. This was “proof” of the herb’s effectiveness since spirits of darkness hated the light; neither would they come to it. Satan had no power over anyone who carried a talisman of St. John’s Wort. The Plant was gathered on St. John’s Day, June 24th, and hung over the door or window. In some lands it was burned in the midsummer fires for various magical purposes, or worn as an amulet or charm.
Although used widely today as an herbal remedy for certain illnesses, wounds, etc., it was originally used for treating insanity, especially when demonic possession was suspected. Among some races it is still customary to burn the herb; the smoke and flame being considered potent for dispelling all types of evil influences.
Rub the petals of the flowers between the fingers and red resin will ooze out, leaving a stain on the hands. Perhaps, according to legend dating back to the Middle Ages, that is why the plant was said to spring forth from John the Baptist’s blood when he was beheaded.
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