Hypericum perforatum or better known as St. John’s Wort is a great example of what happens to a herb when only one of its properties, not even its best, is over emphasized. After a quick Google search, the top 10 entries all discuss St. John’s as an “anti-depressant” when in fact traditionally, it is better known as a wound herb and pain reliever.
- Culpeper’s Complete Herbal states, “it is a singular wound herb […] it heals inward hurts or bruises […],dissolves swellings and closes up the lips of wounds, it is good for those bitten or stung by any venomous creature, and […] helps all manner of vomiting and spitting blood.”
- Matthew Wood in his book, The Earthwise Herbal states, “it is an important wound medicine.” He goes on to say, “it is best known as a first aid remedy for injuries to nerves-and is best suited to injuries to parts rich in nerves (eyes, fingertips, spine) where there are sharp shooting pains, inflammation along nerves, acute sensitivity and pain […] and clonic spasms and convulsions from inflamed nerves. It is one of the most important herbal pain relievers.”
- Indian Herbalogy of North America discusses the use of this plant for stomach disorders especially those with internal bleeding such as ulcers. It was also used to help stop bed wetting. It was used mainly as an astringent (to tighten and tone tissues), disinfectant, antiseptic, and styptic (to stop bleeding).
- Michael Tierra in, The Way of Herbs, first discusses its use in the treatment of “pains and diseases of the nervous system including neuralgia, coccygeal pains, rheumatic and arthritic pain and injuries to nerves.”
- David Hoffman states, “St. John’s is increasingly recommended to treat depression, an indication that is supported by numerous clinical trials in both Europe and the United States. However, in my opinion these claims are overblown.” (Medical Herbalism)
The use as an antidepressant actually derived from its use in the Middle Ages to treat psychiatric problems commonly thought to be causes by demons and witches. Samuel Henry in the early 1800’s used it for “lowness of spirit.” (Earthwise Herbal, p. 294.) Much research has been done on St. John’s and is thought to act as an MAO inhibitor but this has not yet been proven. When used for its antidepressant effects, it is only for very mild cases of anxiety and depression.
Recently, I made a jar of St. John’s wort oil. I harvested the flowering tops on a bright summer day. In just a few weeks, I had this beautiful red oil; the hallmark of St. John’s collected at just the right time. It also serves as a reminder to me of it primary use, red like blood, it is best used for healing wounds and for pain relief.