Hypericum perforatum

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum L.): A Review

Introduction

Among the many medicinal herbs used throughout the long history of Occidental
culture, St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum L., has always been
and still is of great interest. From the time of the ancient Greeks down
through the Middle Ages, the plant was considered to be imbued with magical
powers and was used to ward off evil and protect against disease. As a practical
folk-remedy, it has been used widely to heal wounds, remedy kidney troubles,
and alleviate nervous disorders, even insanity.

In the last thirty years Hypericum perforatum has undergone extensive
clinical and laboratory testing. The present article reviews the plant’s
botany, history of use, chemistry, pharmacology, pharmacodynamics, medical
uses, and preparations.

Botany

Taxonomy and Description
St. John’s wort is a member of the genus Hypericum, of which there are 400 species worldwide.
There is some disagreement as to the plant’s family, some placing Hypericum in the segregate family Hypericaceae, while others place it in the family Guttiferae. However, most researchers now think that the
morphological and chemical differences of the two families are insufficient to justify separating them (1,2).

The plants are described as glabrous perennials, erect and usually woody at the base. The ovate to linear
leaves are sessile, opposite, and well-supplied with translucent glandular dots. The regular flowers have five
short, subequal, entire, imbricate, basally connate sepals, and five persistent-withering yellow petals. The
ovary is superior, capsicular, and three-styled. Stamens are many, arranged in bundles of threes, and the
flowers are profuse, arranged in branched cymes which bloom from June until September. In the absence of
insect pollination, apomixis commonly occurs.


St. John’s wort should not be confused with rose of sharon (H. calycinum), a common
ornamental ground-cover in the United States. Rose of sharon flowers and leaves are much larger than those
of St. John’s wort (though interestingly, anti-biotic substances have been extracted from H.
calycinum
that are similar in activity to substances in H. perforatum (3).

Range and Habitat

St. John’s wort is native to Europe, West Asia, North Africa, Madeira and the Azores, and is naturalized in
many parts of the world, notably North America and Australia (4,5). The plant spreads rapidly by means of
runners or from the prodigous seed production and can invade pastures, disturbed sites, dirt roads, the sides
of roads and highways, and sparse woods.

In the western United States, St. John’s wort is especially prevalent in northern California and southern
Oregon, hence one of its common names, “Klamath Weed”. Because of the known photosensitizing
properties of the plant, which can be toxic to cows and sheep, it has been considered a pest in some places.
Prior to 1949, it was estimated to inhabit 2.34 million acres of rangeland in northern California. For years
an attempt was made to control the plant with herbicides6, but with little success.

The solution to the problem with St. John’s wort in northern California finally proved to be with biological
methods of control, not pesticides. In 1946, the leaf-beetles Chrysolina quadrigemina Rossi, and to
a lesser extent C. hyperici Forst, were introduced from Australia, where it had been observed that
they had a voracious appetite for Hypericum. Their appetite proved to be so voracious, in fact, that
by 1957 northern California’s stands of St. John’s wort were reduced to only 1% of their original number (5).

Ironically, however, at the time of release of the Chrysolina beetles in California, it was not known
that herbalists would one day keep Hypericum populations well under control.

Etymology of Nomenclature

The name Hypericum is ancient and may have several derivations. Yperikon was first
mentioned by Euryphon, a Greek doctor from 288 BC (7). Pliny called the ground pine Hyperikon,
though also chamaepitys and corion (8). One common explanation for the name
Hypericum is that it may derive from ereike (heather) and hyper (above) (9). However,
although one Greek species of Hypericum looked similar to heather (though it grew taller), it seems
more likely that the name derives from eikon (a figure, possibly an unwanted apparition) and
hyper (above), which relates to the ancient use of St. John’s wort to exorcise evil spirits or
influences (10), since the plant may have been placed over religious icons as a symbol of protection. Linnaeus,
who described the genus, thought that Hypericum came from yper (upper) and eikon
(an image) (vv11).

