Characteristics of Remedial Plants - St. John's Wort

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By: Bertram von Zabern, M.D.

St. John's Wort comes with the highest credentials. Named Hyperikon by Hippocrates, and praised by him as an anti-inflam­matory medication, it was used in academic medicine, and in folk medicine, through many centuries. Folk medicine gave it picturesque names such as: Summer Solstice Wort, Witches' Herb, Fuga daemonum, St. John's Blood, Thousand Puncture Herb, Dotted Hardhay.

In contemporary herbals and in the homeopathic Materia Medica, Hypericum perforatum is often mentioned as the "Ar­nica for the nerves" to be used as a com­press and an oral medication for wounds involving nerve tissue, brain- or spinal concussions, or neuralgic pain. There are further indications for its use for menstrual disorders, fatigue and depression.

What makes St. John's Wort so spe­cial? How can one understand its healing effects? Indeed, the names Thousand Punc­ture Herb, Hypericum perforatum etc. point to a feature easily overlooked. Only when we bring the plant close to the eye and hold it up to the light, do the tiny red dots of its petals, and the transparent punctuation of its leaves become visible. These pinpoint-size droplets are glands that contain a red dye and the green leaves contain an essen­tial oil.

The red dye has been named Hypericin. It was found to be strongly fluorescent, that is, absorbing a part of the light spec­trum and transforming it instantly into a different color. This fascinating effect indi­cates how chemically active Hypericum is; however, the extract of the whole flower, or even the total plant, has been found more effective as a medication than Hypericum alone.

Among the various indications of St. John's Wort, I prescribe back-rubs with Hypericum oil for children with shallow respiration and low resistance to bronchi­tis. For the treatment of bedwetting, the oil is rubbed on the lower body and the thighs, and also, an oral preparation from the leaves and the flowers, in a low homeopathic dose, is given to the patient.

Since such treatments are successful, the question remains, how can this plant do such things? Let us walk through the garden in mid-June. There it stands upright, at least 12 inches high, showing no su­perlatives at a quick glance. But we notice that it chose one of the sunniest places in the garden. And the plant's inter­nal timing is ac­curate, for it starts to blossom pre­cisely on St. John's Day, June 24th. The secret is evident. The plant, in its height at summer sol­stice, offers to the sun a bouquet of small golden flow­ers. The life forces of the St. John's Wort transform the sun's power into countless pinpoint-size droplets in its pet­als, and in its green leaves. The more we are able to follow this process of transfor­mation and con­centration, the more we catch a glimpse of the healing power pervading the plant.

St. John's Wort carries the gift of midsum­mer with its light, warmth, and life-strength like no other herb. Hypericum oil rubs bring the sun-derived warmth and light effect to the skin to acti­vate the patient's blood circulation. This helps the weak child to breathe more deeply, and the bedwetting child to bring order into the bladder func­tion. The same principle is active in the homeopathic preparations. One is not sur­prised to learn about Hypericum being widely used in antidepressant therapy. Here, it seems to work best with the extract of the whole flowering plant.

Anthroposophic medicine has taken the Hypericum preparation one step fur­ther by specially cultivating the plant in soil to which homeopathic gold has been added. The result is an enhancement of both of these sun-bearing substances, help­ful in the treatment of the depressed mood.

Ever young, St. John's Wort reminds us of the old wisdom in medicine. It sets an example for healing that comes from the wholeness of the sun and the earth. When this modest herb greets us at the edge of a summer lawn, we cannot but admire its power and beauty.

Bertram von Zabern, M.D. is an anthropo­sophical physician in Wilton, New Hamp­shire. Trained in Germany, he has prac­ticed family medicine and psychiatry in the United States since 1972.

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