Common Name: St. John’s Wort
Latin Name: Hypericum perforatum
Parts Used: Flowering Tops
Plant Identification & Harvesting: A mid sized perennial found in dry, gravelly soils on roadsides, hedge banks, rough grassland, meadows, open woodland and other disturbed areas. Native to Europe introduced to North America. St. John’s wort flowers are bright yellow and star-shaped. Flowers grow in clusters and measure about 2 cm across. They have five petals with several, small black dots along the margins. The flower has many stamens in clusters of 3 and a single pistil in the center distinguished from other plants by the perforations in the leaves (small pinholes) which are actually oil glands but resemble holes when held up to the sun.
Flowers are best harvested in mid-summer on bright sunny days, just as the plant comes into bloom.
Energetic properties: Predominantly warming and drying effect on the constitution. There is an oiliness that brings on a degree of moistening (mostly affecting the nerves).
Tastes: Astringent, mild sweetness, bitter, slightly pungent and oiliness. Matthew Wood states he finds it to have a slight “balsamic” quality.
Herbal Action: Mild Nervine Sedative, Trophorestorative, Bitter Tonic, Hepatoprotective, Astringent, Vulnerary, Anodyne and Anti-Viral, Anti-Microbial, Anti-inflammatory, Antispasmodic
Melancholic Disposition: St. John Wort’s trophorestoratives properties help to replenish and restore the nervous system when it shows signs of burnout from long term stress, tension, insomnia or anxiety. David Winston refers to a particular type of depression he calls, “stagnant depression”. This is not referring to a depressive state that is low energy, lethargic, deep and dark but more aligned with irritability and frustration. “Stagnant depression” has a higher level of energy and vitality than what one would associate with more chronic depression conditions. It is more associated with liver issues and can oftentimes be remedied with a hepatic detoxification. As a liver detoxifier, St. John’s Wort, aids the body to metabolize cortisol and other endogenous metabolic waste products. Therefore relieving liver stagnation.
Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal state “St. John’s wort is a powerful sun herb to dispel darkness”. It has long been affiliated with its ability to alleviate symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). In the spiritual sense, St. John’s Wort is known to bring “sunshine” into dark times. Matthew Becker writes, “St. John’s Wort loves to grow in the sun, the hotter the better… it brings a lot of the energy and warmth of the sun into your body-it is very noticeable. It’s not just an antidepressant, it actually can warm up your psyche, make you feel more comfortable, more relaxed, and loosen up the mental joints that are stiff from the cold and dark.”
It is recommended that St. John’s Wort be taken consistently for a period 3-6 weeks, to begin to see positive results.
It should be noted that it is recommended for mild to moderate depression and is not intended for use in major depressive disorders.
Neuralgic Pain: Used for trauma involving the nerves. Nerve pain can be described as sharp, electrical or radiating pain originating from nerve damage or inflammation. Matthew Wood writes “It is best known for a first aid remedy for injuries to nerves- and is suited to injuries to parts rich in nerves (eyes, fingertips and spine) where sharp, shooting pains, inflammation along nerves, acute sensitivity and pain.”
Sajah Popham writes referencing its affinity to nerve pain, “it is commonly used topically in this regard, though it can (and should) be used internally as well. Here we see it being applied to sciatica, neuralgia, pinched nerves, shingles, spinal cord injuries and tooth pain, as well as other rheumatic pains, arthritis, gout muscular spasm, cramping and stiffness, sprains, strains and bruising.”
Another interesting affinity for the nervous system is St. John’s Wort’s ability to prevent or address Herpes outbreaks. Taken preventatively, it can decrease the number of outbreaks a person experiences; taken at the first sign of an outbreak, it can help to shorten the duration. Part of this action certainly may be due to its effects against the Herpes virus itself.
St. John’s Wort is also commonly used for a related virus, shingles. It can be used both topically and internally to reduce the duration and relieve the pain of the outbreak.
Liver Detoxification/Hepatorestorative: Its bright yellow flowers are a clear indication for its affinity to the liver and gallbladder. Aiding the liver as a detoxifying agent and protection from excess stress, damage and inflammation. The phase II liver detoxification pathway, known as cytochrome P450, is shown to be enhanced with the use of St. John’s Wort.
This directly affects the liver’s ability to metabolize various compounds, thus having MAJOR contraindications with many pharmaceutical drugs.
