Why Get to know this plant:
St. John’s Wort grows abundantly and is easy to identify when you take a close look at the flowers and leaves. St. John’s Wort has been recognized in the West as having medicinal properties since the late 1700s. Long before that it was mentioned in the texts of Hippocrates, Pliny and Galen as helpful for wound healing, pain, and as a diuretic. Today in North Amarica it is recognized as a Eurasian perennial weed that is a pest to livestock due to photosensitivity that results from eating high amounts of this plant, however medicinal use of the plant is safe at recommended doses.
The herb has a restorative action to the nervous system and is known commonly as a treatment for mild depression, particularly for depression associated with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and it is highly recognized for its antiretroviral potential on viruses.
St. John’s Wort can provide benefit for nerve pain and inflammation caused by nerve damage; particularly when it is used to make a medicinal oil or salve that is applied over sciatic nerve pain. The oil made from yellow flower buds turns a beautiful red colour.
St. John’s Wort has also been found to be a potent antibacterial and antiviral agent. Antiviral because of it’s ability to prevent or address Herpes outbreaks; when it is taken preventatively it can decrease the number of outbreaks a person experiences. It also has action against the related virus, shingles. Shingles is an acute, painful inflammation of the nerve ganglia that manifests as a skin eruption that appears in a dermatome. Both viruses affect the nerve cells and this may be where the St. John’s Wort is helpful. Antibacterial action has been found against the organisms Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Staphylococcus aureus.
Research has validated its use to relieve anxiety, nervous tension, insomnia, SAD and depression. I personally like to munch on a flower or two whenever I encounter this plant in the woods as I can feel my spirits lifted from its sunny disposition.
Where This Plant grows:
This plant grows wild in disturbed grounds at low to montane elevations, abundant in fields, roadsides and river bed/flood zones. Because this plant is considered a noxious weed to livestock, make sure that you are harvesting in a truly wild location, where there is no chance that a rancher has treated the area with herbicide.
How to Identify St. John's Wort:
Hairless perennial plant, that grows 30-60 cm tall from rhizomes. Leaves are 1-3 cm long, narrow and lance-shaped. St. John’s wort has yellow flowers that are 5-petalled, 2 cm across with many stamens that are gathered into 3 bundles. Look closely at the flower and there are dark coloured glands along the outside petal margin and if you crush the flower petals a red oil comes out. Leaves have translucent ‘perforations’ of black spots, hence the name perforatum.
A native species of Hypericum, H. formosum can also be found in our area however this species has wider leaves, that are opposite and oval shaped. The sepals of H. formosum are broader and more round-tipped. *Sepals are the outer green part of the flower that function to support the petals and were protection for the flower while it was a bud.
All aerial parts can be used, however flower buds are most useful for medicinal oil.
Anti-inflammatory, astringent, vulnerary, nervine, antimicrobial, antidepressant, antispasmodic
Tips from Experience:
Pick the buds before they open to flower and infuse in oil for a healing oil or salve. St. John’s Wort oil is useful for burns and sunexposure as well as wound healing and skin beauty treatments.
St. John’s Wort should be used with caution in pregnant or lactating women, people with cardiovascular disease, or pheochromocytoma (benign tumor of the adrenal gland). Given the antidepressant activity of St. John’s wort, and the lack of consistent data about its mechanism of action, speak to a Naturopathic Doctor about taking this herb if you are taking MAOI or SSRI, or other pharmaceuticals to treat depression. There is also conflicting research in regards to oral administration and the development of photosensitivity although this does not generally occur for human dose levels of the herb but some people may be at risk.
Constituents in the plant:
Anthraquinone, terpenes: hyperforin, hypericin, flavonoids: hyperosid quercetin, phenol, lutein, myceline, tannin, volatile oil
Boon, Health and Smith, Michael (2000) The Botanical Pharmacy: The Pharmacology of 47 Common Herbs. The Institute of Naturopathic Education and Research Printing. p. 283-287
Keane, Kahlee (2015) The Standning People: Wild Medicinal Plants of British Columbia. Save Our Species. p. 82-83
Hoffman, D. (2003) Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press. p. 559
MacKinnon, Andy et al. (2009) Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada. Lone Pine Publishing. p. 227
Pojar & MacKinnon (1994) Plants of Coastal British Columbia: including Washington, Oregon and Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing. p. 319