Today we’ll be talking about the bright and uplifting herb St. John’s Wort, named because they bloom every year around St. John’s Day on June 24th, which was John the Baptist’s birthday and is a Catholic feast day. Blooming so close to the Northern Hemisphere Summer Solstice also gives this herb a superbly sunny quality and disposition.
They are a great remedy for burns, bruises, nerve pain, depression and liver stagnation. St. John's Wort makes a good oil to apply topically, as well as a delicious infusion to take internally. This post goes into all the details of the medicinal virtues of this incredible plant. For more details about medicine making and solar magic with St. John's Wort, check out this blog post here.
Precautions with St. John’s Wort
This is a powerful herb that deserves reverence and respect and is not safe to use in many circumstances. St. John’s Wort strongly activates the liver, making them a dangerous herb to take internally if you are on any medications. This is also applicable if you have stopped taking antidepressants in the last 6 months, as there are instances where St. John's Wort can actually make people more depressed and sometimes even suicidal.
This plant also has a strong affinity for the Sun, so strong in fact that they actually increase our skin’s sensitivity to sunlight when applied topically. Don’t put the oil on and go out in the sun or you might get burned.
The Latin name for St. John’s Wort is Hypericum perforatum and they belong to the Hyperaceae Family, making them a good choice for people who have allergies to other families with common herbs, such as the Aster or Mint families.
St. John’s Wort grows as an upright perennial, getting up to a foot tall. They bloom bright yellow flowers in flat-topped clusters. The flowers have 5 petals with multiple stamens in the center, much like roses. When looking at the plant, you can find one to several main stems that are green and tough, branching into smaller paired stems. They have opposite, oval leaves that grow transparent dots along surfaces.
A perennial plant, this herb reproduces from seeds and root stalks. They thrive in temperate regions worldwide, doing best in sunny areas with well-drained, chalky soil. This is considered a spreading weed, so if you grow them in your garden do not let Hypericum perforatum expand to wild areas.
Herbal Actions for St. John’s Wort:
Antidepressant - works as a mood uplifter (but has dangerous interactions if you are currently taking antidepressants or other medications)
Anxiolytic - reduces anxiety
Antiviral (particularly from the constituent Hypericin, which is what gives this herb their red pigment)
Medicinal Applications for Hypericum perforatum
This herb makes a superior topical remedy for ailments of many kinds. Helping to heal wounds, they were historically used for knife and stab wounds in particular. St. John’s Wort can also help promote healing after surgery. They are substantially antibacterial, gradually helping to lessen pain and stimulate granulation and capillary regeneration in the healing process.
St. John’s Wort has a particular affinity for burns and is great when applied topically to minor burns, including sunburns. Just be careful, because this herb can actually increase your sensitivity to sunlight, so you don’t want to be outdoors while it’s on your skin. They can also help heal bruises and varicose veins.
A superb antispasmodic, St. John’s Wort is also very supportive when applied topically to relieve muscle pain and tension. They can ease musculoskeletal pain, sciatica, spine injuries and rheumatic pain and are good for back spasms, neck tension and generalized musculoskeletal issues. This herb can help to bring down swelling as well. Their soothing and relaxing qualities make St. John Wort an excellent herb to infuse into a massage oil.
Hypericum perforatum is also well-known for their affinity for the nervous system, supporting us as a nervine when taken internally and helping to ease nerve-related pain when applied topically. Injuries and pain associated with nerve damage would benefit from the support of this incredible herb. The oil can help relieve neuralgia, shingles, sciatica and toothache. St. John’s Wort is sedative and analgesic when taken internally as well. They can be very helpful for different types of pain, as well as relieving sleep issues and insomnia.
Supporting our nervous system, Hypericum perforatum is also indicated for people who suffer from depression. They can help with mild to severe depression, nervous exhaustion and chronic anxiety. David Hoffman highlights that this herb is slow-acting and you may need to consume them regularly for at least a month before you notice a difference in your mood.
Please avoid taking St. John's Wort internally if you are on any medications, as there is a high risk for harmful side effects. This is also applicable if you have stopped taking antidepressants in the last 6 months, as there are instances where St. John's Wort can actually make people more depressed and sometimes even suicidal.
One of our lovely Community Herbalist Program students, Nicole, enjoying a beautiful bouquet of St. John's Wort
Michael Moore says that St. John’s Wort is best for people in difficult transitions, and can be less supportive for people with Bipolar Disorder or other chronic mental health conditions. This makes Hypericum perforatum a particularly good herb for lowered mood accompanied with Menopause, as well as difficult moods associated with any sort of change you might be experiencing.
St. John’s Wort strongly activates the liver. This can be either helpful or harmful, depending on your individual circumstance. This liver activation is the reason that this herb is not safe to take internally when you are on medications. They can change the rate at which the liver metabolizes your medications, which can have harmful side effects.
However, when not on medications, St. John’s Wort can really help your body process excess waste and toxins, greatly improving your mood and overall vitality. For this reason, Hypericum perforatum is particularly supportive for mood issues accompanied by frustration and irritability.
Connected to the liver, this herb can also be used to help heal the gut. They can help with chronic gastritis and stomach ulcers, which makes sense because they’re a great wound herb when applied externally, and those same properties can work internally on our guts as well. They also have strong antiviral properties and can be helpful in a strategy designed to combat influenza, herpes and Hepatitis B and C. That is not to say this herb can cure those viral issues, just that they can help your body combat the pathogens that cause them.
Herbal Apprentice Program
If you want to learn more incredible herbal remedies and the magic of plants, Artemisia Academy's Herbal Apprentice Program may be perfect for you. This 150-hour program is hands-on, interactive, and will give you the skills and knowledge you need to form deep and healing relationships with the herbal allies all around us.
The information I shared in this post comes from my own relationship with St. John's Wort, Artemisia Academy’s classes, David Hoffman's Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal and Medical Herbalism, Michael Moore's Western Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, and Andrew Chevallier’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine.
About the Author
Alicia Cielle Heiser is an Astrologer, Herbalist and student at Artemisia Academy. Her work centers on facilitating a greater understanding of the cyclical nature of the world and the ways that we as humans fit within the greater whole. She is writing a series of materia medica blog posts for Artemisia to make the wisdom and knowledge of herbal medicine more available to more people. Alicia also has a podcast called Conversations with the Planets and she offers herbal astrology readings and crafts personalized herbal tea blends. You can find her at www.aliciacielle.com.
Disclaimer: Information presented on this webpage is for educational purposes only, and does not include the diagnosis and treatment of disease nor replace the advice of a licensed physician. Please refer to a licensed health professional for any illness or persistent symptoms before using herbal remedies.
Herbs can sometimes cause discomfort or side effects, and may interact adversely with pharmaceutical medications. Do not use herbs internally without the approval of a doctor or medical professional if you are currently on medications or have a history of medical conditions.