Many herbs have the dubious distinction of being both powerful natural healing medicines throughout history yet somehow become a nuisance, invasive, toxic or harmful species which threatens our industrialized world in modern times. St. Johns Wort is unfortunately on that list.
First off, a brief history of this mystical plant and how it received it’s namesake. St. John’s wort is one of over 300 plant species which belongs to the genus Hypericum . While there are a few stories of how this name came into existence, one stands out in Greek lore as Hyper meaning above and ekion which refers to an unwanted figure. This relates to some of it’s earliest ancient uses as a protector against evil, unsavory spirits or people.
The common name of St. Johns Wort seems to have emanated from two different sources. The first being the most optimal time to pick the flower was on June 24th, which is the Day of St. Johns Feast. Here in our region of Canada, there seems to be a window of time to harvest which is the last two weeks of June and first week of July so that date appears to be significant.
The other source of the name evolved from the plant which develops red spots on its leaves late August which are symbolic of the Saint’s blood around the time of his beheading on August 29th.
Now for the vilified part. By the mid 1940’s St. Johns wort had become so prolific in North America, particularly Northern California and Oregon that it now covered over 2 million acres of prime cattle grazing land. Because the plant has photo-toxic properties in large amounts, it became detrimental to cattle, particularly lighter coloured animals.
Pesticides and herbicides did not work. It was observed that in Australia where St. Johns was quite prevalent, a specific beetle Chrysolina quadrigemina Rossi seemed to have quite an appetite for the plant and kept some measure of control. This beetle was introduced to North America in 1946 to surprising success where it virtually wiped out the plant. Even now you can still find this beetle ravaging the plant particularly larger fields to the point where it may disappear the following year.
This can account for the high cost of the herb, oils or other remedies made from this precious flower as it can be difficult to find a crop large enough to harvest. Once these voracious beetles find it, they go to work with devastating results. Adding to this a short harvest window of about three weeks every year and you have a rarity in the herb world.
Truly a shame as the healing properties span so many cultures from ancient times to modern day apothecaries. Such noted uses are as an anti-inflammatory for pain due to nerve damage, soft tissue injuries and wound healing. Famous herbalists Gerard and Culpepper documented uses for deep wound healing and a snake bite remedy.
I have found that this herb seems to have heightened attention of the medical system which has led to many studies and conflicting information regarding drug herb interaction. In fact, numerous studies of the positive effects on mild depression have earned it the moniker “Nature’s Prozac”.
The most common forms of preparation include encapsulation of dried flower or leaves, teas, alcohol tincture or maceration of fresh flowers in a vegetable oil. Although the flower is a brilliant yellow, the flower exudes a deep wine tinted residue making any extracts or oils turn a deep red colour. It has a peculiar aroma that is quite “medicinal”.
Creating a macerated oil from the fresh flowers is still the most common method for amateur and experienced herbalists to extract the healing power of the plant. The two most popular oils used are olive and grapeseed oil.
We make our own St. Johns Wort oil every summer to general Pharmcopea standards, and use grapeseed oil. We find that the grapeseed has exceptional qualities to draw out the medicinal properties of the plant. We do not use olive oil as it adds another noticeable odour to the oil as well as a greasy feel.
Since our market is selling to Aromatherapists and natural product manufacturers, our customers enjoy this oil because it has less odour and higher absorbency.
Massage Oil: Mix 5 % St. Johns Wort to any combination of fractionated coconut, almond or jojoba oil
Body Butter:Melt in up to 10% of total formula
Creams / Lotions: Add up to 10 % to any one of our all natural plant based cream or lotion bases to increase skin absorption
Disclaimer- The content of this article is not meant to be a replacement for or used as medical advice. When in doubt or need of advice, please consult a trained physician. They do tend to be terrified of this herb as it may interfere with expensive drug prescriptions. Use caution with this oil in the sun as it has been reported occasionally to cause photo-sensitivity in some people and blond cows.
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