Medicinal plants

St. John's wort - effect and application

St. John's wort - effect and application

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St. John's wort in naturopathy

Johannis herbs, also called Hypericum perforatum, has been used as a medicinal plant for more than 2000 years. This light-bringing herb with the sun-yellow flowers is not only extremely beautiful to look at, but also has a wide range of effects. It is used in the form of tablets, as a mother tincture, tincture, ointment, cream, as an oil, in the form of finished medicinal products and as a homeopathic remedy.

A medicinal plant as a witch herb

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) takes its name from John the Baptist because it blooms around St. John's Day on June 24th. In the English it says St. John's word for the same reason and in the Spanish Hierba de San Juan.

The medicinal plant used to have other names, such as witchweed, walpurgis herb and devil's flight. Tied as a wreath, carried on the head, people used it to dance around the midsummer fire and throw the wreaths into the embers to protect themselves from demons, witches or evil spells. People also believed that the herb, hung on windows, could drive away evil spirits and protect the animals from enchantment in the barn.

The word Hypericum comes from the Greek and is probably composed of "hyper" = about and "eikon" = picture. This could mean that the herb places the soul of man above its bad inner images, its pathological imaginations.


St. John's wort grows along roadsides, on dams in light forests and bushes. The plant is between 25 and 90 centimeters high. It has pronounced creeper roots, between which a spindle-shaped root grows up to 50 centimeters in the ground, a double-edged stem and opposite leaves, the leaf blades of which are covered with oil glands. There are black glands on the leaf margin.

The herb blooms from June to August, the sepals show light and black glands, the petals shine deep yellow. When we grate them, the intense red substance hypericin comes out. That is why the plant is also called “Herrgottsblut” and St. John's wort oil as “Rotöl”.

Propagation by pollen

Bees and hoverflies pollinate the flowers, while self-pollination rarely occurs - it only works when the flowers close. Animals carry off the seeds, and the wind carries them around as well, and the plant reproduces through root creeping shoots.

St. John's wort is common

Genuine St. John's wort naturally grows in several subspecies in Europe, West Asia and North Africa and prefers lean soils: It thrives on the edge of the forest and on the path, on railroad slopes, in the heath and on poor meadows. It is a typical pioneer plant that spreads quickly on gravel roads and in construction areas. It is also typically found with gorse and heather.

Hypericum perforatum occurs in groups, but rarely covers larger areas. As a plant of penumbra, it can cope with moderate heat as well as with dry or slightly moist substrate. However, it does not like acidic soils, it cannot be found in the bog.

Medicinal ingredients

Hypericin, pseudohypericin, flavonoids and bioflavones are contained in various types of the plant, in St. John's wort also hyperforin and adhyperforin, which have an antibiotic effect. The pharmaceutical effect presumably comes about through an interaction of the different substances.

A poisonous medicinal plant

The plant contains a light poison - the dye hypericin leads to "hard hay disease" in farm animals such as goats and sheep in connection with sunlight.

Arnica of the nerves

Today nobody believes in the “witch-like” Hypericum - its healing effect, which is absolutely worth mentioning, is in the foreground. St. John's wort is often referred to as the "arnica of the nerves" and is therefore also used as an emergency homeopathic remedy. In the event of a fall on the spine or tailbone, concussions, in connection with a shock - for all nerve injuries, it is the method of choice. As an emergency aid from homeopathy, it is usually administered in a high potency.

St. John's wort for depression

In naturopathy, St. John's wort is used for mild and moderate depression. Do not self-medicate. A doctor or naturopath must decide which dosage and whether Hypericum can be used at all. Higher doses require a prescription.

To date, however, high-quality studies are lacking, and therefore the benefits of the medicinal plant against depression are controversial; the poorer the quality of the studies in terms of the number of participants and methods, the better the result.

The Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care sees an effect in mild depression as proven; in the meantime, the plant considers it ineffective in severe depression.

The ingredients cause an increase in neurotransmitters. In addition, there is the photosensitizing effect, which leads to increased light utilization. Everyone has heard of the so-called winter depression, which mainly develops due to a lack of light in the dark days. The plant can help here. Their effects can be equated with one or the other antidepressant. Hypericum has an anxiety-relieving, slightly sedative effect and helps with nervous restlessness.

Therapeutic use internally

If a woman suffers from premenstrual syndrome, in which not only physical symptoms such as abdominal pain, water retention and breast tenderness, but also complaints such as depressed mood, increased irritability and mood swings are added, St. John's wort can be the method of choice in many cases. An irritable bladder and bedwetting are also among the areas of application.