The common name, St. John’s wort, is obviously a reference to St. John. Its earliest use may date back to the
6th century AD when, according to Gaelic tradition, the missionary St. Columba always carried a piece of
St. John’s wort because of his great regard for St. John (12). Some early Christian authors claimed that red
spots, symbolic of the blood of St. John, appeared on leaves of Hypericum spp. on August 29, the
anniversary of the saint’s beheading, while others considered that the best day to pick the plant was on June
24, the day of St. John’s feast (10). In the Christian tradition, St. John represents light, hence the flowers were
taken as a reminder of the sun’s bounty (13).

History of Use

Dioscorides, the foremost herbalist of the ancient Greeks, mentions four species of Hypericum
Uperikon, Askuron and Androsaimon, and Koris–which he recommends
for sciatica, “when drunk with 2 heim of hydromel (honey-water).” He also claims that it “expels many
cholerick excrement, but it must be given continuously, until they be cured, and being smeared on it is good
for ambusta (burns).” H. crispum and H. barbatum, he writes, have “a diuretical facility….and
of moving ye menstrua. The seed being drunk for 40 days drives away tertians and quartans (fevers occurring
every 3 or 4 days, possibly malaria)” (14).

Theophrastus recommends H. lanuginosum, a Greek species, for external application, while Pliny
says it should be taken in wine against poisonous reptiles. H. coris, another Greek species, was
mentioned by Hippocrates and Pliny (15). Although many older authors attest that the ancients knew of
Hypericum as Fuga daemonum and used it to drive away demons, none make reference to
any specific writers (16). Dioscorides, Pliny, and Theophrastus do not mention either this name or this use of
the plant, but herbalists from the 16th and 17th centuries commonly mention the name.

In the early humoral system of medicine, Galen considered Hypericum to be hot and dry, while
Paracelsus wrote of the plant in the early 1500’s that it could be used as an amulet against enchantments and
apparitions (17). St. John’s wort was used in early pre-Christian religious practices in England, and it has
many legends written about it (18). For instance, one belief was that bringing the flowers of St. John’s wort
into the house on a midsummer eve would protect one from the evil eye, banish witches, etc. Another belief
was that that if one slept with a piece of the plant under one’s pillow on St. John’s Eve, “the Saint would
appear in a dream, give his blessing, and prevent one from dying during the following year” (17). The favor St.
John’s wort enjoyed is well expressed in the following poem (19):

St. John’s wort doth charm all the witches away.

If gathered at midnight on the saint’s holy day.

And devils and witches have no power to harm

Those that do gather the plant for a charm:

Rub the lintels and post with that red juicy flower

No thunder nor tempest will then have the power

To hurt or to hinder your houses: and bind

Round your neck a charm of a similar kind.


Several noted English herbalists, reflecting the general beliefs of their time, wrote very favorably of the
virtues of St. John’s wort. For instance, Gerard (ca. 1600) tells of the ointment he made of the plant as being
a “most precious remedy for deepe wounds”, and adds that “there is not a better natural balsam….to cure any
such wound” (20).

Culpeper (ca. 1650), who was fond of ascribing astrological signs to medicinal herbs, says that
Hypericum “is under the celestial sign Leo, and the dominion of the Sun.” He goes on to say that “it
is a singular wound herb, healing inward hurts or bruises,” and that as an ointment “it opens obstructions,
dissolves swelling and closes up the lips of wounds.” Also, he claims it is good for those who “are bitten or
stung by any venomous creature, and for those that cannot make water”–which use modern science
confirms–and adds that the plant helps with “sciatica, the falling sickness and the palsy” (21).

Other early uses of Hypericum include as an oil (made by macerating the flowering tops of the plant
in oil and then placing them in the sun for two or three weeks), which was “esteemed as one of the most
popular and curative applications in Europe for excoriations, wounds, and bruises” (22). This preparation was
even used by the surgeons to clean foul wounds, and was official in the first London Pharmacopeia as
Oleum Hyperici (23).

