In the first couple of years of growing our herbs, we seed St. John’s Wort in the greenhouse in the spring and transplant it in the garden in early summer. After a couple of years, we noticed a pattern was created. Like a baby, in the first year, St. John’s Wort crawled close to the soil. In the second year that St. John’s Wort learns how to stand proud and tall and put out its beautiful yellow blossoms. In the 3rd year, though, St. John developed rust, and we could not harvest it. After this pattern was repeated several times, we decided to wildcraft St John for several years instead of growing it.
Name: St John’s Wort
Botanical name: Hypericum perforatum
Common names: St. John’s Wort goes by almost 30 other names, the most common being hypericum, Klamath weed, and goatweed.
What’s in a name: Herbalist Matthew Woods makes an interesting note about the genus name Hypericum and the Greek name hypericon. “This seems to indicate that it was placed “above the icon,” or possibly that it has the power “over the image,” or specter. During the Middle Ages, St. John’s Wort was used to protect people against demons, witchcraft, and lightning.”
The species name “perforatum” refers to the fact that the plant’s leaves are “perforated” or appear to have tiny holes that you can only see on close inspection.
Botanical Family: Hypericum
Part used: leaves and flowers.
Degree: 3rd degree
“A red color from yellow flowers? If that’s not magic,
I don’t know what is.”
– Henriette Kress
Description: Saint John’s Wort plants are perennial herbs that spread through underground rhizomes as well as seeds. They can grow up to 3 feet high, but they’re often smaller. The stem is woody, especially on the lower part of the plant. The leaves are light green and almost yellow. The blossoms are bright yellow and made out of five petals with many stamens and are united at the base into three bundles. To be sure, when you are identifying St. John’s Wort, crush the petals between your fingers. They will color your fingers red.
History and lore:
In the same way that Jesus was born in December, close to the Winter Solstice, his cousin John was born six months before him, in June, close to the summer solstice. While the story of Jesus is death and resurrection, St. John’s story is untamed growth, of wilderness. (St. John left the civilized world and lived by himself in nature).
St. John’s Wort was used to remove wilderness from home and the mind (depression). If you hold the leaves against the sunlight, you will notice tiny holes that perforate the leaves. Those were considered a sign of its ability to protect the body and mind against “phantoms.”
Add the observation that the branches look like a cross if you look at the plant from above. The moral wing of the church deduced from it that SJW must protect you from witchcraft and paganism.
Herbalist Matthew Woods considers SJW to be associated with the “little people” or the elementals. In both the European tradition and the Native American tradition, the “little people” are powerful beings that live in the woods and meadows. The elementals are the forces of growth. When the growth is not tamed, it becomes wild. So again, you see the way that SJW is associated with the wild forces of summer. The elementals are interested in healing and teaching humans about the natural world but are veiled from most people. Only children, or certain types of healers, can be in a conscious relationship with them.
My experience with St. John’s Wort was that indeed it is not an herb that wishes to be tamed. It grows wherever it wants to grow. It moves in the garden every year a little. This year I have a couple of SJW in the middle of the Lavender bed. A beautiful combination since the lavender, too, is getting ready to bloom. I had to learn to respect the untamed nature of St. John’s Wort.
Ruling Planet: From an astrological perspective, St. John’s Wort is a plant that corresponds quite strongly to the archetypal force of the Sun. We see the signatures of the Sun in the fact that it prefers to grow in wide-open spaces, southern facing slopes, and indirect sunlight; the hotter and dryer, the better. In addition, the plant itself displays strong solar signatures in the bright yellow coloration of the flower, which appears to be shining out light rays from its stamens.
The physical actions and properties of St. John’s Wort (both physical and spiritual) also bear strong correspondences to the Sun. First, we see that it is predominantly a warming remedy with its volatile, balsamic flavor and warming energetics. Therefore, it makes sense that it would be our primary remedy for melancholy and depression related to the absence of the physical Sun, such as in seasonal affective disorder.
