St. John’s Wort

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When you hold a leaf to the sun you can see tiny little “dot-like specs” that make the leaf appear perforated. Note the broken dark lines on the closed buds. It’s not evident in this photo but if you look at the stems under even a 5 x magnifying glass you can see two raised line down the stem, one on either side of the stem. Rudolf Weiss brought his to my attention in his book Weiss’s Herbal Medicine.  As soon as I read that about the stem, I had to check it out. Sure enough there are two raised lines! (I couldn’t see it without the magnifying glass.)According to Weiss, this is “something quite unusual in the plant world.”

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I was blessed with full and gorgeous plants this year! They really made my heart shine with joy.

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Note the appearance of a “fringed” edge of the upper left side of the petal. It is evident on each of the five flower petals.

SJW seedling

It’s easy to germinate St. John’s Wort seeds. I like to start them in early March here in South Central Wisconsin. It makes a huge difference how the seedling develops if you take the time to separate the tiny seedlings into their own growing cube. Otherwise, the seedlings become stunted if they are left to grow in a crowded condition. Be sure to handle the tiny sprouts gently making sure not to squeeze the stem. I’ve had St. John’s Wort March started seedlings flower the first year.

Condition the seedlings gradually to the outdoor environment for a couple of weeks before planting directly in the garden. I do this by placing them on my screened in porch where they receive sunlight without frying the plants. They gradually strengthen to the outdoors. This is an important step to take if you want the seedlings to make it in the garden.

 

Chickweed by Bearfoot! 4/24/07

Spring emergence! I’m always so happy to see St. John’s Wort return for another season. It almost rosette-like as the stems fan out from the root cluster.

 

Mother of Thyme 9/29/06

St. John’s Wort has the interesting growth habit of spreading wide like above before the stalks shoot upwards toward the sun. It looks very mat-like and at first you’d never guess that it will result in a two to three foot upright plant!

 

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Above is a photo of this year’s harvest of buds, flowers and few leaves.  Ideally if one is lucky, you can harvest St. John’s Wort near the time of the  Summer Solstice. That just seems ever so appropriate to me with it being the sunny plant that it is! Most years I don’t seem to hit that mark with harvest being somewhat before or later. But, this year I hit it right on the mark!

 

I read about a couple of really helpful hints in Richo Cech’s book Making Plant Medicine. He suggested two things that stood out for me: 1) resist harvesting solely buds and flowers and include a few leaves because “the leaf contains active flavonoids which augment the activity of the compounds (hypericins) found in the flowers and buds” and 2) bruise or mash the freshly harvested plant before combining with oil.  I tried both of these techniques and ended up with a gorgeous deep red tincture and infused oil.

 

I’ve always used the fresh herb for making a tincture or infused oil. I’m drying some to try in an herbal tea formula this year. But, I primarily always go for the fresh herb medicine. I’ve made the tincture using 100 proof vodka and 190 proof grain alcohol. I find that the depth of the red is greater with the higher proof alcohol. So, this year I made a fresh herb tincture using one part herb to two parts alcohol (1:2) with 100 A (190 proof alcohol) straight over the fresh herb. I don’t weigh the herb out. Over time, I’ve found that when I weigh the fresh herb it results in a pretty equal amount to simply packing the jar with the fresh chopped herb. (However, I weigh the herb if using dried herb with the alcohol) So, I just pack the fresh herb in the jar, cover with the alcohol, poke with a stick to release air bubbles and label it. I note whether fresh or dry, proof of alcohol, date tinctured and where I gathered the herb, i.e. garden.

 

As a final act of preparation I  kiss the jar and hold it to my heart all the while saying thank you. Then I raise the jar  in thanksgiving for all its healing gifts inviting spirit to infuse it too. After I let the tincture set for a day I open the jar and, using a spoon, press any herb that is flowing on top below the alcohol. This step seems to work well for the continued steeping duration of six weeks. I also shake the jar once in a while,  re-open the jar and press the plant down again after shaking and then store it in cool dark place.

 

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Test for St. Johns Wort readiness for tincture or oil making by squeezing a few buds between your fingers. You should have a dark red stain on your fingers from the release of the hypericin. This tells me that the plants are ready to harvest for medicine!

 

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Left jar is the wonderful St. John’s Wort tincture. Jar on the right with the cheesecloth drape is St. John’s Wort infusing in oil. Both are sitting in the brightness of full sunshine.  I’ll bring them in before nightfall and return them to the sunshine the next day weather permitting.