Other popular folk-uses for St. John’s wort have included: as a decoction for gravel and ulcerations of the
ureter (24); for ulcerations of the kidneys, febrifuge, vermifuge, jaundice, gout, and rheumatism (25); as an
infusion (1 ounce of herb to 1 pint water) for chronic catarrhs of the lungs, bowels, or urinary passages; and
as a warm lotion on injuries to the spinal cord, for lacerated or injured nerves, bed sores, and lock-jaw (26).

The native American Indians used several indigenous species of Hypericum as an abortifacient,
antidiarrheal, dermatological aid, febrifuge, hemostat, snake bite remedy, and general strengthener. After St.
John’s wort was introduced by European settlers, they used it as well for similar conditions (27,28).

As for the young United States, St. John’s wort was not well-known and was rarely mentioned by prominent
writers on the subject of medicinal plants. One of the first references to the plant is from Griffith (1847),
who says it can be used as an oil or ointment for ulcers, tumors, and as a diuretic (29). Even the Eclectics,
medical doctors from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s who favored herbs in their practice, did not use St.
John’s wort much.

Nonetheless, King, in his Dispensatory (1876), mentions its use in urinary affections, diarrhea,
worms, jaundice, menorrhagia, hysteria, nervous imbalances with depression, and its usual external
applications, including the use of the saturated tincture as a substitute for arnica, in bruises (30). In the later
Felter-Lloyd revision of King’s Dispensatory, tincture of St. John’s wort, in a dose of 10-30 drops
mixed with 4 ounces of water, taken in teaspoonful doses every 1-2 hours, is prescribed for spinal irritation,
shocks, concussions, puncture wounds, and hysteria (31).

Today, modern American herbalists still use St. John’s wort for many of the same conditions for which it has
been recommended throughout the ages (32,33).

Chemistry

The genus Hypericum has an exceedingly complex and diverse chemical makeup. H.
perforatum
has been most intensively studied, but there is data available on 66 other species (34). The
compounds that have been identified from H. perforatum can be divided into several classes, which
are summarized along with their pharmacological activity in Table 1.


Table 1. Summary of Constituents and Activity from Hypericum perforatum

Constituents & References
Activity & References
Dianthrone derivatives 35,36,37
hypreicin, pseudohypericin, frangula-emodin anthranol (and a mixture of the precursors, proto-hypericin & hypericodehydrodianthrone
38,39
photodynamic, anti-depressive (MOA inhibitor), anti-viral
Flavanols 40,41
(+)-catechin (+polymers: condensed tannis), leucocyanidin, (-)-epicatechin (total tannin content is 6.5-1.5%)
42
astringent, anti-inflammatory, styptic, anti-viral
Flavinoids 43,44,45,46,47,48,49,
hyperoside (hyperin), quercetin, isoquercetin, rutin, methyhespericin, iso-quercitrin, quercitrin, I-3/II-8-biapigenin, kaempferol
50,51,52,53,54
capilary-strenghening, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, cholagogic, dilates coronary, arteries, sedative, tumor inhibition, antitumor, antidiarrheal
Xanthones55
xanthonolignoid compound (roots)
56,57,58
generally, xanthones exhibit anti-depressant, antitubercular, choleretic, diuretic, antimicrobial, antiviral and cardiotonic activity
Coumarins 59
umbelliferone, scopoletin
Phenolic corboxylic acids 60,61
caffieic acid, chrlorogenic acid, genistic acid, ferulic acid
Phloroglucinol derivatives 62,63,64
hyperforin
65
anti-bacterial (Staphylococcus aureus)
Essential oil components

    monoterpenes 68,69
    a-pinene, B-pinene, myreene, limonene
    Sespuiterpenes 70
    caryophyllen, humulene

