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The Wonder Pill

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Coincidental Cures

Photo of St. John's wortSt John's Wort
Hypericum perforatum

This innocuous little plant with its five-pointed yellow flowers has long held a place in humanity's medicine cabinet. Ancient Greek and Romans used it topically for wounds, and the Cherokee of North America used it to treat fever, stomach illness and to induce abortion. It was in Medieval Europe that the plant earned its name.

The plant's reddish saps and resins -which turn its yellow flowers red when crushed - reminded Christians of the blood of St. John the Baptist. Conventional wisdom held that Hypericum harvested on his birthday, June 24th, would possess the strongest medicinal powers. Among the many ills it was reputed to ward off, Hypericum was most often prescribed for insanity or demonic possession, as well as menstrual irregularities, intestinal problems and skin conditions. Today, scientific research indicates Hypericum can alleviate mild depression - though the mechanism by which it works on the brain is still unknown. There is also some evidence St. John's wort can inhibit retroviruses, such as Herpes, in mice. It has been difficult to demonstrate this effect in humans; however, this modern mythology has prompted some to use the herb as a treatment for AIDS. Unfortunately, recent studies show that Hypericum also inhibits the body's ability to metabolize other AIDS medications.

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photo: Steven Foster,




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