The Herbal Bear - Newsletters

July  2009 Newsletter

In this issue

  • St John's Wort - Useful or Placebo?
  • The Herbal Bear Classes

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St John's Wort 

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
By Ursula Basch                                                                            
Herbal Bear School of Botanical Medicine

St John's Wort is a popular herbal remedy most commonly used for depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, and nerve pain.  It is also used by herbalists as a topical antiseptic for minor cuts and scrapes. In Germany, it is commonly prescribed for symptoms of mild to moderate depression.  St John's Wort is not appropriate for severe or clinical depression .  There have been a number of studies with St. John's Wort.  Some studies show significant clinical improvement in people with depression, while other studies show little to no effect - puzzling contradictions for an herb that has had a long history as an antidepressant.  What could be the reasons for such discrepancies?

Possible clues appear when one carefully examines the clinical studies that have been conducted.  Herbalists suggest the use of St. John's Wort for mild to moderate depression.  It is recognized among herbalists that St. John's Wort is not effective for severe depression, yet many of the published studies, which are quoted in the news media,  were conducted on patients whose depression was severe and clinical.  Certainly a study of the efficacy of St. John's Wort's effectiveness on severe depression can be considered useful, if the patients are under medical care.  But the conclusion that St. John's Wort is ineffective on all depression is not sound when the subjects of a study are not normally considered candidates for the herbal use of St. John's Wort.

The usual herbal preparation of St. John's Wort is using the fresh un-opened flower buds and tincturing them in an alcohol/water solution.  However, some studies that are published used either dried plant material, in teas or in tablets.  In certain cases of herbal preparations - there is a vast difference between the efficacy of the fresh plant preparation and a dried plant product.  Many herbalists believe that only fresh St. John's Wort preparations are useful for treating depression.   Even with discrepancies between uses and application, there seems to be clinical indications that St. John's Wort can be useful for those with mild to moderate depression.1



Herb and Drug Interactions of St. John's Wort

One issue of concern that has been well documented in the part ten years is that caution must be used with St. John's Wort when taking other over the counter or prescription drugs. St. John's Wort increases an enzyme in the liver (CYP-450) that helps the liver break down certain drugs so that they may be excreted from the body.  The liver normally has this enzyme present, and the rate of drug metabolism is considered when a medication is prescribed. This is why you you may see a prescription written as "take ever four hours".  St. John's Wort, and other substances such as alcoholic beverages (beer wines and liquors) can increase the CYP-450 enzyme and thereby reduce the concentrations of certain medications in your body.

Research has shown that taking St. John's Wort can limit the effectiveness of some prescription medicines, including:

Antidepressant medicines
Birth control pills
Cyclosporine, a medicine that helps prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs
Digoxin, a medicine used to strengthen heart muscle contractions
Indinavir and other medicines used to control HIV infection
Irinotecan and other anticancer medicines
Warfarin and related medicines used to thin the blood (known as anticoagulants)

If you are on prescription medications, always consult your physician before taking St. John's Wort.

St Johns Wort




1 Studies on St John's Wort:

Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L. St. John's wort for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Oct. 2008 8;(4):CD000448.
Hypericum extract for treatment of depression: 1: Harefuah. 2009 Mar;148(3):183-5, 210, 209.
Long-term effects of St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) treatment: a 1-year safety study in mild to moderate depression. Phytomedicine. 2009 Apr;16(4):277-83. Epub 2009 Mar 18.



We are offering the following NYC classes: 


Herbal Soap Making - Saturday, July 18, 2009 Grand Gorge, NY
Wild Herbal Walk - Friday, July 10, 2009 Grand Gorge, NY

Herbal Preparations Workshop - Friday, July 24, 2009; 6:30pm - 8:30pm NYC

Herbal Soap Making - Saturday, July 25, 2009; 12:30pm - 2:30pm NYC
Wild Herbal Walk - Friday, August 7, 2009 Grand Gorge, NY
An Introduction to Herbal Medicine - Friday, August 14, 2009; 6:30pm - 8:30pm NYC
Herbal Preparations Workshop - Friday, August 21, 2009; 6:30pm - 8:30pm NYC
Medical Botany - 6 Classes: Sept. 18 to Nov. 6, 2009; 6:30pm - 8:30pm NYC
Click on any of the above courses to see a full description.

For our full schedule, including classes in the Catskills - please visit this link

We are also currently accepting applications for the 2010 Botanical Medicine Program.

2010 Botanical Medicine Program
A six weekend intensive program for those interested in a well rounded education in herbal studies. This class is designed to give  students a solid foundation in herbalism.  Each class we will learn about herbs for the different systems including: the digestive, nervous, cardiac, reproductive, and immune system.  Students will learn plant identification, harvesting techniques, medicinal plant preparations and herbal formula development.   This class is held in the Northern Catskills on a private 30 acre property.  Many of the medicinal plants we study are growing in our gardens or found on our property.  Unlike other herbals classes, this class incorporates field work with the plants.  You will be able to see, study and harvest medicinal plants throughout the entire growing season.  This class is designed for beginning and intermediate herbal students. For a full description of this class - please follow
this link

If you have any specific questions about our programs, please feel free to contact us


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