66,67
(small amounts–0.05-0.3%); the physiological activity of mono-and sespuiterpenes are reviewed elsewhere; H. perforatum essential oil is antifungal
n-Alkanes 71,72
methyl-2-octane, n-nonane,methyl1-2-decane, n-undecane, all in the series C16-C29(especially nonacosane)
n-Alkanols 73
0.42% of total dried herb: 1-tetracosanol (9.7%), 1-hexacosanol (27.4%), 1-octacosanol (39.4%), 1-triacontanol (23.4%)
74,75,76,77,78,79,80
health products including octacosanol are sold in Japan and the U.S. as “metabolic stimulants” (Japanese studies show it stimulates feeding of silkworm larvae; studies with neurological disorders (Parkinson’s, ALS, MS) show mixed results
Carotenoids81
epoxyxanthophylls
82
available oxygen in xanthophylls may explain burn-healing activity
Phytosterols 83
B-sitosterol


The hyperin and tannin content of H. perforatum is higher at growth temperatures above 14
degrees C. (tannin, 15.06% of dry weight) than below (13.42%). Both hyperin and rutin content is higher in
dry conditions (1.25% and 2.32% respectively) than wet conditions (no figure given and 1.89%,
respectively). Hyperin content is highest at 7pm (84). Total tannin content is highest when the buds are
forming, just prior to flowering, in June (85,86).

Higher amounts of flavonoids, including rutin, quercetin, and hyperin occur in plants of northern slopes
with few generative shoots (87). Flavonoid content (rutin, hyperin, quercetin, and quercitrin) is highest in the
leaves of St. John’s wort, and is at maximum concentration during full bloom. In the flowers, the content of
flavonoids is highest at the start of flowering, falling sharply during flowering (88).

St. John’s wort (flowers) had the highest content of flavonoids (11.71%) of any of 223 species tested (89).

Pharmacology

Extracts of the flowering tops of Hypericum perforatum have shown a variety of effects in the
laboratory, including psychotropic activity, wound and burn-healing activity, bactericidal effect against
pathogens in pyelitis and cystitis, anti-viral effects, sunscreen activity (disputed), antidepressive activity,
and diuretic, anthelmintic, and mildly uterotonic activity (90, 91, 92). Although much more work needs to be
done to validate the use of St. John’s wort for the many uses it finds in clinical and common practice, there
are a few laboratory studies which corroborate its use for some of these conditions and point the way for
further research.

Following is a summary of the laboratory work that has been conducted on the pharmacological effects of
St. John’s wort extract or oil.

Anti-depressive and Psychotropic Activity

Among the most common psychiatric illnesses today are depression, mania, (abnormal elation with
irritability), bipolar affective disorder, characterized by swings between depression and mania, and
schizophrenia. One of the best-known (but contoversial) theories hypothesizes that depression is caused by
deficiency or decreased effectivness of norepinephrine and serotonin, acting as nerve-impulse transmitting
substances (neurotransmitters), in particular nerve pathways. One method for treating depression uses the
monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors which retard one of the enzymes responsible for monoamine (a
precursor) breakdown, increasing the concentration of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (93,
94).

Because of St. John’s wort’s history of use for psychiatric conditions, it was tested for MAO inhibiting
activity. Suzuki, et al. (1984), in an international effort, first demonstrated that xanthones, common in the
Guttiferae (the family of St. John’s wort) and the Gentianaceae (Gentian family), inhibit both type A and B
monoamine oxidase. Among these is the compounds isogentisin, which has been found in some species of
Hypericum, but not H. perforatum (95, 96). A further study by the same group found that
hypericin from H. perforatum irreversibly inhibits type A and B MAO in vivo. The authors
stress, however, that although this study is suggestive, no definite conclusion can be drawn yet regarding St.
John’s wort’s antidepressant activity (97).

A standardized (hypericin) extract of H. perforatum has been tested in various animal models
generally used for determining antidepressant activity, and has been found to enhance the exploratory
activity of mice in a foreign environment, extended the narcotic sleeping time dose-dependently, and has
shown reserpine antagonism and decreased aggressive behavior in socially isolated male mice (98).

