An herbal monograph, through our eyes
This herbal ally marks the uncontested arrival of Summer in Northern California, yellow flowers staining our fingers with her maroon-colored blood. Reminding us of our transformational potential. And of the surprising gifts we each hold beneath the surface. Protecting us and reassuring us. Unafraid to be seen, fully illuminated.
St. John’s Wort has the capacity to support us in the repair, protection, and safety that our nervous system needs to allow us to unfurl. To turn our faces toward the sun and let it nourish us, in body and in spirit. Helping us to occupy the increasingly-expansive state that makes space for our growth and emboldens us to take brave steps forward (or backward) on the healing path winding its way home to ourselves.
Below is the first of many monographs (a detailed written study of a single plant, commonly utilized by herbalists) we hope to share with you here. Our experience of the plants, though often used in our clinical practices to support our clients, is far from clinical. Like a relationship with a friend, our relationships with the plants are full of story, wonder, curiosity and most decidedly, our commitment to deepening our understanding of these beings as dynamic and intelligent living, breathing parts of the broader ecosystem from which all of life stems and to which all of life belongs. Our monographs grow and change as our knowledge and experience of these beings grow. This version has arisen from our present relationship to St. John's Wort, July 2023. Please learn from and enjoy this information through your vessel, sure to receive it uniquely, as a tool for growing your reverence for the green world. As is always the case, the information we share is never intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. And we recommend you work with an herbalist if you'd like to know more.
Energetics & flavor
Cooling, astringent, bitter and sweet
The flowering tops including buds, flowers and leaves.
Habitat and Cultivation
Thrives in temperate regions worldwide. Prefers a sunny site and well-drained, chalky soil. Can be grown from seed or by root division in autumn.
Commonly named St. John’s Wort, for St. John the Baptist, with flowers blooming around his birthday on June 24, St. John’s Wort (SJW) embodies the radiant energy of the sun, with flowers emerging during the period when the sun shines upon us for the greatest length of time, on or around the Summer Solstice. In traditional and folk medicine, SJW was said to ward off evil spirits, with genus Hypericum meaning 'over a picture or icon’ referring to the traditional use of placing these flowers above religious images for protection, especially on Midsummer's Day. The species name, perforatum refers to tiny holes in the leaves, once believed to be caused by the devil who attempted (unsuccessfully) to stab the plant to death with a needle, fleeing due to his hatred of the plant’s scent.
As said protector, SJW is a potent antiviral and antibacterial, supporting the boundary-keeping work of our immune system, and exhibits a series of virtues that work in concert to fortify and heal our ultimate physical boundary, the skin. The red hue of this plant’s medicine when infused into alcohol or oil can be credited to hypericin, a phytochemical present in SJW, clinically validated to offer anti-depressive, anti-cancer, anti-tumor and anti-viral properties (though traditional healers have long since known this to be the case, also working with the plant as a remedy for wounds and bruises, digestive issues, nervous exhaustion, jaundice, and spinal injuries, to name a few).
With a strong affinity for the nervous system - nourishing, toning, repairing, and protecting nerve tissue on the skin and throughout the body - it’s no surprise that this plant is associated with the warding off of evil, as it offers resilience and regeneration to the nervous system and its tissues (this is called neurotrophorestorative action). SJW also acts as a nervine and anxiolytic, gently calming anxiety, nervousness, and agitation, while also working to remedy depression, reducing the uptake of (and therefore leaving available for absorption) serotonin at neuronal synapses, as well as dopamine and norepinephrine. SJW harnesses the uplifting power of the sun in its bright yellow blossoms, allowing it to nurture our capacity to hold light within the heart and spirit.
Being full of highly innervated tissue (the human gut is lined with more than 100 million nerve cells), it's no surprise that SJW is also a valuable ally for the digestive tract and conditions that impact the gut, acting as a vulnerary (wound healer) to the GI tract lining, hastening the healing of ulcers, and supporting detoxification pathways of the liver - a gut/brain axis ally made manifest.
