St John’s Wort – Sciatica and Liver!

Many herbs are multi-purpose with different actions on the body.  This is some of the skill of the herbalist in matching the herb to the person.  A prime example of this is St John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum.  Mention it and people will immediately talk about depression.  But actually, St John’s Wort has many other uses.  As a nerve herb (or nervine), it can work on the body and the mind.  It is a major herb for sciatica and traditionally was used for digestion, liver and gallbladder problems.  For this reason, depression, in combination with digestive problems could be a good indication for St John’s Wort.  For other cases of depression a different herb might be used.  The herbalist, matches the herb to total body needs and not just one symptom.

Herbs balance and treat the cause, not the symptom

Taking a singular view of a herb is to treat the herb like a drug.  “I have a headache so I will take x”.  That’s not how herbs work.  They work to balance the body and therefore matching the herb to the person will help reach this balance better.

Wild Yam – Not just Male/Female hormones!

Wild Yam or Dioscorea villosa is another herb which has almost been consigned to a single use.  It is increasingly being used for menstrual and menopausal problems.  Some of its constituents (glycoside saponins and diosgenin) are hormone precursors especially of progesterone[1].  It is an antispasmodic and can help with menstrual cramps.  It helps balance hormones and can help with low libido, erectile dysfunction and pre-menstrual tension.  It is used at menopause for night sweats, insomnia and hot flushes[2].

It is important to note here that many herbs commonly considered for female problems are also useful for male hormonal problems.  In this case, wild yam can be just as useful for men as women.

Good for digestion and muscle spasms

Wild Yam has many other uses.  Viewing it as a single use herb will severely limit its therapeutic potential.  Good for the liver and gallbladder, many patients who come for help with the menstrual cycle, find their digestion improving on this herb.  As an antispasmodic.  it can help with stomach cramps, colic and painful wind.  Michael Tierra says it is “near-specific for chronic flatulence and gas”!  It will help, in fact with any kind of spasm – so it can also be supportive for muscular spasms.

Similar to St John’s Wort, Wild Yam works at both a physical and mental level.  In this case as an anti-spasmodic, it can help reduce mental tension.  It is also a good anti-inflammatory and immune modulator.

So, you see, looking at Wild Yam as just a female herb misses out on so much in the same way as viewing St John’s Wort as the depression herb does.  Herbs, through their constituents, exert different actions on the body whether that is (as in this case), hormone balancing, anti-spasmodic, immune-modulating or anti-inflammatory.  These actions can and will happen in more than one organ or pathway.  Remember the body is helped by the herb to balance.  A singular view does not do herbs justice, reduces their effectiveness and deprives us of so much more!

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[1] Michael Tierra, Planetary Herbology, 1988 Lotus Press

[2] Anne McIntyre, The Complete Herbal Tutor, 2010, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd

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