 

I like to make note of suggestions mentioned by my teachers along the way. Susun Weed talked about the plant’s amazing ability to relieve muscle pain, suggesting that if you’re going to do a hard workout, that you take one dropperful of St. John’s Wort at the start of the work out and then one additional dropperful before going to bed. I’ve tried this and I was impressed with the positive outcome! No muscle pain the next day.

Just last night during a class with Kathy Eich here in Madison she mentioned that St. John’s Wort was amazing on burns, for example, burns from chemotherapy, chemical burns, stove burns. She suggested using a combination of St. John’s Wort infused oil and lavender essential oil (1 ounce SJW oil: 3 drops lavender essential oil) directly on the burn. Kathy prefers to use the oil rather than a salve in burn situations because a salve holds the heat too much. A side benefit to this application is that the SJW/lavender oil reportedly anesthesizes the pain on contact. In the past, I’ve used St. John’s Wort oil on sunburns with great success. I guess I forgot about that when I heard Kathy reference it last night. That’s what I love about hearing different herbalist speak of their experiences. So many overlaps. It’s wonderful and helps bring the information to the forefront for me once again.

St. John’s Wort oil makes a wonderful massage oil for relaxing muscles, i.e. neck spasms. Using a combination of St. John’s Wort infused oil externally and the tincture internally is said to have a profound effect on nerve endings. Rosemary Gladstar offers us her “favorite liniment and remedy of choice for treating sore muscles, spastic muscles and cramps, and painful joints (including those caused by arthritis and bursitis)” she picked up from herbalist Nancy Phillips. Basically, you combine an equal amount of St. John’s Wort infused oil and St. John’s wort tincture (made with 190 proof alcohol) and add several drops of wintergreen essential oil. I would add a couple of wintergreen drops to begin, try it out and add more if needed.  Be sure to label it for external use only and store in a cool, dark place.

St. Johnswort Roots! note joints

I was totally blown away when I accidentally pulled a St. John’s Wort plant up by the roots. I took the opportunity to get a closer look at the roots. I sprayed the dirt-filled roots with the garden hose to release most of the soil particles. And to my utter amazement I discovered that St. John’s Wort’s root had red coloration. I couldn’t help but think of nerve endings! The roots appear ‘jointed’ in the way the coloration creates a striping effect. Really stunning stuff! The saying “as above, so below” comes to mind! Wow! Just wow!

 

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This photo captures the whole plant before it flowers – roots and all!

 

So here are a few helpful ways I want to remember about St. John’s Wort:

  • “especially indicated for pinched nerves or injuries which occur as a result of sudden movements, as when people catch at something to stop themselves from falling.” (Wood)
  • “specific for wounds to parts rich in nerves, attended with sharp, shooting pains, inflammation along the course of nerves, pinched nerves, injuries from sharp, penetrating instruments, etc” (Wood)
  • “wounds heal more rapidly and with less scarring with St. John’s wort oil and ointments.” (Duke)
  • “very effective as a massage oil for muscle spasm, cramps, stiffness, ache, overuse, sprains, bruises, articular ache and back ache, rheumatism, gout, sciatica, neuralgia and poor circulation to the extremitites. (Wood)
  • ” has broad-spectrum antivirals and anti-inflammatory agents; used locally and internally for nerve and spinal injuries, sciatica, shingles” (Winston)
  • “the steeped oil makes an excellent ointment for virtually any skin inflammation and is often helpful for regional  nerve pain, such as sciatica, lower back pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Moore)
  • “maintains brain levels of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin (Duke)
  • Combines well with hops and valerian for insomnia; combines well with lavender and lemon balm for depression; combines well with chamomile for children going through upheavel; combines well with passionflower for anxiety (Gladstar); combines well with skullcap (Hoffmann)

Resources

Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. A Horizon Herbs Publication, Williams Oregon. 2000

Duke, James A. . The Green Pharmacy. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania. 1997

Gladstar, Rosemary. Medicinal Herbs. Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA. 2012

Hoffmann, David.  The Herbal Handbook. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont. 1988

Moore, Michael.   Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM. 2003

Weiss, Rudolf Fritz. Weiss’s Herbal Medicine. Classic Edition.Thieme, Stuttgart, New York. 2001.

Winston, David.  Herbal Therapeutics. Herbal Therapeutics Research Library, Broadway, N.J. 2003

Winston, David & Maimes, Steven. Adaptogens. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont. 2007.

Wood, Matthew.  The Book of Herbal Wisdom. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California. 1997

Wood, Matthew.  The Earthwise Herbal, A Complete Guide to the Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California. 2008

Personal notes from workshops with Susun Weed at the MidAmerica Herbal Symposium, Winona, MN. 2008.

Personal notes from class with Kathy Eich, Red Root Mountain, Madison, WI. 2013.

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