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st john's wortSt John’s Wort typically blooms the end of June around St. John’s feast day hence its name. Small yellow flowers, five petals, poked out from underneath a spirea bush where I was recently visiting family. I was surprised to see this meadow and field plant in this unexpected place by a sidewalk. It’s flowers were bright yellow and leaves were green and did not appear to be waning. These flowers bloom most of the summer months.

When one looks at the plant’s leaves up in the sunlight you can see tiny droplets within the leaf structure which is a good plant ID characteristic to know and experience. The flowers and leaves when rubbed leave a red oily residue on the skin. In fact, when flowers are infused in olive oil, the oil turns red which is another characteristic to know about this plant.

St. John’s Wort plunged into the public’s eye in the mid 1990″s. I worked at a health food store at the time. Apparently 20/20 ran a special on this plant and its specific properties one Friday night. I opened the store on Saturday morning and actually had a few people waiting in line to get in. This was surprising. I asked them what they needed and all three of them talked about the TV special the night before.  They proceeded to buy the only  three bottles of St. John’s Wort capsules we carried right off the shelf. The next week we sold 24 bottles in two days. Why? The news report stated that this plant was helpful in mild to moderate depression when given correctly. Since then, this plant and its constituents have been extensively studied for depression, in particular. Hypericin, one of St John’s Wort primary constituents is listed on standardized extract labels. St. John’s Wort can interfere with MAO inhibitors, a specific class of drugs used for the treatment of depression and both should NOT be used together.

St John’s Wort is typically known for its expectorant and nervine healing abilities. I really don’t hear herbalists sitting around with a cup of St. John’s Wort tea though my herb books from the 1500-1600’s state that a tea can be made from the flowers and leaves. I have seen tea companies offer St. John’s Wort for tea making.

Typically known to soothe the nerves, St. John’s Wort was used for pulmonary complaints and to heal deep wounds. I remember in herb class, one of my teachers related the following experience: years ago, she was living in a primitive cabin in a forest and burned herself. She went to her herb books and realized that this plant was known to help relieve the pain to nerve endings from burns. She tried some and though this is a testimonial, she reported it worked very well.

My own experience with the oil of St. John’s Wort is with shingles. Shingles is an infection of the nerve endings and typically affects one side of the body. It is very painful. I have had customers and family use this oil on their skin and all reported decrease in pain which brought relief, again these are testimonials.

(Please don’t self diagnosis. If you suspect you have shingles get it confirmed by a health care practitioner. The above is meant to be informational only and not a substitute for medical care.)

St. John’s Wort has a recent history of research, and some controversy in the mental health field. Check with a qualified practitioner if this plant interests you. The oil is available from herb companies and can be kept by wood stoves for an occasional burn or would healing. As a tea? It’s not typically used for everyday use.

I write about St. John’s Wort here today to inform my readers of plants that have practical uses. Many are often considered  “a weed” yet have a rich history of practical use.  Again, know your plant. Identify it correctly. Share that knowledge with family and friends.



Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. 


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