Monday, July 12, 2010

What Does a Goat Smell Like?

Hypericum hircinum, Stinking St. John's Wort

Native to the Mediterranean, especially central Italy, where it is distributed in damp and shady places (Robson, 1968 Flora Europea 2 pp. 261–269) Stinking St. John's Wort (also Goat's St. John's Wort, Stinking Tutsan; Hypericum hircinum) is a not a plant to be brought indoors. The leaves emit an unpleasant odour when crushed, similar to that of a goat. It is a deciduous shrub that can grow to 1.5m. A rare naturalised occurrence in Ireland, it has become established around Cork harbour where it is present in many locations (O'Mahony, 2009 Wildflowers of Cork City and County p. 375).

Its close relative Common Saint John's Wort (H. perforatum) contains a complex mixture of bioactive substances (Çirak et al., 2007 Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 35 pp. 403-409). Long used in folk medicine for a variety of purposes, H. perforatum contains hyperforins, hypericins and flavonoids that have been shown to have antiviral, antidepressant and antimicrobial activity (Bombardelli and Morazzoni, 1995 Fitoterapia 66 pp. 43–68; Luo et al., 2004 Journal of Ethnopharmacology 93 pp. 221-225).

With such a pharmacologically rich relative it is therefore no surprise to find that H. hircinum also posses a range of chemical activity. Pistelli et al. (2000, Fitoterapia 71 pp. S138-S140) showed that crude extracts from H. hircinum had antimicrobial effects, inhibiting growth in Bacillus subtilis, Staphlococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella enteritidis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Interestingly, they found that purified extracts had no effect, indicating a synergistic effect of the constituents. Similarly, Maggi et al. (2010, Chemistry of Natural Compounds 46 pp. 125-129 ) showed antimicrobial activity of hydrodistilled essential oils of H. hircinum against not only bacteria such as a range of Staphylococcus species and Escherichia coli, but also the yeast Candida albicans.

H. hircinum extracts have also been shown to have possible antidepressant activity. Chementi et al. (2006, Journal of Natural Products 69 pp. 946-949) showed that a methanol extraction from H. hircinum leaves inhibited monoamine oxidases in vitro. Monoamine oxidases break down monoamine neurotransmitters. Inhibition of monoamine oxidases leads to an increase in the neurotransmitter availability. Further examination of the extracts showed that the inhibitory activity was due to quercetin.

Flower buds of Hypericum hircinum

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