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Finding the Sunny Side of St. John's Wort

AKA: Hypericum perforatum, L. family: Hypericaceae; amber, goatweed, hardhay, hyperici herba, klamath weed, tipton weed.

Propagation/Description: St. John’s Wort is very easy to spot with bright yellow flowers with five petals, possessing narrow pale green elliptical shaped leaves. It looks very similar to Cinquefoil found in Europe but is very different. Size varies but can grow to be 32 inches tall! It usually blooms from July to early August, reproduces by short runners and by seed. It is considered an invasive weed mostly due to its toxicity if ingested by cattle, and because its roots take a very strong hold when introduced to an ecosystem. Seeds of St. John’s Wort grow easily and can be sowed in trays after the last frost of spring, seedlings can be transferred to pots through the summer, and new plants can be planted in the garden the following spring. The best way to propagate St. John’s Wort is by air layering the stems. Try this early in the summer while the new growth is still green and hasn’t started to become woody. Find a non-flowering branch and gently bend it down and press it into the soil so that the stem has full contact. A sod pin or even a rock can be placed over the stem to hold it down. Keep the area well-watered for the rest of the summer. After a while, new roots will begin to grow from the layered stem, forming a new plant. St. John's wort are compact growing and easy to manage, Hypericum perforatum spreads by creeping rhizomes and seeds. They can become untidy and should be pruned in spring.

Folklore/History: St.-John's wort owes its name to the fact that it flowers at the time of the summer solstice on or around St. John’s Day on 24 June. Having been administered as a remedy by the Roman military doctor Proscurides as early as the 1st century AD, it was mainly used for magic potions during the Middle Ages. St. Johnswort was believed to have great protective powers. Gathered on Midsummer Eve, it would ward off imps, evil spirits, and the demons of melancholy. Native Americans used this herb for a variety of ailments. The Cherokees used it to bring on menstrual periods and as an anti-diarrheal, and the Montagnais Indians used it as a cough medicine. Some of the previous reports on the herb's use originate from the Greek herbalist of the 1st AD century, Pedanios Dioskourides, as well as from his contemporary physicians, respectively Greek and Roman, Galinos and Plenius. The word Hypericum is derived from the Greek ‘hyper’ (above) and ‘eikon’ (the picture), because of the popular custom in which various species of this genus were hung above holy pictures to repel the devil. In Orkney the plant was known as ‘St. Peter’s wort’; in Gaelic the many names for the plant include the ‘armpit package of Columba’ and the ‘Virgin Mary’s herb’. It is believed that Saint Columba had a special affection for the plant because of its long traditional association with St. John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary. Scots honored the Evangelist on 6 May; the proximity to 1 May (the Beltane) may be more than coincidence. Moreover, the Evangelist was the patron saint of Scotland until St. Andrew superseded him in the hagiological hierarchy.

Medicinal: St. John’s has been used for centuries for assist in healing nerve damage. It has, with more modern studies, become known more for its antidepressant activities. It is highly effective for mild depression and seems to assist in maintaining a “lifted spirit” when used regularly. An oil made from the blooms will turn blood red and is amazing at aiding the healing process from trauma such as bruising, sprains, burns and other such injuries as it has mild pain-relieving properties and promotes tissue repair. It is known to be anti-bacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory. It can assist with opiate withdrawal and quitting smoking, a mild diuretic, bed wetting in childhood, Neuraltia, Bell’s Palsy, Nerve pain, arthritis and gout and may assist with inflammatory issues associated with chest colds, congestion, and respiratory diseases. Do not substitute when having severe depression with psychotic symptoms, suicidal risk or severe symptoms that interrupt daily life such as family or work involvements. It has also been associated to counteract with cyclosporin, digoxin, HIV nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and other protease inhibitors, irinotecan and anticoagulant drugs.

***It can cause photosensitivity in some individuals. If your skin develops a rash, becomes itchy or red, discontinue use. Only use under a physician’s supervision if pregnant, nursing or if currently on an antidepressant drug. Discontinue regular use 3 days prior to surgery where general anesthetic is used as St. John’s Wort may delay emergence from the anesthesia. ***

Spiritual: St. John’s Wort is associated with Divination, Happiness, Health, Love, Protection, Strength, to ward off ghosts, necromancers, and other evil spirits as well as protect the family from fire, lightning, and misfortune. It has also been used by witches to detect any other witches who may be looking in on you and your work. It is used in protection spells, Dream Magic, prophetic dreams, and banishing magic.

Summary: St. John’s Wort has been renowned for it’s healing and protective properties both medicinally and metaphysically for innumerable centuries. It has proven itself time and time again. While there was a time that Christianity tried to demonize this lovely shrub in the past, despite the belief that it was named after John the Baptist, the world has come to love, appreciate, and better understand it for the wonder it is. The undervalued opportunity of the past to better understand this genius little plant has been seized in more modern times. I use St. John’s in many remedies in my home and I hope with this beginner look at this plant of the sun, you will find it as useful and valuable as I do. Whether you can forage in the wild or add it to your herbal garden, happy harvesting!


Herbs for Common Ailments, How to Make and Use Herbal Remedies for Home Health Care by Rosemary Gladstar.

Medicinal Herbs, A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments by Andrew Chavallier, FNIMH

The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies, The Healing Power of Plant Medicine by Nicole Apelian, Ph.D & Claude Davis

The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety, by the authors of Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, Simon Mills & Kerry Bone.

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