Muldner and Zoller (1984), in a clinical trial with 6 depressive women, 55-65 years old, measured
smetabolites of noradrenaline and dopamine in the urine, and found that after taking a standardized
hypericin extract, there was a significant increase in 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglucol, a marker for the
beginning of an antidepressive reaction. The same research team, working with 15 women taking a standard
hypercin extract, demonstrated an improvement in symptoms of anxiety, dysphoric mood, loss of interest,
hypersomnia, anorexia, depression (worse in the morning), insomnia, obstipation, psychomotoric
retardation, and feelings of worthlessness. They reported no side-effects (99).

Wound and Burn Healing

In a number of studies St. John’s wort extracts have demonstrated anti-bacterial and wound-healing activity.
For instance, two widely prescribed Russian preparations of Hypericum, novoimanine and imanine,
have been tested for Staphylococcus aureus infection in vivo and in vitro, and been
found to be more effective than sulfonilamide (100, 101, 102). Hyperforin, a bicyclic tetraketone from H.
perforatum
, is reported to be a main antibiotic constituent of novoimanine (103).

One German patent mentions that an ointment containing an extract of St. John’s wort flowers shortened
healing time of burns and showed antiseptic activity (104). According to the report, first degree burns healed
in 48 hours when treated with the ointment, while second and third degree burns healed without keloid (a
type of scar tissue) formation three times faster than burns treated by conventional methods.

Other reports include that a freeze-dried St. John’s-wort extract suppressed inflammation and leukocyte
infiltration in vivo (105), and that St. John’s wort oil has been used in commercial products as a sun
screen. However, reports of its efficacy in this latter regard are contradictory (106, 107).

Anti-viral Effects

International interest increased in St. John’s wort after researchers from New York University medical center
and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel demonstrated that two compounds from the plant strongly
inhibit a variety of retroviruses in vitro and in vivo (108). Several points bear citing from their
report:

  • “When the compounds interact with the infecting particles shortly after in vivo administration,
    disease is completely prevented.”
  • “Preliminary in vitro studies with pseudohypericin indicate that it can
    reduce the spread of HIV.”
  • The total yield of hypericin and psuedohypericin from H.
    triquetrifolium
    Turra was 0.04%.
  • The compounds were still effective when administered orally or
    i.p. within 1 day of infection.
  • No serious toxic side effects were noticed after testing over 800 mice
    with the compounds. Administration of the compounds did not result in abnormalities in any of a wide
    variety of clinical tests performed on the animals.
  • Hypericin shows toxicity to some human cells at very
    high concentrations (>10 ug/ml, or lower for some cell types). Pseudohypericin is less toxic. Fortunately,
    the compounds show remarkable antiviral potency “after one administration of a relatively small dose of the
    compounds.”
  • “The compounds directly inactivate the virions or interfere with assembly or shedding of
    assembled viral particles.”
  • “The compounds can cross the blood-brain barrier” (important for HIV
    infection).

One word of caution, however: although Hypericum extracts appear promising for the treatment of
retroviral infections, including HIV, it must be stressed that there has been no clinical evidence of its
efficacy in humans to date (for HIV infection), and several questions remained unanswered. For instance,
there is no information about the concentration needed for efficacy, even if the compounds are effective in
HIV infection in humans. Furthermore, if a large concentration is effective, is it close to the
photosensitizing dose? Also, it must
be pointed out that the total content of these two compounds in Hypericum is quite low (dried H.
perforatum
has been reported to contain 0.24% hypericin109), consequently, a standardized extract (to
hypericin content) may be the surest way to administer the plant for viral therapy.

Clinical Applications

Clearly, the potential scope of clinical application of St. John’s wort is extensive. However, if one narrows the focus down to those activities that are most mentioned, such as anti-bacterial, anti-phlogistic, diuretic,
and anti-depressive, specific clinical applications become more restricted.

