St. John's Wort

Hypericum perforatum

H. hypericoides, H. pyramided, H. virginicum


The ancients believed St. John's wort imparted inner strength and protection for those engaged in spiritual work. The Greeks wrote that a mere whiff of this not particularly aromatic herb sends harmful spirits fleeing. I've heard it said, and believe it’s true, that St. John's wort creates a mantle of infinite love and mercy around the one who uses it.

St. John's wort's uses are legendary. Medieval crusaders carried St. John's wort oil and tincture for wound healing and as a symbol of the red blood of Christ; both the oil and the tincture are deep red in color.

German scientists have isolated hypericin, a powerful antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antidepressant substance. Recent studies have isolated four other chemicals that may share responsibility for St. John's wort's powerful healing abilities. My wild heart knows that the plant in its entirety offers much more than the effects of any single chemical.

The pain-relieving abilities of St. John's wort are unexcelled. I use the infused oil of fresh St. John's wort frequently to ease muscular aches, sore shoulders, stiff necks, swollen joints, and the pain of sciatica, neuralgia, rheumatism or arthritis. This oil has the unique ability to penetrate into the nerve endings, relieving pain and inflammation, and easing nervous system irritation almost immediately. I apply St. John's wort oil liberally, often warming it a bit to enhance relaxation. I complement this treatment with 20-30 drops of St. John's wort tincture in water, taken as necessary.

St. John's wort's antispasmodic properties make it an ally to those with muscular spasms including backaches, leg cramps, bronchial spasms, uterine cramps and early labor pains. To remedy any of these problems, I use the infused oil externally and 20-30 drops of tincture (under the tongue in acute situations). Once nerves are soothed, the muscles relax and any vertebrae out of place slide back into proper alignment, like a gentle chiropractic adjustment in reverse order.

I had strong contractions during the last month of one of my pregnancies. Knowing it was too soon for the baby to be born, I took 30 drops of St. John's wort tincture every 20-30 minutes and rubbed my belly with the infused oil until the contractions subsided and I fell asleep.

First Nations people use several species of Hypericum for medicine. H. hypericoides,  or St. Andrew's cross, is employed as a remedy for babies' diarrhea, snakebite, skin problems and fever. Cherokee sniff the powder to stop nosebleeds. H. pyramided is used by the Meskwaki to treat tuberculosis, and the Menominee consider the roots of this species a specific remedy for the early stages of consumption. Potawatomi drink an infusion of H. virginicum to bring down fevers, and apply it as an ointment to heal tumors. Montagnais relieve coughs by drinking infusion of H. perforatum.

St. John's wort is an awesome ally for those with nerve damage from accidents or surgery. It helps heal and rebuild nerve cells. Grandmothers apply the oil frequently and consistently to damaged nerve areas and take 30 drops of fresh plant tincture, three times daily. I've also used a poultice or a compress of either fresh St. John's wort or the herb strained from an infusion.

St. John's wort is a restorative tonic that nourishes the entire nervous system. It strengthens and calms, and relieves anxiety and depression. When I am irritable, uptight or upset, I take 20 drops of St. John's wort fresh plant tincture twice a day, or as needed. It really gives my spirits a lift. Science has confirmed my empirical wisdom. Among nearly 1,800 outpatients with moderate to moderately severe depression, the beneficial effects of St. John's wort were significantly superior to a placebo and as effective as standard chemical antidepressants. However there were far fewer side effects. An effective antidepressant dose of St. John's wort is 30 drops of fresh plant tincture three times daily, for at least two months. Many people find this relieves depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

My friend Roberta suffered dark depression all winter for many years. She now takes three doses of St. John's wort daily from October to March, and no longer suffers her usual depression.

Another friend used St. John's wort to help overcome not only depression, but also alcohol addiction. Many people have told me they find themselves sleeping better since taking this herb.

St. John's wort is specific for relieving chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. I've heard that frequently applying St. John's wort infused oil, or using it as the primary ingredient in a salve, combined with 20 drops of the tincture (in water) twice daily for a year or more, can work wonders.

St. John's wort is an excellent ally for those with fungal infections. Herbalists use the well-strained infusion as a mouthwash against thrush, as a sitz bath to treat candida and yeast overgrowth in the vagina and as a soak to relieve fungus on skin or nails. Topical application of St. John's wort infused oil or a light dusting of clay and powdered St. John's wort, enhances healing.

St. John's wort oil is phenomenal on herpes sores. It affects the herpes virus where it lives in nerve endings. As soon as the initial tingle (signaling a herpes sore is about to come on) appears, begin to apply St. John's wort oil frequently. This often prevents the eruption. It also helps heal and relieve the pain of already active sores. St. John's wort oil is also invaluable for relieving the pain of chickenpox and shingles - both forms of herpes.

This amazing plant is also a superior burn treatment. It promotes rapid healing of the skin and prevents infection. Studies of people with severe burns found St. John's wort oil substantially cut healing time and significantly reduced scarring. I once poured an entire pot of boiling potatoes onto my foot (don't ask me how). I used honey and St. John's wort internally and externally. The discomfort was soothed and I healed beautifully. Today you cannot see a trace of that burn.

Pigs who eat St. John's wort sunburn more easily than normal, so very light-skinned people are usually cautioned to avoid too much sun when taking St. John's wort internally. I know hundreds of people who use the tincture often, yet have never met anyone who has experienced photosensitivity. In fact, external application of St. John's wort oil prevents sunburn, and it contains more sun-protective properties than PABA. I apply it liberally to exposed skin and use it as the base for a sun protection cream. If I do get sunburned, I use St. John's wort!

