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Hypericum (St. John's Wort) Hypericum Perforatum
---Synonyms---Johnswort, Amber, Touch-and-heal, Goat weed, Hardhay, Klamath Weed, Rosin Rose, Hypericum, Tipton weed, St. John's Wort
Parts Used: Tops and flowers
St. John's Wort has a complex and diverse chemical make-up. Hypericin and pseudohypericin are believed to have antidepressive and antiviral properties. Other constituents, such as xanthones and flavonoids, may also contribute to the medicinal actions of St. John's Wort. The following are the active constituents:
Hypericum extract contains numerous active compounds that together create the antidepressant and antianxiety effects. Hypericum is the first known substance to enhance three key neurotransmitters- serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Preliminary research suggests that St. John's Wort also lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol and enhances the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a naturally occurring tranquilizer in the brain. It is a very mild, clinically insignificant monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor.
The mechanism by which St. John's Wort acts as an antidepressant is not fully understood. Early research indicated that this herb mildly inhibits the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO). MAO is responsible for the breakdown of two brain chemicals - serotonin and norepinephrine. By inhibiting MAO and increasing norepinephrine, St. John's Wort may exert a mild antidepressive action. The antidepressant or mood elevating effects of St. John's Wort were originally thought to be due solely to hypericin, but hypericin does not act alone. St. John's Wort relies on the complex interplay of many constituents such as xanthones and flavonoids for its antidepressant actions. St. John's Wort may also block the receptors that bind serotonin.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---Anxiety, Depression, Inflammation of the skin, Blunt Injuries, Wounds and Burns, Recurrent Ear infection, Vitiligo, being tested for AIDS
Antispasmodic, astringent, expectorant, nervine, vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial.
Hypericum was recommended by Hippocrates for "nervous unrest." It has a 2400-year history of folk use for anxiety; sleep disturbances, and worry. Modern medical research has shown that Hypericum can be as effective as prescription antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. However, unlike prescription antidepressants, Hypericum's side effects are few and mild. The standardized extract of St. John's Wort (containing 0.14 percent hypericin) has significant support in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. The official German Commission E monograph for St. John's Wort lists psychovegetative disturbances, depressive states, fear, and nervous disturbances as clinical indications for the extract. Clinical studies have shown significant improvement in symptoms of anxiety, apathy, hypersomnia, and insomnia, anorexia, psychomotor retardation, depression feelings of worthlessness. Clinical double blind studies indicated that St. John's Wort extract (0.3% hypericin) at a dosage of 300 milligrams three times daily is as effective in relieving symptoms of depression as standard antidepressants but is much better tolerated with fewer side effects.
Hypericum is now the number one antidepressant, natural or synthetic, prescribed by German physicians. In Germany, Hypericum accounts for over 50 percent of the antidepressant market, while Prozac is down to 2 percent.
In addition to Hypericum's mood-elevating properties, Germany's Commission E has approved this herb for the treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders. In two clinical studies, Hypericum demonstrated anti-anxiety effects comparable to those of Valium (diazepam). Yet Hypericum is not addictive and does not impair cognitive functions.
Taken internally, St. Johns Wort has a sedative and pain reducing effect, which gives it a place in the treatment of neuralgia, anxiety, tension and similar problems. It is especially regarded as an herb to use where there are menopausal changes triggering irritability and anxiety. In addition to neuralgic pain, it will ease fibrositis, sciatica and rheumatic pain.
Externally it is a valuable healing and anti-inflammatory remedy. As a lotion it will speed the healing of wounds and bruises, varicose veins and mild burns. The oil is especially useful for the healing of sunburn.
The calming properties of St. John's Wort have been useful in treating bedwetting, insomnia, and other nervous conditions, as well as some form of melancholy. An oil extract of the herb can be taken for stomach ache, colic, intestinal problems, and as an expectorant for the congestion in the lungs. A tea made from the flowers is good for anemia, headache, insomnia, jaundice, chest congestion, and catarrh. A tea made from the herb has been used for uterine cramping and menstrual difficulties. The oil extract also make a good external application for burns, wounds, sores, bruises, and other skin problems.
St. John's Wort is also being tested as an AIDS drug. There are evidence of its antiviral actions. Anecdotal reports have claimed hypericin is beneficial for persons with HIV virus. There are also reports that hypericin extract works synergistically with AZT against HIV. Further clinical research is in progress in this area.