by Corinna Wood
There is no other medicinal herb that bespeaks more of sunshine than St. John's Wort, or St. J’s, as we fondly call it. It loves sunny open places, blooms at the height of summer solstice, soothes the skin after sunburn, and even brings sunshine into our lives through its mood elevating properties.
The most well known, most widely used species of St. Johnswort is Hypericum perforatum, studied for its uses against depression, especially helpful for the kind of dark moods that come from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In fact, it is often said that plants grow where they are needed, and St J’s is a prolific “weed” in the Pacific Northwest, where dark and rainy winters contribute to a high number of SAD cases.
Additionally, St. J’s has constituents known to support the nerves and help the body against viruses, both when taken internally, and when extracted into an oil for use externally. In diseases where viruses affect the nervous system, such as cold sores, herpes, shingles, or chicken pox, St. J’s has brought relief for hundreds of years.
We have our own wild varieties in Western NC, including Hypericum punctatum, but it is not found in great abundance as it is in some other parts of the country. It’s best to plant this herb in your home garden – it’s easy to grow, strong in establishment, and will bloom year after year. You’ll appreciate the beauty it adds to your garden, as it’s truly lovely, with 5-petaled yellow flowers, small seed pods, and delicate yellow-green leaves.
At Red Moon Herbs, we have about 170 St. J’s plants that we started over the many years. We saved the seed from our original garden plant, started them in a tray, watered them for several weeks until they germinated, and planted them out in the spring. We established them along a fence line, which helped stabilize a sloped bank—and they also provide food for our bees, beauty, and medicine.
Once established and thriving, harvest the top third of the plant, including the flowering tops, at peak potency. Peak time for St. J’s is when the flowers are 1/3 in blossom and 2/3 in bud. If you take a yellow flower bud and squeeze it, you’ll notice it exudes a red juice. This is the hypericin, a constituent in St. J’s which contains medicinal properties.
Once harvested, you can pack your flowers, stalks, and leaves in a dry jar and cover in olive oil to make medicinal oil; or fill with 100 proof vodka for some tincture. Let them steep for 6 weeks, and then strain out the plant material. One word of caution: sometimes folks who are taking St. J’s regularly become more sensitive to the sun (there’s that sun association again), so pay attention if you’re noticing your eyes or skin being more sensitive, and back off of internal use of St J’s if needed.
St. J’s genus name (Hypericum) is derived from the word hyper, meaning above and eikon, meaning picture. This referred to the traditional style of hanging the plants around the house to ward off “bad spirits” (maybe an old fashioned word for depression).
Next spring, plan on planting some St. J’s in your garden. It will certainly bring a little sunshine into your life.
Portions reprinted from:
Make Your Own Bottled Sunshine With St. J’s by Corinna Wood & Lee Warren
First published in the Mountain Xpress, May 2010