Hypericum as Medicine
St. John's wort has a long history of folk use. Dioscorides, the foremost physician of ancient Greece, as well as Pliny [in ancient Rome] and Hippocrates [the father of medicine], administered St. John's wort in the treatment of many illnesses.
In folk medicine, St. John's wort has been used in the treatment of wounds (it has powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties), kidney and lung ailments, and what we would now call depression.
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs reports:
The herb is said to soothe the digestive system. In particular, its ingredients were thought to relieve ulcers and gastritis, and the herb was called on as a folk medicine for diarrhea and nausea. Bruises and hemorrhoids are said to respond to it. It has served as a sedative, painkiller, and analgesic. The blossoms have been added to sweek oil (a refined olive oil used medicinally) for a soothing dressing for cuts. Herbalists credit it with increasing and inducing a sense of well-being.
Long before depression was isolated as an illness by traditional western medicine, the symptoms of depression -- worry, "nervous unrest," sleep disturbances, and others -- were treated in folk medicine by St. John's wort.
In modern herbal medicine, St. John's wort is used first and foremost to treat depression. If you sought the guidance of an herbalist for the treatment of depression, the herbalist would almost invariably recommend hypericum first.
As the medical studies on hypericum become better known to health care professionals, the use of hypericum may become the first line of treatment in traditional western medicine as well.
Hypericum is currently being medically studied as a treatment for AIDS, several forms of cancer, bed wetting and night terrors in children, skin diseases such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, peptic ulcers, and even hangover. (Hypericum mixes with and keeps well in alcohol. Who knows how long before hypericum is added to alcoholic beverages and then hailed as hangover-reduced alcohol?)
From the viewpoint of traditional western medicine, we seem only at the threshold of hypericum's proven usefulness.