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What Exactly Is St. Johns Wort?

st. johns wort

St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, is a flowering herb that has become somewhat famous for its antidepressant qualities. It can be spotted, with it’s little yellow flowers, across much of the United States, as well as India, Africa, Canada, and China, though it is native to Europe and Asia. Historically, St. John’s Wort was thought to ward off evil and protect against disease. The common name, St. John’s Wort, comes from Saint John’s Day, June 24, which was considered the best day to harvest the flowers. However, it’s scientific name, Hypericum, is derived from the greek words “above” and “picture,” in reference to the tradition of hanging the plants over religious icons on Saint John’s Day in an effort to keep evil away. As with many medicinal herbs, it has a colorful history, with uses for conditions such as sciatica, burns, protecting against poisonous reptiles, driving away demons, divination, increasing likelihood of marriage, bringing good luck, determining how long one would live, and much more.

Currently, this pretty little flower is used extensively in the naturopathic community to help relieve the effects of depression, to reduce inflammation, ease PMS symptoms and the symptoms of menopause, help speed up the natural healing of skin irritations and lacerations, and for its anti-cancer properties, in addition to other, less common indications. It’s most often found in capsule form, though you can also obtain it as a tincture, or even as part of a tea!

As with any medicinal plant, there are hundreds of biologically active compounds that give St. John’s Wort it’s amazing beneficial properties, but the most notable are hypericin and hyperforin. It’s not completely clear how these constituents of St. John’s Wort work, especially in regard to mood regulation, but best educated guess is that the hypericin reduces adrenal activity, while increasing the chemicals in the brain that boost mood, such as serotonin and dopamine. In 2009 a review of almost three dozen independent, international medical studies on the benefits of St. John’s Wort in regards to the treatment of depression found that not only was St. John’s Wort beneficial (though not necessarily a replacement for prescription antidepressants), but it also had less side effects than antidepressants. But speaking of which...

As an herbalist, one of my pet peeves, and something I see unfortunately often, is individuals with excellent intentions not treating herbal medicine as just that… medicine. Because it’s natural, because it’s from a plant, it’s easy to forget that you’re still dealing with powerful biochemical components! Some herbs have fewer contraindications than others, but regardless, it’s so important to discuss your herbal medicine plans with a qualified professional before starting any regimen. St. John’s Wort is a safe plant, when used correctly. But it shouldn’t be mixed with antidepressants, and can have side effects such as dry mouth, dizziness, photosensitivity, and even hair loss. Everyone’s biochemistry is different, so each person will react slightly differently to any herb or prescription medication, which is another reason to consult with a professional.

While I cannot attest to this little flower’s demon-repelling benefits, I can with full confidence speak to its wide scope of health and wellness potential. Whether you’re dealing with something as major as depression or menopause, or as minor as a burn or scrape, talk to a medical herbalist about how St. John’s Wort can make your life better, and, who knows, maybe even a little luckier!

These facts and opinions are those of a certified Master Herbalist and Dipl. Natural Health Consultant, and Reiki Master Teacher, and are for educational purposes only, and not intended to replace consultation with your qualified healthcare practitioner.



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