Benefits of St. John’s Wort

Traditionally a healing herb, people are still seeking out the benefits of St. John’s wort.

| June 2014

  • People have known about the benefits of St. John's wort throughout history. It was traditionally used as a vulnerary (wound healer), and more recently has been used for its anti-depressant and sedative qualities.
    Illustration courtesy The Chelsea Physic Garden
  • “Herbal” by Deni Bown is an illustrated collection of 150 essential herbs for modern living.
    Cover courtesy Pavilion Books

Inspired by the extensive herb grounds of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, herbalist Deni Bown has cataloged 150 essential herbs for modern living. Herbal (Pavilion Books Ltd., 2001) is an excellent source book for experts and novices alike. With Bown’s expertise and anecdotes, the story of each herb unfolds and is heavily illustrated with personal photographs and botanical name plates. The following excerpt looks closely at the medicinal benefits of St. John’s wort.

Herb Profile: St. John’s Wort

Hypericum perforatum         

Portrait

A hardy rhizomatous perennial, reaching 30cm–1m (1–3ft) high, with blunt, narrowly oval leaves and bright yellow, five-petalled, gland-dotted flowers, 2cm (1⁄2in) across, in summer. St. John’s wort grows wild in woods and hedgerows in Europe and temperate parts of Asia. It is naturalized in many other countries, notably in North America where by 1830 it had become a serious weed, and where eradication programmes are carried out to protect livestock from phototoxicity (sensitivity to sunlight) caused by eating the plant.



History

St. John’s wort has been known throughout history as a vulnerary (wound healer) and was in its heyday on the battlefields of the Crusaders. It was also credited with keeping evil away, for which purpose it was hung above doors on the Eve of St. John’s Day (24 June), when witches were thought to be most active. Its mystique was confirmed by the way the juice of the plant turns red on exposure to air — a phenomenon thought to symbolize the blood of St. John the Baptist.

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