First Aid (puncture wounds and sunburns): St. John’s Wort is most beneficial for deep puncture wounds that are prone to infections as it has the ability to heal the wound from the inside out. Its antimicrobial properties will disinfect the wound, reduce inflammation. It is particularly beneficial for wounds that are in areas abundant with nerves.
St. John’s Wort is a great addition to any herb first aid kit alongside other wound healers like plantain, comfrey and calendula. It is not only a great wound healer, but it can also be used for bruises, contusions, sprains, lacerations, and swellings.
For treatment of sunburns, Sajah Popham writes, “A simple infused oil or salve made from fresh St. John’s Wort flowers applied to a sunburn helps draw out heat and reduce the inflammation which rapidly promotes the healing process.”
Weakened Digestion: Its affinity to work on the “enteric brain” or the gut/brain connection allows it to aid in the “reset” of the complex and delicate coordination of signaling between the nervous system and the digestive system. The astringency found in St. John’s Wort helps to tone the gut, therefore reducing symptoms of “leaky gut syndrome”. Food absorption in the small intestine is enhanced and “ama” or stagnancy is reduced. As a whole the solar plexus is strengthened, this is reflected by a better sense of self, will power and sense of self connection.
Fred Siciliano states, “ It decongests the liver and removes mild tension that accompanies this. It harmonizes the stomach, spleen, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder, so that weak digestive organs are not pushed over by a too-strong action of the liver.”
Constituents: Naphthodianthones (hypericin and pseudohypericin) found in the leaves, but in greater quantities in the fresh flowers. Volatile oils, xanthine derivatives, phloroglucinols, catechins, proanthocyanidins, tannins, glycosides (including retin), resin, pectin, and anthraquinones- hypericin, hyperforin. It also contains a broad spectrum of flavonoids, which contribute to its ability to aid in healing.
Safety Considerations: ST. JOHN’S WORT IS STRONGLY CONTRAINDICATED IN THE USE OF MANY PHARMACEUTICALS. Its effect on the liver, directly affects the body’s ability to breakdown and metabolize certain prescription drugs (sedatives, immunosuppressants, non-sedating antihistamines, contraceptives, antiretroviral agents, anti-epileptics, calcium channel blockers, cyclosporine, chemotherapy, macrolide antibiotics, certain antifungal medications and anti-coagulants).
Some people find that taking St. John’s Wort (especially standardized extracts), causes photosensitivity. Do not use artificial light, such as a tanning bed, while taking St. John’s Wort internally or applying it externally. Do not concurrently use St. John’s Wort with other photosensitizing drugs.
Do not use it during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Avoid using pre-operatively.
Infusion – Although, it is recommended to use fresh flowers in preparations. Dried flowers can be steeped and offers a nice tasting mild remedy for nerves and sleep. Add 125ml of boiled water to 1 Tbsp of plant materia, let steep for 10-15 minutes. This formulation is primarily used for its nervine and sedative purposes.
Fresh tincture – As per Sajah Popham: It is widely accepted that the fresh tincture is far superior than any extracts prepared from dried plant material. Because of the presence of the volatile oils, it is considered best extracted in a higher percentage of alcohol, at a 1:2 ratio. Dosages vary, although standard dosing calls for 2-4mls 3 times a day.
Infused Oil – Fresh flowers and leaves are added to a jar then covered in high quality virgin olive oil. Place in a sunny place for 24-48 hours, then place in à dark place for 4 weeks. Strain plant material.The oil will turn a lovely deep red. Strain with cheesecloth.
Pillow – Place dried flowers in a sachet or cloth. Tie shut and place under pillow for use for bedwetting, nightmares and fear of the dark.
Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal Volume 1, A complete Guide to Old Word Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books.
Lust. J. (1974). The Herb Book. Bantam Books
Bruton-Seal, J & Seal, M. (2012). Backyard Medicine, Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. Castle Books
Maleskey. G.(1999). Nature’s Medicines. Prevention Health Books
Popham, S. (2023, January 14). Materia Medica Monthly. Retrieved from the School of Evolutionary Herbalism: https://www.evolutionaryherbalism.com/
Medical Disclaimer: The information provided throughout this site is for educational purposes only and is not to be regarded as substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the guidance of your qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.