Updated: Feb 25
Nothing marks the beginning of summer more than the blooming of St. John's Wort. Her little yellow flowers bloom happily on or around the summer solstice, welcoming the beginning of the longest and warmest days of the year.
How to identify and where to find St. John's Wort
St. John's Wort can be found growing wildly anywhere from roadsides to backyards to woodland meadows. The most commonly used species of the St. John's Wort family, or Hypericaceae, is hypericum perforatum. This species is very easy to identify, and once you see these tell-tale signs you'll know for sure you've found her.
Look for a 3' or so high plant with opposite sided leaves and branches, and if it's early summer you'll see clusters of small yellow flowers. Hold a leaf up to the sun to see her tiny transparent black dots, which are really oil glands, giving the leaves a perforated look (hence the name, "perforatum!")
The other sure-fire way to identify St. John's Wort is by gently crushing a fresh flower or flower bud between your fingers. This releases the medicinal compound hypericin, producing a deep reddish purple stain on your fingers.
St. John's Wort as Wild Medicine
St. John's Wort has been long used in folk remedies as a powerful medicine for the nervous system. She can help to relieve depression through her nervine and mild sedative properties which may help balance moods and aid in a restful sleep.
Topically, St. John's Wort works wonders for nerve pain such as sciatica, pinched nerves, or any injury or trauma in place that has many nerve endings. She is often used to help heal skin from bumps or bruises, relieve skin conditions like eczema, aid in wound healing and reduce scarring. As an a strong antiviral, she can also be used to stop or shorten the duration and ease painful symptoms of cold sores, herpes, and shingles.
There are also special uses for this magical little summer weed that beautifully relate to the sun. Blooming on the summer solstice, St. John's Wort can be used as a mild SPF to protect your skin from too much sun exposure, help to soothe and heal sun burns, and help those who long for the sun in the dark winter months.
My absolute favorite way to take in the medicine of St. John's Wort is through herbal body oiling. When massaged into the body, St. John’s Wort oil or salve almost instantly eases and relaxes sore or tired muscles. Her gentle warming medicine soothes stressed nerves, both physically and emotionally, like the warm healing medicine of the sun.
Having now experienced the magic of St. John's Wort through sitting with, harvesting, crafting oils, and letting my body soak her in, I'd have to say that she provides one of the most healing experiences I have had with herbs to date. And honestly, any yellow flower that can turn ruby red when crushed or infused in oil is pure plant magic.
Note: Before harvesting St. John's Wort, or any other wild plant, make sure you are not harvesting from public lawns, busy roads, or other places that may be polluted or exposed to chemicals. Harvest consciously and sustainably, making sure not to over harvest or take more than you need. And, it is imperative that you properly identify a plant before harvesting and using for food or medicine.