St. John’s Wort heals us at the core, or our solar plexus, our inner Sun. It is for people who have lost touch with their inner light, who let the darkness creep into their psyche. SJW is for people who have lost their path and are isolated from life. SJW will help strengthen the inner Sun by inviting the “above the apparition” (the meaning of the Greek word hypericin) or the spirit/ self to shine from the core, strengthen the mind, and take hold of “punctures” in our psyche that causes leaks of life forces that result in lethargy and depression. When the inner light shines bright, it protects us from within. SJW can anchor the self in the body and remind it of its integrity.
Ruling Element is the air element that governs the nervous system. The Sun is shining its warmth and light on the nervous system.
Alchemical Principal: is the sulfur. The yellow flower and the red pigment of the oil are a sign of sulfur.
Psychological Profile: St John is for people that experience depression, despair, loss of hope, loss of faith, trust. The inner light becomes dim, and the vital force collapses. The person feels disconnected from their community, family, and nature. Still, they feel disconnected from themselves, their heart, and their purpose in life.
Very beneficial for seasonal affective disorder. For when a person has a hard time trusting their gut instinct or their intuition.
“St. John’s wort is known to have several active ingredients, which includecyclopseudohypericin, hypericin, hyperforin, isohypericin, protohypericin, pseudohyappearsn, and several other flavonoids.2,5 Each of these active components appears to have differing levels of contribution to its antidepressant properties.5 There also appears to be a number of different mechanisms that have been linked to the antidepressant effects of St. John’s wort. However, it is unknown if any one of these contributes a greater degree of influence over another.5 As such it is likely that a combination of these ingredients and mechanisms culminate in an antidepressant effect.”
~ Anthony J. Busti, MD,
The compounds that were mainly researched are hypericin and hyperforin. The research found that they work by decreasing the neural uptake of serotonin. On the other hand, Serotonin is left in the space between the neurons for a more prolonged period, so you have an increase in serotonin levels that is available.
Hypericin and hyperforin were found to be MAOI (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors). MAO are enzymes that break down monoamines, neurotransmitters that contain one amino group. Including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. When these neurotransmitters are not broken down, their level is higher, resulting in depression and anxiety.
Hypericin and hyperforin inhibit the reabsorption of GABA that promotes a calm, restful mood.
The research shows that hypericin and hyperforin are not responsible for themselves but the synergy of all its chemical compounds responsible for the antidepressant effect.
Volatile oils and tannins.
Taste: aromatic, oily, pungent/ balsamic mixed with a bit of bitterness, slight sweetness, puckering/astringent.
Energetics: Gently warming, drying, and relaxing. Tonic because it is astringent. The astringent properties are specific for the digestive system and topical.
Cold, depressed tissue state. Depressed nerve function, weak, lacking stimulation in the nerves, liver, and mind/spirit. The overall sensation of stuckness or not being able to move forward.
Dry atrophy tissue state. A dry tissue is unable to receive nutrition and becomes atrophied. St John is an oily tonic for nerves, especially for tension conditions such as spasm and convulsions.
Heat excitation. St John is a topical anti-inflammatory specifically for inflamed injured nerves.
Specific Indications: pale tongue with pale coating. Pale skin. Pulse low and weak. The pulse is deep and does not have enough vitality to reach the surface.
Actions: Nervine Sedative and Trophorestorative (for a nervous breakdown. With skullcap and milky oats), Bitter Tonic, Hepatoprotective (that’s why it does not work well with drugs), Astringent/Vulnerary, and Anodyne.
Organ Affinity: Nervous system, specifically the spine, solar plexus, liver, gastrointestinal tract (stomach and small intestines), specifically the enteric nervous system. The nerves in the bladder (bedwetting) when there is tension and irritability in the bladder.
“Astringent, sedative, and diuretic. Used in suppression of the urine, chronic urinary affections, in diarrhoea, dysentery, worms, jaundice, menorrhagia, hysteria, nervous affections with depression, hemoptysis, and other hemorrhages.”
~ King’s American Dispensatory
“It is more important to know the person who have the disease than the disease that a person have.”
