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By Julene Tripp Weaver

Using St. John's Wort as an Anti-Viral

In 1992 I studied with local herbalist Ryan Drum. He had some tips for what helped the immune system, but when I asked him what someone who was HIV positive could use to help ward off AIDS, he gave me this information: Use St. John's Wort oil topically -(on your skin ) in three places ; 1 - the inside of your upper arms, 2 - the inside of your thighs, and 3 - the soles of your feet (particularly the soft inner skin of the arch). Do this every night before you go to bed, more if possible. He was sure to tell me that whoever does this is the experiment, because there are no published studies on topically applied Hypericum oil for HIV -- mainly because there is no money in it for the drug companies. In addition you can also use a tincture (extract) up to three times a day, in tea or water. It is a local plant and is safe to use on a daily basis. Since then I have also been told by an acupuncturist that it would also be a good idea to use the oil on one's belly. This is another soft spot where there is good absorption through the skin.

St. John's Wort has a long history of research as an anti-viral, and scientists have tried to separate the active ingredient (Hypericum) out and put it in pill form (this is where the money is). They have discovered that this does have anti-viral properties, but they have not successfully been able to separate out the Hypericum. The plant can suppress viral growth in cells, but can one get enough of it in ones body to make a difference?

Mostly everyone knows the whole is better than the sum of its parts. If you have a vitamin C pill and an orange, the orange is going to be more useful for your body. Plants & herbs work differently from pills in the body, because the body gets to choose what it needs, while medicines force the body, thereby stressing your system. St. John's Wort works as an anti-viral when it's whole, or when the whole plant is used to make a tincture or oil. Using the oil this way helps suppress viral growth in cells, it is a suppressant, not a cure. Using the oil in this way, through your skin, your body can take in exactly what it needs to work best to surpress the virus.

The tincture of St. John's Wort flowers is called "bottled sunshine" because it acts as a mood elevator, although it is not meant for major depression. It is also a muscle relaxer, and works well for joint problems and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It heals and regenerates nerves, so the oil & tincture can be used for peripheral neuropathy.

Side Effects: The only side effect known is photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight), which was discovered in albino cows who grazed on St. John's Wort when it was the only green plant left in the fields. Ironically, this means that it works great as a suntan oil. Because of its affinity for sun and curing properties for burns, herbalist Susun Weed calls it "St. Joan's Wort," in honor of Joan of Arc.

Where to get it: The tincture and oil should be available at most good herbal stores or co-ops.

Harvesting your own St. John's Wort

The name St. John's Wort comes from St. John of the cross's birthday which is also Midsummer day and has traditionally been celebrated on June 24th. It is around this time the plant begins to flower and it will continue to flower through out the summer. The wild plant has small yellow flowers that appear to form a cross. If you squish one of the unopened buds between your fingertips you will get a purple stain -- this is the oil hypericum that has the anti-viral and anti-depressant properties. It is best to harvest when the flowers are just beginning to open and there is a mix of flowers & buds. The large flowers that grow as low hedges are not medicinal, they have none of the hypericum oil that has the valuable properties, so make sure you are getting the right plant, remember the flowers are small.

St. John's Wort grows well in clear cut areas that have been disturbed, it likes to grow in the sun. You may wonder what a disturbed area is, I did when I was first learning, it means simply an area that has had some movement where seeds were able to be spread. Maybe bulldozers have plowed through an area.

How to make a tincture: Tincturing is simple -- You always use fresh plant material to make a tincture -- Identify and pick* the plant you want to tincture, look through the plant material and discard any damaged parts, do not wash any part of the plant, pack a jar tightly to the top with the plant material. Then fill with 100 proof vodka. Cap the jar tightly. Label the jar with plant name, Latin name, date, and where you picked it. (1) On the 2nd day fill it to the top again with vodka as well (because it settles). Let it sit for 6 to 8 weeks. You can decant after 6 weeks. Use a cheesecloth and squeeze it out.
How to make an Oil: To make oil it is important that you pick plants that are dry, best conditions are when the prior 36 hours have been free from rain. Also be alert that there is no morning mist still on the plants. Any moisture on plants will cause your oil to mold and will waste precious olive oil, the plants, and the energy and time it took to pick. Follow the same procedure as tincturing except you will use olive oil. To help preserve the oil once you have separated it break a few Vitamin E capsules into the oil and blend in. This is one of several ways to help prevent the oil from going rancid. Another possibility would be to add a few drops of Grapefruit Extract (NutriBiotic Liquid Concentrate).
*When picking pull the buds and leaves up and off the stem with your finger tips and they will regrow throughout the summer.
(1) It is a good idea to keep a harvesting journal, noting the plant, date, weather conditions, time of day and amount harvested. As for weather conditions it is a good idea not to pick until there have been two consecutive sunny days. Keeping a journal will help you remember details from year to year, it will assist you in knowing how much you use a year so you only harvest what you need each year.
Feature Article: St. John's Wort, HerbalGram, Published by the American Botanical Council and the Herb Research Foundation, No. 18/19, Fall 1988/Winter 1989, pg. 24 - 33.

Disclaimer: Please be advised this is a sharing of information that is not meant to be used to replace medical treatment and your own intuitive sense of your body and what it needs. Please see your medical provider (Dr., Naturopath, Acupuncturist, etc.) to follow up on suggestions.