When the bright yellow flowers of St. John’s Wort start to appear, I know that summer is in full swing! Blooming starting around June 24, the birthday of John the Baptist, till early August. St. John’s Wort can be found in dry, sunny locations along roadsides, in fields, pastures and meadows.
I’m so grateful for the ability to have access to clean, unpolluted rural areas of southern Ontario where I can responsibly harvest abundant wildflowers at this time of the year - chamomile, red clover, self-heal, evening primrose, St. John’s Wort, goldenrod and more - it instills a deep sense of place and connection with the natural environment.
The cheery flowers of St. John’s Wort are easy to ID with their 5 petals and tiny black dots along the margins. The leaf is full of tiny see-through holes that look like perforations, explaining where the name Hypericum perforatum came from. One notable characteristic about the flowers is that if you crush a flower bud between your fingers, a dark red pigment will release, staining your fingers. For herbalists, this pigment means that the plant has active medicinal constituents - hypericin and hyperforin.
Unlike other plants that are infused into a carrier oil in their dried state, St. John’s Wort is best used fresh. I like to chop the flowering tops into small pieces to increase the surface area to make contact with the oil which turns a beautiful red in a couple of weeks. Placing the oil in a sunny spot (in a paper bag to protect from the light) will often speed up the process.
According to the Herbal Academy, St. John’s Wort is a medicinally valuable herb:
“When injuries to the nerves are involved, [St. John’s wort] is often among the most beneficial and broadly acting herbs available. It is appropriate for conditions ranging from sciatica to atrophy of nervous tissue, and also often relieves the pain of sore muscles” (McDonald, n.d., para. 26).
Herbalist Mary Bove explains that “St. John’s wort is known for helping to diminish pain” both externally or internally (LaLuzerne, 2013). Specifically indicated for trauma and damage to the nervous system whether through injury or viral infection, St. John’s wort is the herbalist go-to for painful issues such as neuralgias, sciatica, … head and spine trauma, pinched nerves, after surgical and dental work, as well as injuries to any area that is rich in nerve endings (Winston, 2007; LaLuzerne, 2013; McIntyre, 1996).
Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar explains that this beautiful herb is “primarily valued as treatment for damage to the nerve endings” (Gladstar, 2001, p. 360).
St. John’s Wort is best harvested just as the first blooms have begun to open and the majority of the flowers are still enclosed in large swollen buds. A dry late morning or mid-afternoon are best too avoid the dew. Gather some some freshly opened flowers, and some closed buds including some of the leaves about 4-5 inches from the top. The bulk of the harvest should be the flower clusters, ideally in the late-bud or early-flower stage. I always leave my flowers outside for an hour or so to let the bugs escape.
How to make St. John’s wort oil:
1. You can use the flower tops right away, or spread them on a drying screen/rack or towel for a few hours to slightly wilt them.
2. Next, chop the flower tops into small pieces to expose more surface area to the oil and measure the amount you have. For each 1.5 cups of fresh material, I use about 2 cups of oil.
3. Place the chopped material in the jar. Optional: add 1/2 tablespoon of vodka and thoroughly mix with a chopstick to slightly sanitize the herb and prime it for the extraction.
4. Cover with your preferred oil covering all the plant material.
5. Cover the top of the jar with a piece of wax paper and lid. Label with the name and date.
6. Inspect your oil in a couple of hours and every day for the next few days to ensure all the plant is covered with oil and nothing is sticking out. Any uncovered pieces will have the potential to develop the mold.
7. Keep it away from light. Some herbalists keep it in a dark cabinet, but I had the best success placing it in a sunny spot in a paper bag. The sunlight has the ability to coax the red medicinal compound into the oil much more effectively.
8. In about 4-6 weeks, when the oil turned red, carefully strain the oil through a nut milk bag, cheesecloth or muslin cloth. Don’t squeeze the oil, just let it passively drip as the herb still contains moisture and you don’t want to introduce it into your finished product.
9. Store the finished oil in a cool place. If stored in a cool area and out of light, your oil should be good for about 9-12 months.
Use abundantly as is for your skincare and home apothecary needs, make into a salve for a more convenient application, and share with your loved ones!