St. John’s Wort is one of the most known herbs, even to people who know only a little about herbalism. It got its name as an antidepressant, which is totally misleading. Herbalists are looking to find the condition’s root cause, not just looking on the surface and healing the symptoms. Herbalist David Winston reminds us that there are 12 different kinds of depression and that SJW may help heal only three of those:
- GI-based depression is common with chronic GI problems such as intestinal dysbiosis, abnormal gut flora, gastric upset, chronic constipation and diarrhea, inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), and leaky gut. Much of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. While this serotonin cannot pass the blood-brain barrier, associated precursor compounds can and do. A healthy intestinal microbiome is also essential for helping maintain a healthy emotional state. The person with GI depression will be moody, lethargic and depressed.
- Hepatic depression. In ancient Greek medicine, the word melancholia described a state in which a person had an excess of the black (melan) bile (choler). This humoral imbalance led to symptoms including irritability, depression (often with anxiety), angry thoughts, loss of appetite, insomnia, nausea, and biliousness
- Seasonal affective depression. AKA winter gloom.
St. John’s Wort is one of the more effective herbs in treating nerve pain due to inflammation, injury, or trauma to nerve tissue. It is considered a trophorestorative herb (an herb that nourishes and rejuvenates a specific tissue) to nerve tissue. It can be used for nerve pain or nerve damage such as in peripheral neuropathies, Reynaud’s disease, sciatica, phantom limb pain, brachial nerve pain, head trauma injuries, migraines, and even minor spinal injuries. Those often lead to a sharp, electrical, shooting pain that traverses a very particular pathway through the body. SJW can be used both topically as a tincture or as a homeopathic remedy for nerve pain.
“This agent by Homeopathic physicians is considered specifically adapted to irritation, soreness, or chronic disease accompanied with tenderness of the spinal column. It is indicated when symptoms of that disease or of general spinal tenderness are present. If accompanied with fever, which is seldom the case, other indicated remedies should be prescribed. For traumatism of the spinal column, or nerve centers, Homeopathists use it externally and internally, in traumatic conditions of the spinal cord, and where there is shock or where there are contusions or lacerations without shock. They believe that it will prevent convulsions from spinal injury, and will prevent tetanus from punctured wounds, relieving the pain resulting from injury.”
St. John’s Wort has been shown to enhance the phase II liver detoxification pathways, called cytochrome P450, which impacts the metabolization of various compounds in the liver. However, because of its effect on stimulating toxins metabolism, it reduces the activity of many pharmaceutical drugs; hence it is contradicted with many medications. According to David Hoffman, this includes “non-sedating antihistamines, oral contraceptives, certain antiretroviral agents, antiepileptic medications, calcium channel blockers, cyclosporine, some chemotherapeutic drugs, macrolide antibiotics, and selected antifungals.”
SJW is unique in its effect on the liver because it can work for liver excess (inflammation) and liver deficiency or stagnant liver. In addition, it helps the liver gently cleanse the body of toxins. According to Paul Bergner, the effects of St. John’s Wort upon the liver is one of the primary reasons it is beneficial in the treatment of depression.
SJW has a particular affinity to the solar plexus and the nerves of digestion. The autonomic nervous system organizes the digestive system. It means that the proper enzymes and hormones are secreted in the time and place where they are needed. Thus, peristalsis happens at the right time, place, and order. Modern lifestyle, diet, and stress specifically can cause havoc in the gut. SJW can help mitigate these harmful influences over the gut.
Fred Siciliano, an herbalist from California, states, “It decongests the liver and removes mild tension that accompanies this. It harmonizes the stomach, spleen, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder,” in other words, it strengthens the function of the solar plexus so that assimilation of nutrients improves and tissue cleansing is increased.
SJW is specially indicated for a person with a chronic disease that is weak, depleted, and depressed. This person can not be pushed by stronger remedies or by overly strong reactions of the liver. SJW will have a restorative response on the autonomic nervous system and the digestion through the solar plexus.
SJW is one of the most important remedies for wounds, specifically for deep puncture wounds prone to infection. SJW has antimicrobial properties that allow it to heal wounds from the inside out (as opposed to comfrey that heals from the outside in)
SJW is an excellent herb to have around in the summer for sunburns. Infused oil of SJW with infused oil of Calendula and lavender, when applied to sunburn or any other burn, can help draw out the heat and reduce the inflammation.
SJW is used as protection for people that are over-sensitive to the spiritual world. People that see visions and apprehensions. People that need grounding. Traditionally, St Johns was used with Wood Betony and yarrow to protect the integrity of the self and anchor it in the body.
St. John’s Wort and other herbs:
As a trophorestorative to nourish and restore health to nerve tissue, combine with skullcap and milky oats.
For GI-based depression, Culver’s root, St. John’s wort, Wormwood, Saffron, and Evening Primrose leaf/root.
For hepatic depression SJW with Wormwood, Rosemary,
For seasonal affective disorder, use SJW in combination with lemon balm
For excess heat and migraines combine with feverfew.
Topically for wounds, use with plantain, Calendula, and comfrey.
Preparation and dosage:
Standard infusion: 4-8 oz 1-4 times daily.
The fresh tincture is by far superior to the dry extract. Tincture fresh (1:2 95% alcohol); dosage 2-4 ml 3 times a day.
An important factor with St. John’s Wort in using it for depression or melancholy is that results are typically cumulative over time with consistent use. Most do not feel it upon the first dose! It is generally recommended to take the plant daily and consistently for at least 3-6 weeks to begin to notice the effects.
Dosage for a tincture: 5 drops to 3ml 3 times daily.
Oil: Fresh flowers(1:4) apply topically
Both tincture and infused oil should turn out red.
Capsules: 500-1500mg, 3-4 times daily; standardized capsules tp 0.3%hypericin, take 300mg, 3-4 times daily
I use it also in the Lion’s Heart Tea as part of a formula with other herbs that are knownto uplift the spirit.
St John’s wort increases the sensitivity to sunlight. Therefore, if taken internally, avoid exposure to sunlight.
SJW is contraindicated with many medications. Before using SJW, do thorough research, especially if you are on medication. You might cause the drug to metabolize too fast, so they become inactive.
The most known pharmaceuticals to be unsafe with SJW are antidepressants (SSRI, MOAI, hypnotics, or sedatives), antiepileptic medication, chemotherapy, oral contraceptives, AIDS medication, and calcium channel blockers (high blood pressure meds), and more.
Easley, Thomas, and Steven H. Horne. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: a Medicine-Making Guide. North Atlantic Books, 2016.
Ellingwood, Finley, and John Uri Lloyd. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy: Developing the Latest Acquired Knowledge of Drugs, and Especially of the Direct Action of Single Drugs upon Exact Conditions of Disease, with Especial Reference of the Therapeutics of the Plant Drugs of the Americas. Eclectic Medical Publications, 1983.
King, John, et al. King’s American Dispensatory. Ohio Valley Co., 1909.
Klemow, Kenneth M. “Medical Attributes of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum).” Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd Edition., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92750/.
“Log into Facebook.” Facebook, www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10156566459608692&id=139321718691.
“Login.” School of Evolutionary Herbalism, members.evolutionaryherbalism.com/members/mmm/.
“The Mechanism of Action of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) in the Treatment of Depression.” EBM Consult, www.ebmconsult.com/articles/herbal-supplement-st-john-wort-hypericum-perforatum-mechanism-depression.
Peterson, Bahtya. “St. John’s Wort.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Jan. 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557465/.
WE;, Wonnemann M;Singer A;Müller. “Inhibition of Synaptosomal Uptake of 3H-L-Glutamate and 3H-GABA by Hyperforin, a Major Constituent of St. John’s Wort: the Role of Amiloride Sensitive Sodium Conductive Pathways.” Neuropsychopharmacology : Official Publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10882845/.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicine. North Atlantic Books, 1998.
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Tags: Herbalism, Herbs for Depression, St John's Wort