Monday, 11 June 2012

St. John's wort: works like a charm?

Slightly weird, but nice: my doctor just congratulated me for deciding to wean myself off anti-depressants in favour of an experiment with St. John's wort. I don't disagree that I need a little help to stay on an even keel; I just would rather it was herbal than chemical, natural rather than man-made. It's the fear of carcinogenesis, that I might be creating or feeding cancer, that has driven the decision. Being diagnosed with early breast cancer has made me think about everything I ingest, put on my skin and use around the house. Quite honestly, it can drive you nuts. I try and be balanced about it. I've never had a problem with taking my prozac because I believe it saved my life: when my daughter died in 2001, I really didn't think I'd be able to keep going. I'm in a good place now though, and so I'm going to give the traditional remedy a try. I love the history and the magic associated with St. John's Wort; that in itself is enough to buoy the mood. I found this poem about St. John's wort online: it apparently comes from a manuscript dating from 1400.

St. John’s wort doth charm all witches away
If gathered at midnight on the saint’s holy day
Any devils and witches have no power to harm
Those that gather the plant for a charm:

Rub the lintels and post with that red juicy flower
No thunder nor tempest will then have the power
To hurt or hinder your houses: and bind
Round your neck a charm of similar kind. 

I don't talk about depression much because it is still so hard to explain and I've got enough on my hands dealing with breast cancer taboos. But I feel I am doing an injustice to the condition by keeping my own depression quiet. Lately I've been called "inspiring" because of the work I've been doing to understand breast cancer surgery, but when it comes down to it, all that research, writing and talking about it is simply about helping me cope. I need to keep the monstrous "black dog" of depression at bay, and I strive to thwart the thunder and the tempests that occasionally roll in. I don't know if that's inspiring so much as surviving. Having read that poem, and knowing that the herb is rife around the British Isles, I might have to put on a cape, pick up my basket and go find some of those juicy red flowers. The time is right; 24th June is the holy day in the poem - it refers to St. John the Baptist's birthday. I think I'm going to make myself a St. John's wort necklace and rub it all over the lintel. 
(Afterthought: This is a picture I took at the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret in London Bridge, where I'm pretty sure the ancient apothecaries would have doled out St. John's wort, among other things, to the patients at St. Thomas. This is actually a fascinating display about the story of aspirin, the chief component of which is derived from plants like willow, myrtle and meadowsweet.)