St John’s wort is a plant that definitely everyone knows about. Its good name has been known far and wide – on all continents from the earliest history to the present day. Although the Hypericum family numbers over 400 plant species, there is only one and only Hypericum perforatum. Two millennia ago, it was used by Galen, Dioscorides, Hippocrates and Pliny to heal wounds, cleanse the body, expel intestinal parasites, soothe menstrual cramps and treat snake bites. The method we often use today originates from that period: dried flowers of St John’s wort are dipped in olive oil and placed in a warm and bright place and after three to four weeks the oil becomes reddish. Because of this ability to transform, mystical properties were attributed to St John’s wort: in addition to knowing about its healing properties, people of that era believed that this plant could drive away demons. This belief is also woven into its scientific name: hyper means “over” and eikon “apparition”, “ghost” – it is a plant that “pushes over” evil spirits, that is, it disperses them. Perforatum refers to the perforated appearance of its leaf.
Christians later gave it a new meaning and fresh applications. The plant was considered to be most powerful when harvested on 24 June, St John’s day, which is actually the time when St John’s wort is in full bloom; according to another legend, the plant oozes most red colour on the day of the murder of John the Baptist, on 29 August, which symbolises his blood. Hence its English name – St John’s wort. However, during the Middle Ages, the use of St John’s wort was extended to depression, disquiet, anxiety, insomnia, and stomach disorders, haemorrhoids, inflammation, wounds, abrasions and cuts were added to this list later.
ST JOHN’S WORT PROVEN TO BE MEDICINAL
That ancient and early Christian medicine made sense is confirmed by the fact that St John’s wort is now part of serious pharmacopoeias: from ESCOP – European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy – to the British and American herbal pharmacopoeias. St John’s wort is also the subject of numerous scientific studies that have confirmed its healing properties.
Today we know what is healing in this plant. In addition to phloroglucinol hyperforin, flavonoids (kaempferol, quercetin, luteolin, hyperoside glycosides, isoquercitrin, rutin, hyperin, myricetin…) and essential oils, this plant is rich in naphthodianthrones, the most common being hypericin, pseudohypericin, isohypericin and protohypericin. And it is actually hypericin that “drives away evil spirits” of the disease; our ancestors correctly noticed the power that its red pigment has when placed in olive oil and then in the window: it is mostly found in flowers of the plant and is very photo-reactive – it reacts to light exposure.
ENEMY OF DEPRESSION
One of the “evil spirits” that this plant’s hypericin successfully disperses is depression. Initial research into this topic took note of its positive effect on feelings of sadness, guilt, lethargy, insomnia, lack of energy and suicidal thoughts. Subsequent research has found that, owing to the fact that depression is caused by a lack of neurotransmitters, hypericin successfully regulates dopamine levels and helps other neurotransmitters work, including GABA – gamma-aminobutyric acid and benzodiazepines. So St John’s wort has a diazepam-like effect.
In addition to being useful to people who suffer from depression, St John’s wort has been proven to be very useful to women entering menopause, because mood swings, lethargy, lack of self-confidence and insomnia are just some of the difficult symptoms of this transition period. It has proven to have a positive impact on hot flashes.
ST JOHN’S WORT AND THE SKIN
One of the earliest uses of St John’s wort was to treat the skin – injuries, burns, irritations and wounds. Indeed, the power of this plant in olive oil has been scientifically proven. Its flavonoids and the already mentioned hypericin have shown to have great healing power when used in this form and not in the form of ethanol extract. The application of St John’s wort balm has a very positive effect on scars, including those from caesarean section. In addition to reducing scarring to a minimum, St John’s wort also accelerates wound healing and prevents pain and irritation.
St John’s wort has been proven to be effective in one of the most stubborn skin diseases – psoriasis. When a balm containing this plant is applied twice a day to one section of the skin affected by psoriasis and a neutral cream to the other, the surface treated with this medicinal plant shows a visible improvement in terms of erythema (skin rash), peeling and thickening of the skin. It is also effective in diabetic wounds. Moreover, its power is much more far-reaching: hypericin has proven to be extremely effective in the treatment of skin cancer as well.
PROTECTOR OF DIGESTIVE ORGANS
St John’s wort has always been known to destroy pathogens. Just as Galen used it for the treatment of intestinal parasites, so it is also effective today for a number of bacteria and viruses, including flu and leukaemia viruses. Modern research has proven that this powerful plant is as effective against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria as are the Ceftazidime antibiotic and clavulanic acid. Extract of this herb is very effective against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus; it has shown a strong gastroprotective effect – it protects against ulcers in the stomach and duodenum, prevents wrinkles and lesions on the mucous membrane and also acts as a proton pump inhibitor like Omeprazole.
Another study has proven that this plant has a positive effect in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. The most important thing for this unpleasant disorder is St John’s wort’s anti-inflammatory effect: it prevents inflammation at the cellular level, strengthens the immune system of the colon with a strong antioxidant effect and also slows down the movement of food through the small and large intestine with the same effect as loperamide, but without causing any side effects.
Haemorrhoids are another unpleasant disorder affecting the lower part of the rectum and anus. They were recorded even in the ancient Egyptian papyri dating back to 1700 BC; there is also an abundance of written material from ancient Persian healers, including Avicenna, who recognised that the plant which had anti-inflammatory, analgesic and vasodilating properties was necessary for the treatment of inflamed haemorrhoids. Based on these ancient records, modern research has been conducted – it emphasised the role that St John’s wort plays in the treatment of inflamed haemorrhoids. The anti-inflammatory effect of St John’s wort soothes inflammation of blood vessels in haemorrhoids, while its healing properties can soothe the mucous membrane and prevent further irritation, itching and pain. When it comes to the latter, studies have shown that the effect of this plant is stronger than that of a pain killer like indomethacin. That is why it is a common ingredient in haemorrhoid balms.
And it is precisely thanks to this action that St John’s wort is present in Plantis H balm made by Herba Svet. Along with extracts of yellow sweet clover, horse chestnut, gotu kola, witch hazel and marigold among others, St John’s wort contributes to reducing and calming inflammation of haemorrhoids, helps revitalise mucous membranes and connective tissue, reduces pain, irritation and itching. So is that not the same as expelling evil spirits?
The following products contain this plant: