St John’s Wort’s traditional reputation is based on Hypericum perforatum. A.Vogel/Bioforce uses the tips of its fresh blossoming shoots.
This ‘bringer of light’ amongst plants comes into bloom around St John the Baptist’s Day, 24th June. On this day, the sun reaches its zenith after which the days grow shorter and the nights longer. St John’s Wort contains the highest levels of active agents when in full bloom. Bioforce requires approximately five metric tons of the plant with the glowing yellow radial crown to manufacture Hypericum. A number of contract farms in Switzerland and Germany are needed to satisfy these requirements. These established contract farmers know that the company only accepts flowering tips from organically grown cultivations, with a maximum length of 10 to 15 cm. The active agents within four kilos of the plant provides just one kilo of tablets.
The correct species is important
Before the delicate little plants germinate in the soil of the contract farms, Andreas Ryser, the head horticulturalist at Bioforce must first identify which type of Hypericum perforatum is to be cultivated. Not all possess the same high content of active agents and not every one is equally resistant to disease. Only careful cultivation and selection achieve this goal. At present, a mixture of two types is preferred as this combination offers the best guarantee of the required quality. They are organically cultivated and much care and attention is lavished on them as they grow. The ground is regularly cleared of weeds so that nothing can damage the growth of this marvellous herbal remedy. As the sun rises high and brings St. John’s Day nearer, the characteristic translucent spots appear on the leaves. These ‘pinpricks’, which can be seen against the light, are what gives the plant its signature 'perforatum' meaning riddled with holes. On closer inspection, the observer will discover black glands at the edge of the leaves and partially on the surface. These contain the famous St John’s Wort oil. If you rub the buds between two fingers, a distinctive red juice comes out.
For many years, harvesting has been laboriously carried out by hand. However, nowadays it is possible for the farmers to harvest the tips of the shoots easily with the aid of a special machine. As soon as the harvested crop is stacked in boxes and loaded in the lorry, the clock starts ticking. It makes no difference whether the plants come from Switzerland or Germany, it is essential that they reach Bioforce in Roggwil fresh and ready for processing within 24 hours.
Every minute counts with fresh plants
As is always the case with fresh plants, time is the crucial factor because the shoots must arrive in Roggwil as fresh as the morning dew. Whether during harvesting, on the road, at customs or during unloading, every minute counts.
If the Hypericum has been overheated and become discoloured during transport they are not accepted. Only the fresh sweet-smelling yellow-green tips are used. On arrival, the raw material is first tested by Bioforce laboratory staff against set guidelines to establish identity and check for contamination such as heavy metals, pesticides, mould and infestation. Once the Hypericum has undergone this detailed examination, production can begin.
The first step is to clean the tips before macerating them in a predetermined mixture of ethanol and water, which extracts the plants’ active ingredients and preserves them. The valuable mixture is pressed and then extracted in water and alcohol. To create the tablets, the concentrate which is obtained is once again carefully tested and then mixed with a natural excipient (cellulose) before the resultant paste is spread on metal sheets and dried at low temperatures in the oven. The end result is a quantity of easily swallowed and digested tablets.
The Exceptions – the tinctures
In folk medicine, St John's Wort tablets, teas and tinctures were commonly used as well as the highly respected St John’s Wort oil which has been popular for many centuries.
Bioforce uses only the tips of the shoots for Hyperiforce® St. John's Wort tablets and for St John’s Wort oil. The original Hypericum tincture is manufactured differently. For this, more of the whole fresh plant – three metric tons per year – is used, not just the tips! This manufacturing process follows the guidelines of the homoeopathic herbal remedy compendium.