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Healing with St.John's Wort
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.
This humble and extremely plentiful herb graces the roadsides, meadows and pastures of Washington, and ornamental species adorn rockeries (including my own) attracting birds and bees through the summer months. St. John's Wort, botanical name, Hypericum perforatum, is an herb you should not overlook when investigating herbal medicine. I have been witness to its remarkable healing properties on many occasions. The plant stands erect, about three feet tall at the peak season and the entire plant above the ground is useable as a tasty tea. If wildcrafting, choose as wild an area as possible, away from potential pesticide contamination, cut the plant when in full bloom and dry as quickly as possible, hanging the plant upside down. The stems are somewhat woody, and oblong-oval leaves grow opposite each other in pairs. It blooms from June to September and the flowers have five bright yellow petals, which have black dots at the margins. I suspect the name "perforatum" originated from the fact that the petals appear perforated. Oil made from the petals has a beautiful red hue.

Being Polish, I am also intrigued by the naming of herbs in other languages. In Polish, the common name of St. John's Wort is "Dziurawiec," which means "perforated or full of holes." Hypericum (what naturopaths affectionately call it) is effective as an anti-depressant for seasonal affective disorder, a common condition here in Seattle. It can also help insomnia, menstrual irregularities, purify the blood preventing illness, and tonify the respiratory, intestinal and urinary tracts. It can also help heal wounds and burns when topically applied.
Hypericum is an astringent, (tightens tissues) vulnerary, (soothes and helps to heal wounds) an anti-inflammatory, (self-explanatory) a very powerful nervine, (benefits the nervous system) anti-bacterial, (experiments have shown it to be active against tuberculosis bacterium) and a tonic (strengthens and enlivens specific organs or the whole body). Taken internally, it can treat neuralgia, sciatica, fibrositis, and anxiety. Topically in lotion, oil, or a skin-wash, made from a strong infusion of the tea, it will speed healing of wounds of all kinds, bruises, varicose veins, and mild burns. The active constituents are glycosides, including rutin, volatile oil, resin, tannin and pectin. Studies show that two other components, hypericin and pseudohypericin, exhibit significant anti-viral activity against retroviruses like HIV. Hypericin is a photosensitizing substance that reacts with light and can cause the skin to burn in light-skinned or sun-sensitive people. Even animals that graze on the herb show this photo-sensitivity.

When I was a student at Bastyr University, all of our AIDS patients were given Hypericum herb in capsules for the depression often associated with the illness, and for its anti-viral effect. Usually, patients reported feeling much better when taking it. I support all the claims made for this herb, because I have seen it work, but I believe there is still something additional, something mysteriously wonderful about this herb that we as yet have not discovered. Maybe this "something" is what historically gave this plant "supernatural powers." Ancient Greeks believed that the fragrance of Hypericum chased evil spirits away. Christian priests in the Middle Ages used the plant in exorcisms. European peasants used a sprig of the plant as a charm against witchcraft. American Indians used the tea as powerful medicine for many ailments, from respiratory problems to influenza.

My own awe-inspiring experiences with Hypericum have caused me to hold this herb in very high regard. A man I know in Eastern Washington, who is now in his ninth decade of life, had very serious kidney problems about ten years ago. He had been hospitalized several times, was being heavily medicated and not liking it, was put on a special diet which forbade him from eating his favorite vegetables, the doctors claiming that the calcium in these vegetables was causing him to produce kidney stones. He was very frustrated and upset with his condition and decided to take matters in his own hands. He released himself from the hospital and decided to try an experiment. He and his wife had been wildcrafting St. John's Wort for some time because they enjoyed having a cup of tea now and then, and they had quite a lot of it on hand. He says it was his intuition that gave him the idea, but he started drinking several cups of the tea every day, and within a few weeks he passed several kidney stones, and has been living a healthy and vibrant life ever since, and he went back to eating his carrots and spinach with no problems whatsoever. He and his wife continue to wildcraft in their secret spot, and now drink the tea occasionally. By the way, his wife, who is in her late seventies, had debilitating arthritis and migraine headaches, and she claims the tea cured her of both conditions.

What convinced me of the power of St. John's Wort was an experience I had treating my own mother. A year ago, after some corrective eye surgery, which utilized a laser, my mom developed a horribly painful condition called "tic douloureux" or trigeminal neuralgia. This condition, although not a real "tic," is so named because the pain, which comes in unpredictable lightning-like stabs, is so excruciating, that the face becomes contorted. It is more common in the elderly and is associated with enlarged blood vessels in the brain putting pressure on the nerves. It broke my heart to see my usually cheerful, happy mom, literally screaming and crying from this cruel pain. At first, I thought that her M.D. might know how to reverse or treat this condition, since I had no experience with it. The two choices given were Tegretol, an anti-epilepsy drug, or surgery to sever the nerve. We decided on the Tegretol. My own anxiety around relieving my mom's suffering was probably clouding my thinking, and after one or two days on the Tegretol, the pain was only slightly better, and mom was sleeping 14 hours a day, unable to get out of bed, a virtual zombie. So contrary to her lifestyle was this situation, the Tegretol was dumped in the garbage, and it was back to square one. Then it hit me! I had some Hypericum in capsules on the shelf, so we tried it. It helped immediately, but after some time the pain began to return. The next step was to try the Hypericum in a homeopathic dilution. I had recalled an important homeopathic lesson on Hypericum, "for all nerve pain." Homeopathic Hypericum is indicated for neuritis, neuralgia, numbness, tingling, and even the post-shingles neuralgia that is so painful. We started with 30C, which helped significantly, and when the symptoms returned, we tried a 200C potency, which controlled the pain. We also gave Mom a good basic nutritional plan designed for a senior and she has been free of pain, with only occasional flare-ups since then. We have also found that acupuncture helps this condition.

A dear friend of mine had a flare up of sciatica. I gave her homeopathic Hypericum and the condition disappeared. When visiting friends in Arizona last year, I was drawn to a little St. Francis statue in front of a vacant apartment. A woman came out and I asked if the statue belonged to her. She then told me the story of the woman who used to live in the now vacant apartment, to whom the statue belonged. The woman was afflicted with a condition in which all the nerves of her body were so inflamed, that she could not even bear the touch of clothing on her body or the touch of her bedding, or her own body's weight in her bed; she was in this agonizing pain 24 hours a day. Unable to endure the torment any longer, the woman killed herself by tying a plastic bag around her head. To this day, I still wonder if this poor woman's life might not have been saved if she could have tried the miraculous herb, St. John's Wort.

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