Our wondrous St John’s Wort Serpent has just arrived. Hypericum perforatum is a plant with holes in its leaves. It acquired its common English name, St John’ s wort (SJW), as it flowers in midsummer (this Sunday) on the day of John the Baptist. So it is truly a holy plant! The ancients believed the plant would exorcise the devil – that was the metaphor used when people felt depressed – they thought they were possessed. So the old story of the magic has kept the medicinal use of the plant going all these years up to modern times when SJW is used as an antidepressant herbal medicine.
SJW is used clinically in modern botanical medicine today 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 new sculpture thus represents that fascinating bridge between magic and medicine. It is made by our sculptor in residence, John Rutherford.
We are always open to suggestions for new outdoor artworks, and artists. The next may be an image of a plant that has given us a modern drug, like the foxglove, willow or opium poppy. If people had isolated and identified a single potent chemical from SJW – which they haven’t yet, only a variety of partly active ones – the plant might have provided a new and safer antidepressant drug.
The Dilston Physic Garden exists to spread the word on such great plant potentials for new, safe and effective therapies.