Botanical Name Hypericum perforatum

Other Names:
Saint Johnswort, St Joan's Wort

St John's Wort Herb Profile

General Information

This is a bushy little perennial and very winter hardy. It grows well in zones 5 to 9 to about one to three feet tall. Leaves are small, stalk-less, opposite and pale bluish green growing up long brown stems. Upon careful examination, oil glands are visible in the leaves as small dots. The red oil may stain fingers if you rub the leaves or flowers between them. It has bright yellow flowers from mid to late summer. Fruit is a 3-celled capsule with many brown seeds. Fragrance is similar to turpentine.

It is a native to Europe, but grows wild in open places in the US as well.

It is listed as a noxious weed in many countries and livestock that feed on it can suffer from miscarriage, photo-sensitivity and depressed nervous system.

History and Folklore

St. John's Wort has been used in medicine for over 2.400 years. It was used in ancient Greece and prescribed by Hippocrates and others for insanity, among other problems. It was also used in the Crusades to treat battle wounds.

It is associated with St. John the Baptist. It was gathered on St. John's Day and soaked in olive oil to create an anointing oil called the "Blood of Christ". It is said that the red sap "bleeds" in August on the day when St. John was beheaded.

The ancient name Fuga Daemonum (Scare Devil) and the Latin name Hypericum ("over" + "apparition") attests to its usefulness in driving away evil spirits. The latter may also refer to the fact that it was hung over religious icons. It was hung in the home, and carried as a talisman. It was also used to protect from lightening strikes.

On legend says that if you step on a St. John's Wort plant, you will be stolen away by a faerie horse.

St. John's Wort was also used for divination of romance and longevity. St. John's Wort was hung over the beds of the members of a household to divine their longevity. The sprig that was most wilted the next morning indicated who would die the soonest. Keeping a sprig under your pillow is said to grant you a vision of St. John who will promise that you will live another year. If no such vision comes, however…expect you will soon die.

All of these should, of course, be done on Midsummer or St John's Eve.

It is traditionally burned in the Midsummer Fires. Flowers brought into the house on Midsummer Day are said to protect the household from a myriad misfortunes, including invasion by evil spirits, the evil eye, illness and fire.

Propagation

Propagate by runners in the autumn or by seeds in the spring.

Average soil, partial to full sun.

Plants will need to be replaced after 5 years or so, but will spread if not checked. It is a very vigorous grower, spreading by both seeds and runners and should be kept in a pot or raised bed.

Harvesting & Storage

It is traditionally harvested on St. John's Day (June 24th) or Midsummer's day, early in the day after the dew has dried. Harvest soon after flowering.

Otherwise, harvest flowers and leaves as needed.

Magical Attributes

St. John's Wort is linked with the Sun and Leo, Midsummer's Day, or St. John's Day.

St. John's Wort can be added to the fires for Midsummer celebrations and used to make garlands. The infused oil might be useful for an anointing oil for Midsummer rituals and exorcism. It's bloody red color also lends it well to death and rebirth rituals and celebrations of women's mysteries.

It can also be used for smudging during rituals of exorcism, especially of poltergeists.

Household Use

Flowers are used to produce a yellow dye. The stem produces a red dye.

In the garden St. John's Wort attracts bees. It does not produce nectar so few adult butterflies are attracted to it. The Grey Hairstreak butterfly's larvae feeds on its seeds and the the Gray Half-Spot moth's larvae feeds on its foliage, so it is still be a useful addition to a butterfly garden in regions where these lepidoptera species are native.

The flowered stems are great for weaving into wreathes.

Healing Attributes

The most popular use of St. John's Wort medicinally is for depression. Studies of various constituents of this herb suggest that there is indeed something to the claim of its effectiveness against mild depression. It does not seem to be at all effective against severe depression.

St. John's Wort tea is also used for rheumatism, neuralgia, sciatica, shingles and symptoms of menopause. It is also a soothing muscle relaxer for when you overdo it (not for chronic problems).

The oil rubbed into joints may ease rheumatism. It is also used for minor wounds, burns and to help fade scars.

Infuse olive oil for topical use by stuffing a wide-mouthed jar with herb, then covering with olive oil and sealing. Place in a sunny window and shake a few times a day for six weeks. It will be bright red when done.

Culinary Use

Makes a pleasant, slightly bitter tea.

Additional Notes

St John's Wort can render birth control pills and similar forms of contraception useless. Do not rely on these methods of birth control if you are using St. John's Wort!

St. John's Wort should also not be taken by patients using Indinavir, a drug often given to AIDS patients, Cyclosporin, an immunosuppressive drug given to transplant patients, and Warfarin, an anticoagulant.

Side affects of St. John's Wort may include dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, gastrointestinal discomfort, skin rash and photo-sensitivity. When using St. John's Wort, take extra care with sun protection.

If you are using St. John's Wort for depression, it is prudent to also seek therapy. Do not combine it with pharmaceutical anti- depressants.

Women who are pregnant or breast feeding should not use St. John's Wort as it may cause miscarriage and side affects for nursing infants are unpredictable.

See Also

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