HERBS: ST JOHN'S WORT
Action: Sedative, astringent, analgesic, antiseptic, antibacterial,
Systems Affected: Nerves, heart, circulation, stomach, liver,
gall-bladder, intestines, kidneys, bladder, general effects on the whole
Preparation and Dosage (thrice daily): Dried flowering plant, dose 1-5
grams by infusion.
St John's Wort has been closely associated with magic and folklore since
the ancient Greeks gave it the name hypericon (meaning 'over or above an
apparition'). The leaves and flowers contain oil glands which, when
crushed, release a balsamic odour similar to incense: the smell was used
to drive away evil spirits and to purify the air.
The yellow flowers turn red when crushed due to the release of the red
fluorescent pigment hypericine, and as St John was beheaded and the
plant is in full flower on St John's Day (24 June), in later times it
became known as herba Sancti loannis or St John's Wort.
Besides its magic and folklore associations the plant has definite
healing properties and is still widely employed in herbalism and
European folk medicine.
St John's Wort is a perennial rapidly spreading from long runners
produced at the base and growing to a height of 90 centimeters. Native
to temperate zones of Europe and western Asia, it has naturalized in the
Americas and Australasia.
Taken internally the herb stimulates both gastric and bile secretions
and is effective in treating uterine pain and irregular menstruation. It
improves blood circulation and is of use as a nervine or sedative in
conditions characterized by nervousness, excitability and disturbed
sleep patterns. It is considered specific for menopausal neurosis and is
sometimes used for bedwetting and insomnia in children.
It is one of the most effective agents for healing wounds or burns when
applied externally, especially where nerve tissue has been damaged.
The fresh flowers, steeped in olive oil for a fortnight, yield the famed
Oil of St John's Wort, much used by the Crusader knights for healing
their battle wounds. The flowers, combined with Chamomile and mixed into
melted lard or vegetable oil (with some beeswax added to firm it), make
an ointment highly valued for its pain-quelling and healing properties.
Externally, as an oil, ointment, compress or poultice, St John's Wort is
of particular value for all cuts and wounds, bruises, abrasions, burns
and scalds, blisters, inflammations, eruptions and rashes. It is also
used for neuralgic and rheumatic pain, fibrositis and sciatica. The
herb, combined with Hamamelis Water (distilled water of Witch Hazel),
makes an excellent soothing and healing lotion for application to cuts
and wounds and haemorrhoids.
Modern research indicates the presence of antibacterial and possibly
antiviral substances in the plant. An alcohol extract of the flowers
dyes silk and wool a violet-red but does not colour cotton.
Cautionary Notes: St John's Wort should not be used in depressive
states. Some reports have indicated that if eaten by light-skinned
cattle and sheep, it may cause photosensitization, leading to swelling
of the face, irritation of unpigmented skin areas and, in some cases,
death. The herb is widely used as an external application but is best
used internally only for specific treatment of a particular problem.