The constituents of St. John's wort which have generated the most interest are the aphthodianthrones (including hypericin and pseudohypericin), and a broad range of flavonoids (including quercetin, quercitrin, amentoflavone and hyperin), essential oils and xanthones. Other constituents include pectin, carotenoids, amino acids, sitosterol, tannins and vitamin C.

St. John's wort has long been associated with warriors. It has many ways to soothe the wounds inflicted by war - not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is eased by the use of spirit-healing St. John's wort.

Woman warriors also benefit from this herb. Some call this plant St. Joan's wort in honor of St. Joan of Arc, patron saint of the warrior woman. When the battles of life wear me down, I enlist the aid of this warrior plant spirit by taking a few drops of tincture in a little water.

Flower Essence St. John's wort flower essence offers protection and guidance to those in expanded states of consciousness. It enhances one's ability to experience inner light, relieves fears related to out-of-body experiences and protects the aura. I use it while doing healings or body work. My friend Bianca says this flower essence magnifies healing energies. Children know it as a helpful relief for bed-wetting and other night-time traumas, and protection against fearful dreams.

Magical Lore Old wives suggest adding St. John's wort to your magical pouch where it will radiate strength, empower your warrior spirit and enhance any spiritual occasion. An excellent anointing oil, especially for someone dying, St. John's wort protects and strengthens the spirit as it crosses the threshold. When my brother Jon was dying, I rubbed his feet with St. John's wort oil as a way of offering him comfort and protection on the journey ahead.

European wise women gathered the plant after Midsummer's Eve, on the feast day of Saint John the Baptist, June 23, to ensure the full solar and spiritual powers were present.

In Southern Italia this plant is referred to as erva il ascensione and also known as La pianta delle meraviglie del Signore Dio or The Lord God’s Wonder Plant. It is an auspicious herb with an ancient history of use as an herb of exorcism. St. John’s wort stimulates the production of saliva and since a state of drying up is associated with the evil eye, St. John’s wort is a primary herb used to heal that condition. It is used singly or added to a bouquet that will be used for blessings, healing or clearings or for spraying cleansing holy water. It is also mixed with other bitter herbs such as wormwood, centaury, gentian and mallow to make an Italian bitters blend, or an aperitivo.

Culture St. John's wort grows abundantly throughout Maine and most of the world, especially in fields and hedgerows, woods paths and roadsides. Blueberry growers will thank you profusely for gathering it from their fields (make sure the area hasn't been sprayed with chemicals). In clear cuts, it is among the first healing plants to return.

I find St. John's wort seeds easy to germinate and have good results starting them indoors in early spring, giving them at a least a week or two of stratification. We set the seedlings out in small clumps when they are six to eight weeks old. The bluish-green seedlings stay small a long time, like to be planted in groups and must be well-weeded. After a while, the plants will spread out, create a thick, lush ground cover and won't need much attention. A bed of flowering yellow St. John's wort is a magnificent sight. I encourage you to plant some in your wild garden.

St. John’s wort grows three to four feet high on stiff greenish-red stems. The top two-thirds of the plant branches out, is covered with tiny green leaves and topped with many bright-yellow blossoms. The flowers are very unusual and stunning on close inspection, with five petals and long center stamens that end in a puff of orange. Squeeze the plump flower bud and out oozes a reddish-purple ink-like liquid that stains your fingers and is loaded with hypericin. Hold the leaf up to the sun and you'll see tiny holes and little red dots that are the oil glands.

I gather the entire top part of the plant, both the leaves and flowers, at the peak of bloom. I tincture this immediately in alcohol or infuse it in oil or vinegar. I also dry St. John's wort in bunches or on screens for teas. Sprigs in small bundles hung around your home will bring protective energies. I love to wrap St. John's wort in smudge sticks. The flowers keep their color when dry and look really pretty, especially when combined with sage or purple-flowering hyssop.

Comfort and Joy Brew one teaspoon of equal parts of St. John's wort, lemon balm, milky oats and roses for five minutes in one cup of water. Drink to calm and relax.

WARNING! Do not take St. John's wort if you currently take an MAO-inhibiting antidepressant drug. More than 800 drugs are known to interact with St. John’s wort. If you are taking any drug, check for possible interactions or seek the help of an experienced herbalist.

WARNING! There have been reports of severe sunburn among those using dried St. John's wort in capsules or as tea or infusion. We steep the dried herb for a maximum of five minutes.

With its many unique and invaluable gifts, St. John's wort is one of the most important medicinal herbs on the planet. It heals the body and soul inside and out, inhibiting the growth of potentially deadly viruses, bacteria and fungi, qualities we need today more than ever. Open your wild heart to this powerful ally and plant teacher. 

St. John's Wort and HIV German researchers say the flavonoids in St. John's wort are immune-modulating. A single dose of St. John's wort prevented leukemia in mice infected with a virus that causes it. The herb has shown a similar dramatic action against HIV. St. John's wort reportedly crosses the blood/brain barrier, important in AIDS treatment because the virus often attacks the brain. AIDS patients given St. John's wort showed significant increased immune function, improved appetite, weight gain and greater energy.

It stands to reason that the many healing qualities of St. John's wort will benefit those who are susceptible to bacterial, viral and fungal infections that slowly weaken and may finally overcome them. St. John's wort (20 drops of fresh plant tincture two times a day) helps prevent these infections from getting a stronghold, or helps relieve them if they do become a problem.

Some herbalists combine St. John's wort with hyssop in equal parts and use 20-40 drops of this combination two times daily to prevent HIV infection, as hyssop inhibits HIV in laboratory studies.

Herbs alone aren't enough, of course. Work at keeping yourself healthy. Attend to diet, nutrition and herbs. Believe in yourself and the wisdom of your own body/mind/spirit to gravitate towards health and wholeness.

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