Saturday, February 2, 2013

St John’s-wort

St John’s-wort usually refers to the common St John’s wort, a plant found throughout most of Europe as well as in North Africa and western Asia

It has been recorded in Malta but was considered as a very rare species. The name also refers to the members of the genus of plants known as Hypercium. Three other species of St John’s-wort are found in the Maltese islands.

The Egyptian St. John’s-wort, known in Maltese as fexfiex tal-irdum, is frequently met with on cliff-top garigues and cliff sides. It is in flower from winter to early summer. 

The crisped St. John’s-wort, fexfiex tar-raba’ in Maltese, is common in cultivated ground and other disturbed habitats while the pubescent St. John’s-wort (fexfiex sufi) which flowers in spring and early summer is found in rocky steppe and garigue.

The genus name Hypericum is derived from the Greek words hyper (above) and eikon (picture), in reference to the traditional use of the plant to ward off evil, by hanging plants over a religious icon in the house during St John's day.

In Malta the three more common species of Hypercium had several medicinal uses including as a cure for tapeworm, and to relieve inflammations and the effects of sunburn. When squeezed the plant releases a red liquid which in the past was believed to cure blood-related conditions.

The common St John's-wort is today most widely known as an herbal treatment for depression. Clinical trials have shown that in some cases this is an effective cure and in fact in some countries, such as Germany, it is commonly prescribed for mild depression, especially in children, adolescents. It is also used in its extract form in ear oils/drops for ear infections, ear pain, or tinnitus.

In large doses, St John's-wort is poisonous to grazing livestock including cattle, sheep, and goats.

Hypercium was used medicinally in ancient Greece. Native Americans used it internally as an abortificant and externally as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. The flowers and stem have also been used to produce red and yellow dyes. 

This article was published in The Times on 8 July 2009. 

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