In naturopathy, it is a first aid for migraines. Here, this is administered in high doses to stop an impending migraine attack. If you are sensitive to the weather, CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), fibromyalgia, tension headache and tinnitus (buzzing in the ears), treatment with Hypericum is also worth trying.

In folk medicine, the medicinal plant was also used for worms, bronchitis, cough and gallbladder complaints.

St. John's wort oil

As an oil, applied externally, the herb is used for trauma, injuries, muscle tension and spinal complaints. The oil has an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect. It helps with sharp and blunt injuries, with distortions (twisting, straining) and contusions (bruises), hematomas (bruising) and with herpes zoster (shingles).

Its anti-inflammatory component can serve as a preventative measure to prevent pressure ulcers (bedsores) and leg ulcers ("open legs"). The oil works for first degree burns and sunburn. In the latter case, preventive use should be avoided due to the photosensitizing effect. The same applies to the use in connection with radiation therapy: Not before (here the calendula oil is recommended), but afterwards the red oil shows its healing properties.

The oil is often recommended by midwives to pregnant women as perineum care in order to make this area supple and flexible before birth. In addition, pads with soaked gauze compresses help with smaller wounds. It should be mentioned here that the Hyperforin contained can even keep multi-resistant staphylococci at bay.

It can also be used internally. Here, of course, it is essential to pay attention to quality. Alternative practitioners recommend use, for example, for gastritis (gastric mucosal inflammation) and irritable stomach. The oil lines the stomach from the inside, protects it and heals.

In the case of proctitis (inflammation of the rectum wall), enemas are even carried out with St. John's wort oil. In the case of spinal complaints, rubbing in with the red oil makes it easier. In the so-called Breuss massage, a form of massage that is mainly used in naturopathy, only the red oil is used. Its warming and pain relieving substances support the massage. The oil is also suitable for scar care.

Use in homeopathy

In homeopathy, Hypericum is the great remedy for nerve injuries, especially of fingers, toes and nails. When your fingertips are squeezed in the car door, for example, St. John's wort is the method of choice. It is also used for pain after surgery or after falling on the tailbone. Other areas of application in homeopathic form are nausea, hemorrhoids, feelings of pressure above the cross, tingling in the hands and feet, nerve inflammation with burning pain and much more.

Side effects

Since the medicinal plant increases sensitivity to light, especially in fair-skinned people, it is imperative to avoid exposure to the sun in connection with ingestion or external application. Rare side effects include rash, itching, gastrointestinal discomfort, tiredness and restlessness.

The mood brightener can also take over, then the undesirable consequences include strong excitement and manic phases. People suffering from bipolar disorders should therefore be careful with St. John's wort in depressive episodes. You should not overdose it, because in this case a serotonin syndrome can develop, combined with dizziness, flu symptoms, confusion, muscle twitching and overwhelming anxiety.

This is particularly problematic because the psychological characteristics match the depression, and the patients can easily take an additional overdose.

Contraindications, interactions

As already mentioned, people who are sensitive to light should refrain from using them, especially in the summer months, or, if necessary, provide adequate sun protection. In addition, the effects of some medicines are affected by the herb. These include, for example, the contraceptive pill, some anticoagulants, psychotropic drugs, protease inhibitors (e.g. indinavir), cholesterol-lowering drugs, some heart and asthma drugs, blood pressure lowering agents and sedatives.

Danger: Children under the age of twelve, pregnant women and nursing mothers should never take St. John's wort.


St. John's wort is cultivated in rows because of its medicinal properties, but is also considered a “weed” by farmers. Cultivated varieties are Anthos, Motiv, Uperikon, Hyperimed and others.

The producers plant the seeds in the spring or autumn. Pesticides and herbicides are taboo, unwanted wild herbs are removed technically or by hand. The herb can be harvested once or twice a year for up to three years, namely buds, flowers and the tips of the branches, either by hand or by machine. If the plants are to be harvested, combine harvesters are also used. Up to 26 tons of fresh mass come out per hectare.

Final word

In summary, it can be said that the plant alone impresses with its appearance. When you look at it, the effect on the nerve costume becomes clear. This warm color, which provides us with light, figuratively gives man light and joy inside again. (sw, Dr. Utz Anhalt, last updated on January 11, 2018)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Susanne Waschke, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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