In modern European medicine, St. John’s wort extracts are included in many over-the-counter and
prescription drugs for mild depression, and have clinical application for bed-wetting and nightmares in
children. The extract is included in diuretic preparations, and the oil is taken internally by the teaspoon to
help heal gastritis, gastric ulcers, and inflammatory conditions of the colon (using a retention enema) (110).
The oil is also used extensively in burn and wound remedies, externally.

Table 2, taken from the German Health Department’s official monograph on St. John’s wort (1984),
summarizes the current clinical applications of the plant (105,106).


Table 2. Clinical Indications for St. John’s wort
Herb source: flowers of Hypericum perforatum, “gathered during the time of blooming or of the
dried parts above the ground, as well as their preparations, in effective dosages.”

Clinical applications: Internally: “psychovegetative disturbances, depressive states, fear and/or
nervous disturbances. Oily hypericum preparations during dyspeptic disturbances.” Externally:
“Oily hypericum preparations for the treatment or after treatment of sharp or abrasive wounds, myalgias
(muscular pain) and first degree burns.”

Contraindications: “None known.”
Side effects: “Photosensitization is possible, especially in light skinned people.”
Interference with other drugs: “None known.”
Dosage schedule: Average daily dose recommended is 2-4 grams of the powdered herb, or 0.2-1.0 g
hypericin as a powdered extract.
Method of use: “Cut or powdered plant, liquid and solid forms for oral administration. “Liquid and semi-
solid forms for external use.”
Effects: Mild anti-depressant action (monoamineoxidase [MAO] inhibitor), oily preparations have
antiphlogistic activity. “Diuretic activity,…direct effect on smooth musculature.”

Toxicity

Besides its long history of use as a medicinal plant, St. John’s wort is also known as a photosensitizing
plant that can cause sickness and even death in grazing animals (when large amounts are eaten), particularly
cattle, sheep, horses, and goats, but also rabbits and rats111. This toxic activity of St. John’s wort was first
noted in the literature by Cirillo (1787), and since then, there have been many papers published, and the
effect mentioned numerous times (112). The plant, however, does not seem to be a major threat to livestock,
because the first symptoms of Hypericum intoxication includes loss of appetite, which makes the
absorption of the photodynamic pigment, hypericin, self-limiting (113).

In the case of Hypericum toxicity, the compound hypericin is absorbed from the intestine and
concentrates near the skin. When the skin of the animal is exposed to sunlight, an allergic reaction takes
place. Oxygen is necessary for the photodynamic hemolysis, leading to tissue damage. In the absence of
sunlight, a reaction will not occur, and the compound does not show particular toxicity. (114, 115) This first
type of reaction is called ‘primary photosensitization’ (116). Another, more serious type, is secondary
photosensitization, where the liver and other internal organs can be damaged (117).

Cattle appear to be more sensitive to the phototoxicity of hypericin than sheep. In one test with cattle, a
single dose of 1 g per kg bodyweight of dried Hypericum showed no photosensitization or changes
in liver enzymes, but 3-4 g did. If humans were as sensitive to hypericin as cattle, this dose would correlate
to 59 gms for a 130 lb individual. Importantly, hypericin does not seem to be accumulative. (118)

Although there have been a considerable number of studies published demonstrating the phototoxicity of
hypericin in various animal species (119, 120), a thorough search by this writer brings to light no evidence that
there has ever been a case involving human toxicity.

Some authors recommend caution when using large quantities of St. John’s wort extract for medicinal uses,
particularly for people with fair skins, who should not expose themselves to strong sunlight during
Hypericum therapy (121). Judging by the available literature, a very moderate dose, up to 4 g of the
dried herb, 30 ml of the 1:5 tincture (40% EtOH), or 240 grams of the 1:5 powdered extract per day
(standardized to 0.125% hypericin), should not pose a problem, if sunlight restriction is followed (122, 123),
especially given the widespread use of H. perforatum extracts in Europe. One major product is
recommended by the manufacturer to be taken as 40 mg tablets (1-2 tablets, 3 times a day).