Ecologically, SJW grows in disturbed soil, meaning you’ll often find it near places inhabited by humans and their agriculture/livestock, commonly growing in full-sun stands along roadsides, in ditches, in fields, and in pastures. In some places, this plant is considered invasive (much like the settlers who introduced it to these lands from its native Europe), taking over habitats once occupied by native plants. Popping up abundantly in clear-cut fields occupied by settler’s livestock, SJW has been seen to cause photosensitization (sensitivity to the sun) of the animals’ skin when ingested. In turn, ranchers are often compelled to replant trees, providing the animals shade and reducing proliferation of full-sun-loving SJW. An example of the Earth working to heal itself, as is her way. While moderate doses of hypericin do not cause photosensitivity in humans, fair-skinned individuals should approach direct exposure to sunlight with attention and caution after ingesting large quantities of the herb. Remarkably, the herb-infused into oil happens to be an ideal topical remedy for the skin post-sun exposure or in the case of a sunburn, through its potent anti-inflammatory actions, ability to increase blood-flow, local pain relief, and flavonoids that stimulate tissue regeneration.
A powerful medicinal ally most herbalists would feel lost without, this is a plant worthy of our respect and honoring. Contraindications include use during pregnancy and while using prescription medications, especially SSRIs, immune-modulating drugs, and oral contraceptives. If you are unsure, find a local herbalist to consult and as always, listen to your body and what it is telling you.*
We like to work with SJW as fresh medicine, if possible, infused into alcohol (tincture) or oil. The resulting medicine is bright red (if there is ample hypericin content) and is great when incorporated into bitters blends for supporting healthy, regular digestion and used in oil blends for full-body oilination. More on that, here. This is an herbal medicine that allows you to carry the joyful energy and vital energy of peak summer days with you, and a plant we are so grateful to have such a deep and ever-growing relationship with. We’ve also had success working with the dried plant in tea, when tea is the best delivery method (for example, in the case of imbalances in the gut or urinary tract). Because most SJW medicine is prepared fresh, make sure you are buying products containing SJW from medicine makers who are either cultivating their own plants, or wildcrafting from a stand that is plentiful year over year, and, of course, never taking more than they need, or more than is sustainable to create ceaseless abundance … and equally importantly, harvesting with reverence, love and respect for the lifeforce within these plant beings and their powerful intelligence to support us as we heal.
Our current Seasonal Wellness Box (Summer 2023) features a lip balm made with SJW oil (along with other sunny herbal allies like Calendula and Rose) offering a slightly rosy tint to the lips. It is protective, moisturizing, and can even help keep virus (like herpes simplex virus 1, which often manifests as cold sores on the lips) at bay.*
Antibacterial, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, astringent, antiviral, calmative, nervine, sedative, trophorestorative, vulnerary
Nervous, Skin, Musculoskeletal, Liver, Digestive, Circulatory
Depression, anxiety, nervous exhaustion, seasonal affective disorder, insomnia, hyperactive or anxious children, premenstrual anxiety, dysphoric mood, anorexia, inflammation in nerves, muscles, and joints, herpes, shingles, and neuralgia, sciatica, tendonitis, carpal tunnel, rheumatism, osteoarthritis, nerve damage, gastric and duodenal ulcers, or other GI tract injury, staph, strep, HIV, hepatitis (viral), capillary permeability, myalgia, joint pain, sprains, strains, bruises, abrasions, broken bones, cuts, thermal burns, sunburns and surgical wounds, hemorrhoids, fistulas, varicose veins, rectal or vaginal fissures, vaginal tears from birth.
St. John's Wort is one of the first plants-as-medicine that came into my sphere, at a time in my adolesence when the protection it had to offer was needed desperately. Sadly, oft-misunderstood, it was shunned by my elders and caregivers (with best intentions, no doubt) as irresponsible or even dangerous to consume. Fear of the unknown avoided in exchange for neatly pressed pills, scored and labeled. But many, many years later, when I could no longer ignore the calling of the plants and the yearning in my heart, we were re-acquainted. And this powerful, transformative healer finally reunited herself with an ancient part of me that knew her implicitly. Like old friends who, despite the time and space that separated them, picked up right where they left off. And for that, my gratitude knows no bounds. - Sarah
1. The Essential Guide To Western Botanical Medicine, Christa Sinadinos, 2020
2. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier, Third American Edition 2016, page 106
3. Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman, 2003, page 559
4. Lived experience