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A.Vogel plant encyclopaedia

Hypericum perforatum L.

St. John's wort

History

Hypericum perforatum L. - St. John's wort

St. John's wort, described in the works of Pliny and Dioscurides, was already used in classical antiquity as a medication for somatic and emotional suffering. It was also a component of the theriaca (panacea) Emperor Nero was given by his physician Andromachus as a universal, preemptive antidote to poisonings. In the old Germanic solstice cultures, St. John's wort played an important role; the form and color of its flowers recalled the sun, and it was also regarded as a «bringer of light». With Christianization, the solstice and its plants were dedicated to John the Baptist; the plant begins flowering and exhibits its highest effective agent content on Midsummer or St. John the Baptist's Day (June 24). In folk legend, the plant's red juice symbolizes the blood of the martyr John. The authors of the medieval herbal books also called the plant Corona regia, «royal crown», because its flowers resemble a solar corona.


St. John's wort has long been used in the treatment of wounds and pain. In the middle ages and in the early modern period, it was also used as a psychotherapeutic and apotropaic (a substance warding off evil). It was used in exorcisms, as its name Fuga daemonum (Demon's flight) indicates. In 1525, Paracelsus wrote of St. John's wort: «Each physician should know that God has placed a great arcanum (secret) in the herb, just for the spirits and mad fantasies that drive people to despair. »


The origin of the Greek name for the family, Hypericum, is unclear. One version has it that it derives from "hyper eikon" ("exceeding any imagination") and refers to the plant's great healing power. However, it is more likely connected to the Titan Hyperion («the higher»), whose union with Theia produced the sun god Helios. Helios (also sometimes known as Hyperion), wears a   crown of rays and is called «the illustrious». The species name "perforatum" refers to the flowers and leaves, which look as if they had been perforated with needles.

Botanical characteristics

Hypericum perforatum L. - Botanical characteristics

In spring, several hard, often reddish, hairless stalks grow 50 to 80 cm high from a widely-branched rootstock. The upper part of the stalk is branched and spreads far laterally.

A characteristic trait distinguishing St. John's wort from other Hypericum species is the two longitudinal edges on the stalk. From it grow the stemless, opposing, long-oval, entire leaves, which are covered with fine, black glandular points.

The golden-yellow flowers stand at the tips of the upper twigs and form a broadly spread cymic inflorescence. The five-tipped, asymmetric petals are also covered with glands. Crushing the flowers produces a blood-red juice that dyes the fingers blue-violet. The numerous stamens are clustered in three bundles.

H. perforatum has four subspecies distinguished by the breadth of their sepals. Counterfeits and confusions with other, closely-related   Hypericum species are frequent. They are recognizable by the shape of pieces of the stalks or by conducting thin-layer chromatography.

St. John's wort flowers from the end of June to September.

Habitat

Hypericum perforatum L. - Habitat

St. John's wort is native to and relatively widespread in the moderate climate zones of Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. It was also introduced to other moderate climate zones. It prefers sunny locations on dry, limy or primary rocky soils and is found on fallow land, the edges of meadows and forests, walls, and paths up to an altitude of 1500 meters.

Preparation

Hypericum perforatum L. - Preparation

A.Vogel/Bioforce uses alcohol and oil extracts as well as homeopathic dilutions. They are prepared from the fresh shoot tips of St. John's wort grown in controlled biological cultivation or collected in the wild. The plant is harvested shortly before full flowering. The use of the fresh herb ensures a relatively high hypericin content.


Official designation

St. John's wort

 

Family

Hypericaceae (= Guttiferae)

 

Synonyms

Hypericum officinarum CRANTZ

Hypericum officinale GATER. EX STEUD.

Hypericum vulgare LAM.

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