Botanical name: Hypericum perforatum
Other names: amber, amber touch-and-heal, barbe de Saint-Jean, chasse-diable, demon chaser, fuga daemonum, goatweed, hardhay, herbe à la brûlure, herbe à mille trous, herbe aux fées, herbe aux mille vertus, herbe aux piqûres, herbe de saint éloi, herbe de Saint-Jean, herbe du charpentier, herbe percée, hierba de san juan, hypereikon, hyperici herba, Hypericum perforatum, Klamath weed, millepertuis, millepertuis perforé, rosin rose, tipton weed
Uses: Anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antimicrobial, astringent, analgesic, nervine tonic
St. John’s wort is native to Europe but is commonly found in the US and Canada in meadows and woods and along roadsides. Though it is a plant not native to Australia and long considered a weed, St. John’s wort is now grown here as a crop. Today, Australia produces 20 percent of the world’s supply.
The use of St. John’s wort dates back to the ancient Greeks, with no less a medical icon than Hippocrates himself recording the medical use of the flower. St. John’s wort was so named because it blooms about June 24th, the reputed birthday of John the Baptist. Wort is from an Old English word for root or herb.
When the plant found its way to the New World, it rapidly spread across wide areas of territory. Unfortunately cattle that grazed on it developed acute sensitivity to sunlight, leading to sunburn. So in 1946 authorities imported an Australian beetle that also loves to eat the plant; and now the cows are safe from the sun, but the insects’ success at their task is placing commercial farms growing the herb at risk.
Traditionally used as a wound-healing poultice due to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and astringent properties, St. John’s wort is also taken internally in cases of neuralgia, sciatica, rheumatic pain, and nervous tension. More recently, St. John’s wort is most commonly used for depression and associated conditions such as anxiety, fatigue, loss of appetite, and insomnia. There is some strong scientific evidence that it can be effective in some people with mild to moderate depression. It supports the nervous system, and is thought to optimise the levels of neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin.
Other uses include:
moodiness and other menopause symptoms
attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
headache, including migraine
Exposure to sunlight after consuming St. John’s wort internally can increase the incidence and severity of sunburn. The traditional practice of applying oil of St. John’s wort directly to the skin (e.g., to treat bruises and scrapes, inflammation and muscle pain, first-degree burns, insect bites, minor wounds, stings, haemorrhoids, or nerve pain) is very hazardous, can cause even more serious sensitivity to sunlight, and is not advised.
France banned St. John’s wort subsequent to a French Health Product Safety Agency report referencing significant drug interactions, inspiring other countries to consider placing a drug interaction notice on St. John’s wort products. The chief concerns are MAO inhibitors and other antidepressants, demerol, and dextromethorphan (DM), a common cough-suppressant ingredient.