A long living, perennial plant which grows freely in the wild to a height of 3 feet. Known commonly as hypericum, this herb is found natively in Britain, and throughout Europe and Asia. It's flowers are a bright and cheery yellow, which stand out clearly from its pale green foliage.
Hypericum has many medicinal qualities apart from its well known properties as a natural low to medium level anti-depressant. It has been used for centuries to treat mental disorders as well as nerve pain. In ancient times, doctors and herbalists wrote about its use as a sedative, as well as a balm for wounds, burns, and insect bites. It is used to treat anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, hormonal imbalance, and sleep disorders. It has been known to make the changes caused by menopause a lot easier to live with. And can also be used in pulmonary complaints, bladder troubles, cramps, dysentery, worms, diarrhoea, and hemorrhages. Hypericum can give relief to the measles, chicken pox, shingles and the common flu. And is known to relieve spinal paralysis in dogs and cats after a tick bite.
For children finding it difficult to overcome bed-wetting, an infusion or tea of Hypericum given before bed time has proven very effective. St. John's wort should not be used by women who are pregnant, or breastfeeding.
One of the properties of hypericum previously mentioned is its ability to work as an anti-depressant. The components of the herb which cause this effect are hypericin, psudohypericin, and xanthones. These work to inhibit the chemical monoamineoxidase, and inhibit the reduction of the chemical serotonin. Depression occurs when these chemicals are not in a particular balance within the brain. Hypericum can be used in many cases as a natural alternative to anti-depressants such as Prozac and Zoloft. It does not have as many side effects as most anti-depressants, however the effects tend to differ from person to person. It should never be used together with standard anti-depressants, unless your doctor has said there is no risk.
Hypericum oil can be made from the flowers infused in olive oil, and is also extracted from the many oil glands in the leaves of the plant. The essential oil can be used to massage people with spinal problems. The penetrating power of this oil is very high, although it is not aromatic. When used as a soothing dressing, the oil is also helpful to ease rashes or skin irritations which occur as a result of stress or nervous tension.
Although not commonly used in cooking, St. John's wort has in recent times been added to many herbal tea infusions, and relaxing drinks which are sold over the counter at up-market delicatessen’s.
This herb has many religious qualities, and ancient superstitions. Its name Hypericum is derived from the Greek language. It means 'over an apparition', which is a reference to the belief that the herb was so obnoxious to evil spirits that the slightest smell of it would cause them to fly. In pre-Christian religious practices, it was used as protection from apparitions.
St Johns wort* was named after St. John the Baptist. The red oil glands that mark the herb's leaves were once believed to be drops of blood, a reminder of the day the saint was beheaded. Some traditionalists believe that the best day to harvest St. John's herb is on June 24, the Feast of St. John. Interestingly, that harvest date often does yield optimal potency in the herb. It was used in many of the ceremonies and rituals. Bringing the flowers into the house on mid-summers eve would protect against the evil eye; and sleeping with a sprig of the plant under one's pillow on St. John's Eve would ensure a vision of the saint and his blessing.
Hypericum ointment is sold at heath food stores, as are other hypericum products such as tablets, herbal teas, dried flowers, and of course essential oil. You could possibly find some of these items at larger grocery stores too.
Warning: As with many substances, overuse can prove dangerous to some individuals. Only use the recommended daily dosage, and consult your herbalist or doctor if you have any concerns.
*"Wort" is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning herb.