me kay cooke

St John’s Wort

Take a look at this wondrous sculpture of the St John’s Wort Serpent newly installed in Dilston Physic Garden, here in Northumberland. The new sculpture represents a fascinating bridge between magic and medicine and was made by sculptor in residence, John Rutherford.

The ancients believed St John’s Wort (SJW) plant would exorcise the devil or their demons – the metaphor used when people felt depressed and thinking they were possessed. What a great old story to illustrate how magical ideas have kept the medicinal use of this plant going all these years because SJW is still used today as an antidepressant herbal medicine.

Hypericum perforatum – a plant with holes in its leaves, acquired its common English name, SJW, as it flowers in midsummer (this Sunday) on the day of John the Baptist. So it is truly a holy plant!

SJW is used clinically in modern botanical medicine in the UK to treat depression. There are many clinical trials indicating it as effective as antidepressant drugs like prozac for mild to moderate depression, but without the side-effects.

A recent review suggests it “has a very favourable safety profile, with adverse event rates on the same level as placebo and lower than that of synthetic antidepressants, in randomised controlled trials. It may therefore also be an option for patients who do not tolerate other antidepressant drugs. Patients with polydrug treatment should nevertheless use the drug with caution, due to its potential for interactions.”

The phoenix rising is the physic garden’s emblem that signifies re-birth of a modern physic garden, where 21st century scientific research harmonises magical tales, folklore, and global wisdoms regarding our natural environment.

The plants in nature’s medicine chest have provided age-old remedies supported by medical practises encapsulated in great herbal books like John Gerard’s Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597), and Nicholas Culpepper’s The Complete Herbal (1653).

Whilst ‘experts’ in herbal medicine have traditionally been found in the form of shaman, physicians, medical herbalists, monks and nuns, it was often mothers and grandmothers who knew as much as any. Magical tales and folklore provided such wisdoms.

It is said that in today’s medicine, over half of all drugs are derived from plant chemicals, which proves particular plants as safe and effective. Thankfully stringent clinical trials can prove this.

Sadly, most drugs are now synthetically made (and with side effects), generating enormous financial power, whilst ostracising resources found freely within nature.

Despite the decline of herbal medicine in the West over the last century, and the demise of once commonplace physic gardens, Dilston Physic Garden – an educational charity – continues to strive forward leading a revival of interest in the treasure chest of nature’s wisdom and spread the word on great plant potentials for new, safe and effective therapies.

Plant medicine is as old as human life on earth. And yet, what seems to have been forgotten (at least in the West) is that plants can still heal.

I’m a Trustee and volunteer at this wonderful place: http://www.dilstonphysicgarden.com

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