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St John's Wort - Natural remedy of the month

 November 2008

St John's WortSuch a funny name, yet this short, yellow flowering plant has played a major part in medicine for hundreds of years.

Its official name is hypericum, which comes from the Greek meaning health. Its common name is said to be named after St John the Baptist whose feast day in June coincides with the period when the plant is in full bloom. Its five yellow petals resemble a halo and its red sap symbolises the blood of the martyred saint. The word wort simply means a medicinal plant.

St John’s wort has been used in medicine for centuries; usually for healing surface wounds but in mediaeval times it was used to drive out the devil from the soul.

It wasn’t until around 50 years ago that its antibacterial properties were properly investigated and an active antibacterial substance called hyperforin was identified. There are numerous other chemicals in St John’s wort and not all have been scientifically researched but studies have suggested that it does increase the activity and prolong the action of the brain chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline in a similar manner to standard antidepressants.

Certainly a vast number of people across the world believe it works for them – over two million people in Britain alone take St John’s wort and reports indicate it may have good effect on mild to moderate depression.

However, there is a downside to what many describe as a wonder plant. The main problem is that certain properties of St John’s wort interact with other drugs and causes them to metabolise through the body too quickly. If you are taking any other medication, especially for asthma, epilepsy, heart problems, to thin your blood or for contraception, then there could be serious implications.

Other reported side effects from taking St John’s wort appear to be nausea and diarrhoea, allergic reactions, fatigue and in some cases dizziness. There is also indication of problems when combined with bright sunlight.

While many people and most herbalists believe St John’s wort to be a very useful remedy if taken sensibly; some people have serious concerns. Authorities in the Irish Republic banned over the counter sales of St John’s wort in 2000 and said it could only be issued on prescription.

However, millions of people all over the world continue to use St John’s wort, mainly for short term relief of mild to moderate depression.


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