Preparations

Hypericin was more effectively extracted with glycol and sunflower seed oil when the moisture content of
the herb was between 50 and 70%, and 2-7 times higher at 70 degree C. than at 20 degree C. The menstruum
was saturated after 12 hours and 24 hours respectively, but it took 3-4 extractions to exhaust the herb (124).
The total extraction in one hour of hypericin with ethanol was not dependent on water content of the herb.
The authors conclude that ethanol is the most suited menstruum for the extraction of dried material (125).

Freshly air-dried herb was moistened to 70-72% moisture and extracted at 70 degree at 1:7 with sunflower
seed oil. The total content of hypericin was 2.5 mg%, and extracting the marc with ethanol could increase
the content to 3.32 mg% (a 25% increase)(126).

Hypericin content of a juice of H. perforatum and a powdered extract dropped by 14% during 1 year,
and the dry extract remained stable, when stored at 20 degree C. When stored at 60 degree C., the hypericin
content dropped 33%, 33%, and 47% from a powdered extract, tablets, and liquid juice, respectively (127).

In one extensive study, up to 80% of the hypericin was destroyed by drying of the fresh plant in
sunlight (128). For this reason, modern herbalists generally grind the fresh tops of Hypericum
and immediately macerate them in olive oil or sunflower seed oil. The oil is then pressed and filtered after
two weeks, and should be stored in amber bottles away from heat and light. An alcoholic tincture is made in
the same way, macerating the fresh, ground tops in 70% ethyl alcohol and 30% distilled water.

St. John’s wort is currently official in the pharmacopeias of Czeckoslovakia, Poland, Roumania, and Soviet
Union (129).

Identification and Adulteration

For identification of cut and sifted material from the commercial drug market, note the two opposite ridges
on the stems. These are prominent, and an important character in differentiating different Hypericum
species (see Fig. 1).

Ideally, the commercial drug should consist mostly of flowering tops, but in common practice the whole
above-ground plant with a considerable quantity of stem may be present. Flowers that are present should
consist of 70-90% (or more) with immature capsules, otherwise the plants may have been harvested too late
in the season. The hypericin content declines immediately after anthesis (flower maturity and pollination).

The leaves, when observed with a 10X hand lens, should be characterized by many punctate glands, clearly
distinguishable by holding them up to a light source. The flowers will all contain fragments of the persistent
dried petals, which may have red glands (appearing black) around the perimeter.

The taste (and smell) of St. John’s wort is characteristicly slightly sweet, bitter, and astringent.

A commercial oil or tincture of Hypericum should be vivid, almost fluorescent red. If the preparation
is pale red to pink, the hypericin content, and thus the quality of the product, is suspect.

Several methods are given in the literature for the TLC and HPLC identification of hypericin (130, 131, 132,
133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138), and Katalin et al (1982) report on the histological examination of St. John’s
wort leaves (139).

Since tannins play a role in the therapeutic action of St. John’s wort extracts, standardization with this
fraction has been recommended (liquid extract containing 1% tannins) (140).


Literature
Review: An earlier review (1969) covers the history, development and photodynamic effect, chemical
constituents, synthesis of hypericin, pharmacology and uses with 127 references (in German)
141.

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4. Hickey, M. & C. King. 1981. 100 Families of flowering plants, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

5. Wichtl, M. 1986. “Hypericum perforatum L. –Das Johanniskraut”, Zeitschrift fur Phytotherapie
3: 87-90.

6. Campbell, M.H., et al. 1979. “Effect of time of application of herbicides on the long-term
control of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum var. angustifolium),” Aust. J. Exp. Agric. Anim.
Husb. 101: 746-8.

7. Pickering, C. 1879. Chronological History of Plants, Little, Brown & Co., Boston.

8. Jones, W.H.S. 1964. Pliny–Natural History v. VI: 8, 53. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

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