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St. John's Wort

Hypericum perforatum

Common Names

Klamath Weed

Parts Used

Aerial parts in flower, fresh or dried 

Herbal Actions

Sedative, nervine, anti-inflammatory, astringent, antidepressant, alterative, antispasmodic, vulnerary (wound healing), hepatoprotective (liver protective)


Tissues Affected

Liver, nervous system, skin


Cool, bitter

St. John's Wort & Bee.jpg

Solar Powered Plant Medicine

The golden yellow flowers of St. John's Wort bloom around the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It's sunny nature is telling of its medicine, which is now widely known to help with depressive states of mind, including SAD (seasonal affective disorder). St. John's Wort medicine is like sunlight in a bottle. It embodies this sunny disposition and helps us feel the light and warmth when we need it. St. John's Wort is also a powerful nervine with pain-relieving effects. 

The genus name Hypericum is derived from the Greek words 'hyper' (above) and 'eikon' (picture). This most likely derived from the tradition of hanging cut St. John’s Wort over religious icons in the home to ward off evil during St. John's Day. Early Christians are credited for naming St. John’s Wort after their beloved John the Baptist since the plant blooms on or around June 24th, known as St. John’s Day, celebrated as his birthday.                         

This is also around the time of the Summer Solstice which is the longest day of the year and the shortest night in the Northern Hemisphere. According to pagan folklore, evil spirits would appear on the Summer Solstice. People would wear garlands of herbs and flowers thought to be protective against evil spirits and one of the most powerful of these plants was St. John’s wort also known as ‘chase devil.’ It was believed to be able to drive away evil spirits with its mere odor.                          


Fresh St. John's Wort wreath to be hung inside the home for protection

The first written record of St. John’s wort is reportedly found during the first century AD in Pliny the Elder’s famous book on natural healing. He refers to Hypericum in a physical application, noting that “The seed is of a bracing quality, checks diarrhea, promotes urine. It is taken with wine for bladder troubles.”


The Greeks and Romans also used St. John’s Wort as a spiritual herb by placing cuttings of the plant on the statues of their gods to ward off evil spirits, which again references its Latin name.


First century Greek physicians Galen and Dioscorides both used it as a diuretic, a vulnerary (wound healing) and as a treatment for menstrual disorders. Paracelsus, suggested that St. John’s Wort flowers should be picked at sunrise in order to capture the active constituents.

St. John's Wort-Vintage Botanical.jpg

"A tincture of the flowers in spirit of wine, is commended against melancholy and madness. Outwardly, it is of great service in bruises, contusions, and wounds, especially in the nervous parts."

- Culpeper

St. John's Wort has unique leaves that appear to have tiny holes in them when held up to the sun. These "holes" are in fact translucent dots of glandular tissue. Nevertheless, these holes are a key way to identify this plant. Even the name reflects this unique quality, the species name of "perforatum" is Latin for "pierced," which is where we get the word "perforated" from. 

If you look closely at the petals and sepals of the flowers you will see tiny black dots. When you rub these in your fingers they release a red pigment. This pigment contains the constituent called Hypericin, which has medicinal qualities and it is responsible for St. John's Wort's unique photosensitizing ability. This property was discovered when cows grazed on St. John's Wort and started developing skin inflammation while lying in the sun. People with fair skin can possibly experience photosensitivity from excessive consumption of St. John's Wort, so caution is advised. 

St. John's Wort black dots.jpg

The bright, ray-like petals release their precious red-colored liquid most efficiently when soaked in olive oil and left out in the sun for several days. This produces a beautiful, thick, red liquid which can then be applied externally on wounds, sprains, bruises and varicose veins. This oil was commonly referred to as the “blood of Christ.” This red pigment seems to be responsible for many of the various healing properties of St. John's Wort. 

Fresh St. John's Wort olive oil infusion... See the red color?

Medicinal Use

Internally St. John's Wort has various uses, despite its well-know use as an antidepressant. It is a pain relieving sedative that helps treat different types of neuralgia including diabetic neuropathy, rheumatic pains, sciatica, nerve pain associated with shingles, and even migraines. It is also a nervous system tonic that strengthens and calms the nerves when taken for a longer period of time. It also helps repair nerve damage, and is specific for injuries to the spinal cord, fingers and toes. 

Traditionally, it has been used as a liver herb. It has a stimulating effect on the liver that can be helpful in cases of jaundice. St. John's Wort has a known effect of increasing the rate at which drugs are metabolized in the liver. This explains why it is contraindicated with many prescription medications and even renders some medications ineffective, since all medications get processed through the liver and St. John’s Wort expedites that process.

St. John's wort has a reputation for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder and mild to moderate depression. It has been studied extensively for this purpose and it appears that how St. John's Wort affects mood is complex. It does have an affect on both serotonin and melatonin. It should be taken for a minimum of 2-4 weeks consistently before any noticeable changes. 

It has a history of being used in children to help with nocturnal enuresis or bedwetting. For children who have bedwetting issues, the problem is often not in the urinary system, but a form of neurosis. This is why St. John's Wort is such an effective remedy for bed wetting because it addresses the underlying nervous system imbalance. It is also helpful for children suffering from night terrors. A small cup of tea before bed has shown to be effective for both disorders.


Extracts of St. John's Wort have also been shown to be an effective antiviral for influenza, herpes, and hepatitis B and C. 

Externally it treats muscular bruises, deep soreness, mild burns, wounds, skin ulcers, and is specific for diseases affecting the spine such as sciatica. St. John’s Wort can also be used externally to help with nerve damage and pain, by soaking the area in a strong tea or rubbing St. John’s Wort infused oil into the affected area.

Modern Research

Scientists thought a chemical in St. John's Wort called ‘hypericin’ was responsible for its effects on improving mood. More recent information suggests other chemicals like ‘hyperforin’ may play a larger role. These chemicals act on messengers in the nervous system that regulate mood. 

St. John’s Wort contains the biologically active compounds choline, pectin, rutin, sitosterol, hypericin, pseudohypericin, and hyperforin, many of which are wound heailng antioxidants. It also contains compounds that regulate hormone levels affecting the brain and mood such as dopamine, interleukins, melatonin, monoamineoxidases, and serotonin.

Preparation & Dosage

Internally St. John's Wort can be taken as a tea, tincture or capsules...




Externally, St. John's Wort is extracted in a base of olive oil and used...


Do not use during pregnancy. Caution with prescription medications. There has been extensive research on St. John’s Wort and its interactions with prescription medications. It has been clearly shown that St. John’s Wort can interact in dangerous ways with a variety of prescription medicines including SSRI’s, MAO inhibitors, HIV medications, blood thinners, oral contraceptives, triptans and more. Check with your physician if you are taking prescription medications before taking St. John’s Wort internally. When taken in large doses by mouth it can cause photosensitivity (skin blotching from sun exposure) in those with very fair skin. 

St. John's Wort Recipes

Click the image below...


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