A rather dreary 4th of July here in Seattle. It’s raining at present and we’ve got the heat on. I imagine patriots huddled around the warmth of small explosions, sparklers sputtering. I am off to gather St. John’s Wort this weekend, and with morale waning in the NW as the long days of “summer” are pissed away in a grey drizzle, I thought it fitting to dredge up an article out of the Radicle Review’s printed archives to address the ennui of my people (and, obviously, the author). This writing on the use of St. John’s Wort will be discussed in two parts. (Hang in there!)
Part one- A Real Saint
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is one of those plants that is easy to overlook. Despite the fact that it grows almost anywhere (covering meadows, cheerfully assembled along roadsides, a lone plant catching the roof runoff in a parking lot), few know this plant by sight. It often falls into the category of LYF’s, or Little Yellow Flowers. Never mind that if you look at an individual flower among the profusion on each plant, you’ll find an absolutely charming specimen. Closer examination reveals cute red freckles adorning each blindingly yellow petal. The stamens sport a jaunty tuft of pollen atop their points. The leaves are diminutive, though they are many in number, and in overall effect the plant seems to say, “Go for the flowers”. This is exactly what I do.
The flowers contains hypericin (once thought to be the “active constituent”, now known as one of many), which is responsible for the dramatic staining of your picking fingers. A little yellow flower turns the tips of your fingers a dark purple red! I suppose you could wear gloves, but I enjoy being marked by this plant (this differs somewhat from my position on the picking of Stinging Nettles). You can gauge the quality of a St. John’s Wort product by the depth of the color. The tincture should be beautiful- dark but transparent like a jewel, the oil should be a deep earthy red.
The most popular use of St. John’s Wort is of course, as an antidepressant. It exerts a demonstrable effect on seratonin levels and in early clinical trials was proven to be as effective as the popular antidepressants of the time, with far fewer side effects and a wide parameter of safe usage. It continues to be one of the most widely used medicinal herbs despite all of the hullabaloo surrounding it.
St. John’s Wort’s specialty is transforming mildly obsessive negative states of mind in the blink of an eye. I am not talking about serious mental illness here- I am talking about repetitive thought patterns that do nothing to improve your situation. To my knowledge every one has these from time to time, though some of us are more prone than others.
Just a dropperful or two of the fresh plant tincture promotes a lifting of sadness and feelings of futility, especially during the winter months when sunlight deprivation causes grim emotional states. I have employed it with success in those who have seasonal affective disorder or SAD. I recommend taking it for a few weeks at a time.
Now, St. John’s Wort is not a powerful psychoactive drug that can cause dependence. You don’t have to carefully wean yourself off of it. It doesn’t alter your brain chemistry in such a way as to paint a smile on your face while your spirit drifts away. While some antidepressant drugs can fracture your ability to understand yourself and what needs to be changed in your life, St. John’s Wort can support the emotional growth process*. (*This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA).
Generally speaking, if St. John’s Wort is going to work for you, it is apparent almost immediately. I have felt results from a very small dose (i.e. 5-10 drops of the fresh tincture) in a matter of minutes. Sometimes that is all it takes to set your head straight. For those with long standing existential sadness, you may want to take it every day for a while. It is restorative to the nervous system after periods of intense stress, depression or depletion from illness or malnutrition. When you are feeling burned out and weak and dark thoughts have invaded, St. John’s Wort can bolster your spirits.
One under-appreciated property of St John’s Wort (there are so many!) is it’s ability to heal nerve damage from injury and tissue trauma. St. John’s Wort can actually promote the re-growth of the myelin sheath in cases where the nerve has been completely severed! The infused oil of this plant works great as a topical treatment for neuralgia and various neuropathies as well as general inflammation and pain. St. John’s Wort oil stars in my Sore Muscle Salve for its’ nerve-regenerating properties. For those of you dealing with severe nerve pain (e.g sciatica, etc.), I usually recommend taking the tincture internally and applying the oil or salve externally. St. John’s wort also demonstrates anti-viral properties. As you might imagine, it works really well for viruses that affect the nerves, like herpes for instance. A blend of equal parts St. John’s Wort, Echinacea, Lemonbalm and Burdock tinctures is my proven formula for recurrent herpes and shingles outbreaks.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of the Radicle Review. Stay tuned for part two of our examination of St. John’s Wort! Next week we will tackle the overblown precautions in taking this fine herb (for the fair and balanced reporting you’ve come to expect from the RR), and I will dazzle you with photographs.