St John’s Wort is a perennial, yellow flowering European native. It grows wild in temperate meadows around the world and reproduces by both rhizome and seed. It is a herbaceous plant with a woody stem that can grow up to a meter in height. It’s narrow, oblong leaves are opposite each other, and stalkless, meaning they don’t have a petiole. When held up to the light, transparent dots in the leaf tissue can be seen, giving it a perforated appearance, hence “perforatum“. The flowers are lemon scented, yellow and composite, with 5 petals. The edge of each petal has prominent small black dots. There are many stamens clustered at the base in groups of threes, and are yellow as well, with small black dots at the center of each anther. The flower buds and fruits bleed red when crushed. St. Johns Wort thrives in elevations under 5000ft with seasonal rainfalls in either the summer or winter. It will grow best in well drained soils and can take full to partial sun. It can get unruly and even crowd out other herbs in an herb bed, so consider growing it in a planter or a pot. It is traditionally harvested on St. John’s day, which is June 24th, but really it’s best to harvest this plant after it flowers sometime during the summer months.
St. Johns Wort is most commonly used internally as an infusion or a tincture to treat depression and anxiety, and can have a pain reducing effect as well and ease irritability. It is an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, astringent, sedative, and vulnerary. Externally, it’s useful to prepare as an oil and apply for sunburns, bruises, varicose veins, and can ease dry and sensitive skin. It helps with nerve damage, muscle tissue trauma, and cuts. I like to add it to winter time lotions and night creams, as I find it helps rehydrate and lessen the appearance of wrinkles. The leaves can be eaten fresh in salads or used to flavor liqueurs. An extract of the flowers can also treat inflammation, diarrhea, and increase blood flow. It is currently being studied by AIDS researchers, as two of the active chemical constituents in St. John’s Wort, hypericum and pseudohypericum, have confirmed inhibition of the AIDS virus. It’s thought to cause photo-sensitivity in fair-skinned individuals, so it’s recommended to avoid extended and intense sun while using this herb.
According to folk lore, the flowers brought into the house on mid-summer’s eve will protect everyone inside from the evil eye, and a sprig of the plant under the pillow on June 24th will induce visions of St. John and blessings.
An 10-15 minute infusion of 1-2 teaspoons dried herb per cup of water, drunk three times daily, or a tincture of 1-4ml three times daily.
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