St. John’s Wort is a member of its own family, the Hypericaceae, relatives to the Mallows. Although it traditionally blooms on Midsummer, in the northeast we harvest the flowers and unopened buds in mid to late July. I have found that this herb doesn’t take well to cultivation in rows, possessing too much of a wild spirit: we let it grown here and there, as it wishes, leaving a few babies as we find them while weeding. Left to its own devices, it thrives.
Elemental associations: Fire
Phytochemistry: Glycosides, volatile oil, tannin, resin, quinines (D. Hoffmann)
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Anodyne, Anti-depressive, Sedative, Vulnerary, Anti-viral
Specific systems: Nervous
This is a plant that has received much publicity lately. True enough, it is helpful in cases of mild depression, useful especially in temporary conditions such as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but its power lies more in curbing inflammation of the nerves, which results in anxiety, tension, irritability and general ‘nerviness’. For severe depression, it would be dangerous to rely solely on this herb as so many have done.
It is a great external remedy as well (this is perhaps its single best use, in fact), easing neuralgia (again, inflammation of the nerves), sciatica, and other pains characterized by sharp stabbing, burning, and especially a ‘radiating’ sensation (for instance, the pain of sciatica radiates down the back of the leg, along the sciatic nerve, starting from the lower back). It is also an important burn remedy.
St. Johnswort also has a certain anti-viral power, and has been used experimentally in cases of HIV-AIDS and hepatitis, although this is still questionable. Coupled with its interaction with birth control medication, St. John’s Wort should most often simply be used externally.
Indications: Anxiety, nervousness, mild seasonal depression, sciatica and neuralgia, sunburn, burns, viral infections
Contraindications: Use of SSRIs (prescription anti-depressants) or MAO inhibitors, use of birth control hormones, photosensitivity, severe depression, use of antiviral drugs, use of organ rejection drugs, use of birth control medication.
Preparation/Dosage: The infusion is palatable, although a bit bitter. Use 3 TBS of the dry herb per quart of water. A tincture is more common, prepared from the fresh flowers and unopened buds, well chopped, in 50% alcohol, 1:5. Take ½ – 2 tsp. 3 times a day.
An infused oil is made by steeping the fresh, chopped flowers and unopened buds in oil and placing the jar in the sun for 7-10 days. This is the best way to administer St. John’s wort for its external virtues, although the tincture works well too.