St. Joan's Wort

Common Names: Goat Weed, Allheal, Herba John, Tipton Weed

Botanical Name: Hypericum perforatum, H. formosum

Plant Family: Hypericaceae, Saint John’s Wort Family

Parts Used: Herb

Actions: Sedative, anti-inflammatory, astringent, antidepressant (Systems affected: Liver, Nervous System)

Habitat & Identification: Oh my, how often do I see this plant in the summer time, shining its vibrant yellow flowers along highways and country roads? Or photos of St. Joan posted as a NOXIOUS WEED at Native Plant Society booths… St. Joan’s Wort is the perfect example of a valuable weed that has a horrible reputation. It produces numerous seeds and when dispersed, this plant can grow in a diverse range of soils (or it grows from a creeping mass of rootstock). It prefers full sun and can be quite drought tolerant… hence it loves trails and roadsides. This erect plant grows about 2-3 feet tall and blooms numerous 5-petaled, yellow flowers with tiny black dots on its sepals and petals. When held up to the sun, the tiny leaves appear perforated with needles. These tiny holes are actually transparent oil glands.

Collection: The flowers bloom in early-mid-summer. Harvest the flowers (and some leaves) as the plant begins to bloom. This can be anywhere between June and August (depending on elevation and North or South facing slopes). Hypericin is found in the flowers of the plant, hence it holds a significant amount of this plants medicine. However, the whole aerial plant has other important constituents that help with other ailments.

The black/transparent "holes" of the "perforated" leaves.

The black/transparent "holes" of the "perforated" leaves.

 

St. Joan's Wort Medicine:

St. Joan’s Wort has a bad reputation as a noxious weed and it also has a lot going against it in terms of Western Medicine. I listed pharmaceutical medicines that should not be taken with this herb towards the end of this post. And I am recommending that people learn about this herb (and all herbs) before taking them or being recommended to take them by any one person. Understand what you are putting into your body before doing so. Take responsibility for your health. That way herbs (hopefully) will not continue to get a bad rep. such as our green ally St. Joan’s Wort. I have seen people walk in fear as soon as they saw a bottle of St. John’s Wort Olive Oil… Herbs are not here to kill you; they are here to help if you use them in the right way. Here’s some wonderful things that St. Joan’s Wort offers us:

 

Depression/Frustration

The idea of taking St. Joan’s Wort for severe depression has no use for people with bipolar depression or clinically diagnosed state of depression. Instead, it can help a person in a rut or temporarily unmotivated and frustrated. It has also helped those stuck in a state of darkness (literally and figuratively) … Seasonal Affected Disorder is a big phenomenon here on the west side of the Cascades, and living in a grey, wet, gloomy environment can really bring a person down. St. John’s Wort’s hypericin content can help bring sun to a person with “a dark view of life”. And I must include Michael Moore’s suggestion that “…this is also the time to check your diet, do some walking, go to church, throw the I Ching, or read some of the 1,200 pounds of books on emotional self-help to be found in the bookstore at your local mall.”

 

Muscle & Nerve Pain

St. Joan’s Wort has an affinity for the nervous system. It can work with the central nervous system’s emotions of angst, frustration and depression as well as the sharp, shooting nerve pain. In my experience, St. Joan’s Wort has soothed any burning, sharp sciatic pain. The herbal infused oil can help relieve sciatica, neuralgia, sprains and cramps. Combined with Arnica and Balm of Gilead, an oil with the three herbs can help both nerve and muscle pain… this has helped me immensely when I get sciatica from long distance running and also when I had a spinal injury…

 

Abrasions, Burns & Vericose Veins

The infused oil helps reduce inflammation, pain and broken veins. It stimulates granulation, capillary regeneration and has antibacterial effects. St. John’s Wort can be found in many European ointments made for varicose veins and burns. St. John’s Wort is also considered a vulnerary. It can help heal wounds, bruises, burns and scars.

 

Cold Sores

Have you ever gotten herpes when you were calm and balanced? What about when your schedule is a little bit hectic and you are little bit stressed? The herpes virus lives in nerve cells. Hence, when our nervous system is out of whack, we show symptoms. St. John’s Wort can be taken internally and/or applied externally to help relieve herpes outbreaks. St. John’s Wort is also used by herbalists for the nerve virus, shingles (just don’t add any cooling/heating essential oils).

 

Other Uses for St. Joan’s Wort: Liver Stagnation and Diuretic

 

CONTRAINDICATIONS: Studies have been done with light-skinned livestock whom ingested St. Joan’s Wort and developed welts and rashes on their skin. Following this study, the FDA and other conservative medical establishments stated that taking St. Joan’s Wort internally will result in photosensitization. There have been no reports of human photodermitis nor photosensitivity from ingestion of this plant. However, the plant does contain phototoxins which can create photosensitivity reactions (severe sunburns) in fair-skinned persons when taking this herb. Yet, oddly enough applying this externally has proven to be a mild sunscreen. 

 

St. John’s Wort is an MAO inhibitor and interacts badly with fermented foods and beverages (wines, beer, etc.), pickled food and cheese. It also should be avoided wherever pharmaceutically appropriate…

Pharmaceutical drugs that are effected by St. John’s Wort

(according to The Botanical Safety Handbook):

Immunosuppressant

Anticoagulants

Antiarrhythmic

Anti-anginals

Anxiolytics

Antidepressants

Antivirals

Anticancer drugs (chemotherapies)

Antiulcer agents

Antifungals

Anticonvulsants

Antihistamines

Beta-adrenergic blockers

Calcium channel blockers

Hypoglycemic

Skeletal Muscle Relaxants

Statins

 

If you are planning on having surgery, western medicine does not allow for this plant to be consumed within a certain amount of time prior to surgery.

 

Photos by Rachael WItt

Photos by Rachael WItt

 

Plant Preparations: Oil and Tincture

I wouldn’t bother drying this plant out because it loses so much of its strong medicine!

 

VERICOSE VEIN/HEMORRHOID OIL:

  • 1 oz. St John’s Wort oil
  • 8 drops each essential oils: chamomile, palma rosa and cypress.

Combine ingredients and apply externally

 

St. Joan’s Wort Oil:

To make the oil, cover the flowers with good, cold-pressed olive oil.

Cover jar with coffee filter and a rubber band (or something similar).

Leave the covered preparation in the sun (ideally with warm, summer heat) for twenty-one days or until it becomes a rich red.

 

All of St. Joan’s Wort infusions should turn a deep red color

 

References:

Botanical Safety Handbook by AHPA

Herbal Medicine by Rudolf Fritz Weiss

Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore

Herbalpedia by The Herb Growing & Marketing Network (Maureen Rogers)

Herbs for Health and Healing by Kathi Keville

Featured Herb: St. John’s Wort by Rosalee de la Forêt

Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon