Saint John’s Wort

Latin:  Hypericum perforatum

Family:  Hypericaceae

Parts Used:  Flower, leaf

Taste/Energetics:   Slightly warming, drying

Properties: Hypotensive, anxiolytic, antidepressant, antiviral, vulnerary, anxiolytic.

Actions:  Though it is often overused as an antidepressant herb, st. john’s wort is truly one of the best herbs available to us for a variety of mental health reasons.  St. John’s wort is gently calming and relaxing and generally has a cumulative effect of improving mood which makes it great for mild to moderate depression, generalized anxiety and seasonal affective disorder.  That relaxant effect makes it useful for those who have depression with insomnia.  In Germany it is one of the most common herbs prescribed by doctors there with a long track record of treating depression.  The main problem with SJW is that it has numerous contraindications with psych meds and other pharmaceuticals and generally should only be offered to people who are not taking meds.

On a larger level, it is key to look at this herb for its wider uses.  St. John’s Wort is a great anti-viral useful for cases of shingles, herpes and the flu.  It is also a fantastic aid as both an internal and external analgesic for neuralgia, fibromyalgia, sore muscles, joint pain and fatigue.  It is also vulnerary (wound healing) for conditions such as burns, stings and abrasions.

This is a lovely herb that grows commonly as a weed and for that reason it is one of the best herbs to gather oneself and make into a homemade medicine tincture.  The flowers immediately bruise and stain the hands and turn alcohol a rich blood red.  The latin name hypericum refers to being above the icon (image of Christ).  In that way it is associated with its ancient lineage as a protective plant against malevolent forces.  perforated refers to the leaves that were initiatlly thought to be perforated.  Instead the leaves carry tiny translucent glands.  In traditional folk medicine where a plant’s appearance is associated with its function, those translucent glands signify the idea of letting the light in.  And really this is what SJW seems to do: it lets the light in.  It is the antidote for that brooding melancholic sadness that can often pervade in the winter.

Dosage:  My preferred way to take this plant is as a wildcrafted tincture.  This isn’t that complex.  In the summer time in early July go to any field or meadow near your home and you will find some SJW (grab a guide- its easy to identify).   Make sure the land is not contaminated with pollution.  Loosely fill up a pint or a quart jar with the flowers and leaves.  Then fill it up with alcohol. 95 % organic alcohol is the best but really some good old 100 proof vodka will do the trick.   Cap it and store it in a dark cool place.  Shake it every day and then in a few weeks strain it out and you have a ton of Saint John’s Wort medicine.  Take 1-3 ml to 3x/day for a period of weeks and months.  Really- thats the best way to take this herb.  And yes you can buy it as a tincture but man- think if you made a connection to the plant itself and took medicine from that nearby meadow.  Pretty cool!  You can also make SJW oil like this as well.  Just substitute olive or almond oil for alcohol and store in somewhere nice and warm and strain it out after a few weeks.

I am not as big a fan of taking ion teas but many others are.  Try 1-2 tsp to one cup of hot water infused for 10 minutes.

Forget taking this as a capsule that you buy at your local grocery store.  Its likely low quality pesticide ridden Saint John’s Wort.  OK OK if you must…Take a couple 500 mg caps (a gram) several times a day.  You can buy it loose leaf and add it to teas however as a  standard infusion.

Contraindications:   A number of people report heightened sensitivity to light when taking this herb regularly and many livestock develop photosensitivity from consuming it.

Avoid with serotonergic antidepressants, with blood thinners, anxiolytic and analgesic drugs.  Some advise caution when taking almost any pharmaceutical due to potential of affecting the p450 microsomal enzyme system in the liver.

Further Reading:

St. Johns Wort monograph   by Kirsten Hale

Hypericum, drug interactions, and liver effects  by Paul Bergner