Saint John’s Wort, or plant, has been used in medicine for thousands of years to heal wounds and banish the demons of depression and to protect from witchcraft. Today medical research has found that the plant can do those things the ancients used it for. The name Hyperium comes from the Greek and means over the apparition. The Romans and Greeks used it to protect themselves and their homes from all evil influences. It has such a noxious smell that it was believed spirits would fly from it. St John’s Wort was a sacred herb of the Druids, and its various names in Welsh illustrate its uses.
This herb has many names. One of them is tutsan, which is a corruption of the French, toute sain, or all-healing. In Welsh it is called “blessed herb of an earnest prayer” – Creu-lys-bendiged, Bail y Trwch, which has a double meaning; leaf of the lame, or the desolate man and Erinllys. The Romans called it the demon chaser, or flee demons Fuga Daemonum. Of course in ancient times melancholy and depression were thought to be brought about by evil spirits, and St John’s Wort has been proved to cure mild depression, as it improves the flow of serotonin and dopamine other “happiness” inducing substances to the brain. In former times it was used in exorcism ceremonies.
The Celts would pass it through or over their midsummer eve’s fires and wear it into battle as they believed the herb made warriors invincible. It was a symbol of invincibility, courage, power and fertility, and used to attract true love into one’s life. When placed under a young girl’s pillow on St John’s Eve, she was supposed to dream of her future husband. It is called St John’s Wort because it flowers on (or around St John’s Day, 24th June, which is said to be the birthday of John the Baptist).
St John’s Wort is native to Europe, parts of Africa and Asia and has been employed for much the same ailments. In the Indian subcontinent it has been used in cases of fever and was also used by the Welsh physicians of Myddfai along with other herbs such as agrimonyand mugwort to cure fevers and to rid the body of stones and gravel in the organs. It was either naturalized in the western states of America, or it may have been an indigenous species, as it was also used by Native Americans. However the settlers might have taken it with them as it was a common healing herb in Europe.
The parts of the plant usually used are the flowers and the leaves which contain hypericin and pseudohypericin, and which can be made into a tisane with 1 cup of boiling water to 2-4 tsps of dried herb. Leave it to steep for 10 minutes and drink 3 cups a day; you will see results in 3 to 4 weeks.You need twice the amount of the fresh herb and should leave it to steep for 15 minutes before straining and drinking. It will cure mild depression but you should take care as it can have some side effects, such as headaches, upset stomach, a rash, fatigue, restlessness, mental confusion or dizziness and in extreme cases may lead to a sensitivity to sunlight, photodermatitis. If this occurs you should wear a hat and sunblock when you go out in sunlight. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should avoid it although it can help with PMT (PMS) and menopausal symptoms of mood swings. All these things have been medically proven. However folk remedies suggest that children who suffer from night time incontinence should have a cup before going to bed, and it is said to cure the problem.
Modern research has shown that this herb has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties in lab tests, and that it can kill viruses that have become resistant to antibiotics. It is believed that it may eventually be beneficial in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, but is not recommended at present as the side effects could be intolerable.
Researchers do say that it can be effective in treating menopausal symptoms especially if used with black cohash as this helps prevent mood swings. It can also help in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD especially when used with phototherapy as this yields better results than phototherapy alone. Applied directly to outer parts of the body the tisane or a stronger decoction (made by boiling the herb until the water is reduced by half and allowing to cool) can help treat minor burns, eczema, wounds and haemorrhoids as it has antibacterial properties and may also reduce inflammation.
It has been used for mastitis, jaundice, depression and improved concentration, anxiety, sleep disturbances and neuralgia in traditional medicine. You can make an infusion of the flowers by leaving them to steep in cold water overnight, or if you need it quickly, by boiling them in a little water and then making a paste with a little cornflour and applying this to a clean bandage and applying it to a rash, minor burn or wound. Culpeper recommended and oil made from the flowers for swellings and burns. The oil can be made by gathering the flowers and steeping them in oil. Fill a glass jar with the flower heads and then pour in the oil to cover; olive oil is good, but you can use other oil of your choosing. The fresh sap from the stems of the plant and the leaves can be thinned with chamomile tisane for burns, ear infections, bruises and mastitis.
You should harvest the flowers in late June or early July, tie them loosely in bundles and hang them upside down to dry in a cool, dark, airy place. When they are dry, crumble them into glass jars and store in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
The herbs used to be picked and put in jars on windowsills to protect the household from evil and lightning, and the ravages of storms. In Wales the herb was picked and a sprig for each member of the household was hung on a rafter inside the house. The sprigs were checked the next day to check on the health of each person, and this was thought to show the health of those far away too.
St John’s Wort is a useful herb to have around and can be easily stored once dried, it has a multitude of uses and has been clinically tested although not always wholeheartedly approved as research is still ongoing. The researchers do say, however, that this herb has fewer side effects in treatment for mild depression than the pharmaceuticals prescribed by doctors. However you should check out if you should use the herb with your doctor as it can have contra-indications if used with some drugs for pre-existing conditions.
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