St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

St. John’s Wort in bloom in my backyard

St. John’s Wort, or what herbalist Susan Weed calls, St. Joan’s Wort, is a beautiful weed that spread from Europe to the Americas with the settlers.  And, just like the light that Joan of Arc was known to cast in dark places, this plant is energetically associated with sunlight.  The flower essence comes as an aid for the very emotional and light-sensitive ones.

Hypericum Perforatum blooms around the Summer Solstice — the longest day of the year.  This year, I visited my old haunt to forage for St. John’s Wort.  In Western NC, there is a bald mountain that hosts a small field of this herb.  For the past 2 years I have had great success harvesting it there.  This herb loves an open field with full sun!  It’s not that picky and can even appear in gravel driveways and the most well-trodden clay path.  So, disturbed land is its home.  Unfortunately, there was a very brutal late frost in Western NC this past year…  It seems that all the St. John’s Wort died back to its roots.  So, this year I foraged around my new home in NE Georgia and was able to find a small plot of them.

One use of St. John’s Wort is external — an oil infusion that creates a bedazzling crimson red color.  As I mentioned before, the latin name is Hypericum Perforatum.  The word Hypericum refers to the compound found in St. John’s Wort — ‘hypericin.’  Perforatum refers to the small dotted deposits of hypericin found in the leaves and flowers of this herb (see below).

There is some debate about whether taking St. John’s Wort actually leads you to be light-sensitive (because hypericin has been found to lead to photosensitive skin cells in animals that happen to graze on it).  However, some herbalists suggest that maybe it is simply isolated ‘hypericin’ outside of its plant matrix (whole plant) that would lead to this photosensitivity (this means, concentrated pills of hypericin instead of whole plant tincture, for example).  Here is a link to some good dialogue on this topic.

Can you see the small dots in the leaves?  When you’re out in the field, hold a leaf up to the sun to look for the dots.  

The beautiful red oil that is produced by infusing this plant in olive oil is simply stunning.  It can be used as a massage oil (a very good massage therapist ally as it helps to melt knots in the body) or as a sunscreen (rubbed on the body before/during/after sun exposure).  Of course, this is not a pharmaceutical sunscreen, it simply  keeps the skin from getting to a point of sunburn.

St. John’s Wort is an anti-inflammatory and it also helps with nerve damage.  For sunscreen, most people apply the oil before, during and after sun exposure.  If they are going to be in the sun a long time, they where protective clothing as well.  It seems that especially fair-skin people benefit from this plant (refer back to the link given in the previous paragraph for more info).  Externally, this plant also helps with cold sores, herpes and shingles (viruses that live in the nerves).

Internally, this herb has been used for a variety of reasons.  The main one known by the public is its use in remedying depression.  This may be how you first heard of St. John’s Wort.  It is actually only good for certain types of depression.  For some people it works, for others it doesn’t.  It is quite similar in action to SSRI’s.  It is best used for mild or minor depression and can even be used for depression or mood-disorders for those on SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Again, this reminds me of the energetics of this plant — sunlight and sunshine.  St. John’s Wort works as a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.  It is said that it works like Prozac which takes 6 weeks for efficacy.  St. John’s Wort takes about 2 weeks if taken in the proper dosage.  One herbalist suggests mixing St. John’s Wort with Damiana and Aralia Berries to make one ‘sparkier.’

Further, St. John’s Wort can be used internally, along with other herbs to resolve issues with shingles (and other viruses of the nerves).  Take a dropper full of tincture 3 times a day until the shingles flair-up has resolved.  Some other herbs to pair with this would be lemon balm, milky oats, and skullcap.

“Double-boiler” simmering the St. John’s Wort in olive oil (you can already see the deep red color — this is after one hour of simmering)

To make the St. John’s Wort oil, you can use one of three heating methods:
– heated water (quart jar in the “double-boiler” above) — approx 2 hours
– quart jar in a paper bag (placed in a sunny spot) — approx 6 weeks
– quart jar in the oven on warm (lowest heat) — approx 5-6 hours

Clip the flowering tops off of the St. John’s Wort plant (use some of the leaves as well).  Stuff a glass Ball jar of your preference about 3/4 full.  Pour olive oil over the top of the plant until well-covered.  Simmer on a low boil for 2 hours.  Strain through fine mesh sieve into a glass bottle.  Label and date and store in a cool place away from the sun.  It should last up to a year.  If it smells rancid, do not use it.

Finished product in a dark-colored glass bottle (recommended); and unlike me, make sure to put the year on the date as well (oops!).

I made this oil on my late grandmother’s birthday, July 7th.  Thinking of you dear Emma!

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