St. John's wort: photosensitivity.
Date: Thu, 26 Jan 1995 22:11:52 -0800
Sender: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants discussion list <HERB.TREARN.BITNET>
Subject: Re: St. Johnswort, damaging says FDA?
> My mother told me that St. Johnswort was on indicated by an asterisks as a 'don't take' by the FDA. She mentioned that she didn't know why, but that some of those kinds of herbs cause kidney damage.
I have been doing extensive research on Hypericum perforatum (St. Johnswort) and to this day have gathered only five documented cases of Hypericum causing photosensitivity in humans (not kidney damage, but a dermatologic reaction that causes some people redness and skin irritation or hives). In two of these cases, treatments involved a number of other factors that in all likelihood contributed to the reaction.
If you want to talk constituents, Hypericum perforatum contains hypericin, a photodynamic plant quinone. Unlike most other plant-derived phototoxins that are activated by ultraviolet light, hypericin from Hypericum species causes photoactivated damage by absorbing visible light (550-610 nm, max at 585 nm). So if, if, if you are *really* concerned about irritation (i.e. if you are very fair skinned), you might watch out for long exposures to strong sunlight (the hypericin is activated by light in the presence of oxygen, however). But remember, the whole plant activity is more than just a sum of its parts.
I won't go way into it here, only to say that Hypericum in injurious to cattle and sheep, and because of the "economic importance" of such injury - (have to protect those cows so they can be electrocuted, bashed over the head, and eaten later, eh?), the attempt to eradicate Hypericum is wide-spread in the U.S. and Australia (to name a few places). Meanwhile, they are trying to grow more, for medicinal useage, in Germany! In humans, however,the benefits of this beautiful (one of my favorites) herb far outweigh, in my opinion, the relatively rare, (in relation to how much it is used) dermatological reaction that a human may have.
Hypericum has been shown, in double-blind, clinical trials, to have marked benefits to patients with "neurotic depressions or depressive irritations of short duration." (Harrer, G. and H. Sommer. Treatment of mild/moderate Depressions with Hypericum. Phytomedicine. 1994 (1):3-8.) Improvement was shown to be significant after two weeks of consistent usage, and even more marked after four weeks. "Notable side effects were not found." (same source)
Perhaps the traditional use of Hypericum for incontinence of urine in children (see Maud Grieves, A Modern Herbal or King's American Dispensatory) speaks to its safety. Or the fact that Gerard referred to Hypericum as "a most pretious remedie for deep wounds and those that are thorow the bodie, or any wounde made with a venomed weapon." Taken internally, Hypericum acts as a sedative and a relaxing nervine, making it particularly useful in cases of anxious tension and neuralgia. Hypericum is specifically indicated for irritability and anxiety due to menopausal changes. Hypericum is considered a plant psychotropic drug, representing a gap between plant sedatives and "narcotics'. Traditionally indicated for both endogenous and exogenous depression, Hypericum is now counter-indicated for endogenous cases (also cases of bipolar depression or depressive states with an obvious pathology), but is increasingly used for exogenous depression and numbing frustration. It's benefits when used externally are well-documented and clinically proven.(can give you examples if you wish)
Sound like competition for Prozac? You betcha, and our big bros' in the FDA know it too. After all, how can they justify the millions it took to get Prozac on the market, when there's that sweet thing they call Klamath Weed (Hypericum perforatum) growing all over the countryside?
Oh, and I said quickly? Lots more where that came from...