Native to the United States and Europe, St. John's wort is a perennial plant that grows beside country paths and on sunny edges of woodlands. It owes its name to the fact that its golden yellow flowers display their splendour around June 24 - St. John's Day. The medicinal benefits of the plant stem from a high concentration of hypericin, a red pigment that exudes from the flowers, and from pseudohypercin. Hypercin is thought to be responsible for the known antidepressant effect of St. John's Wort. In addition, the plant has antibiotic and antiviral capabilities and has long been used to help heal wounds. The herb is currently being studies as a possible treatment for AIDS patients. It may also benefit the treatment of the herpes virus and mononucleosis.
- Loves sunny, warm locations, but will grow in partial shade
- Likes well drained soil, not too moist, with high humus content
- Reaches a height of 2-3 ft., depending on water and nutrients
Harvest between June and august, traditionally around June 24, near the time of the summer solstice.
In ancient times, the summer solstice was believed to be a magical day. St. John' Wort was used to ward off fears, ghosts and nightmares; it is therefore also known as "witches herb".
Its small, bright yellow flowers consist of five petals with long, feathery stamens at the center. The slender, oval leaves grow in opposite pairs. If held up to the light, the leaves often appear to be perforated.
Fertilize St. John's wort with compost in the spring and feed it with organic fertilizer as necessary (an application in midsummer may help if the plant is growing in poor soil). St. John's wort does not thrive in waterlogged soil, but does tolerate dryness well, making additional irrigation unnecessary. In the fall, cut back the stems to just above ground level.
Harvesting and processing
Though you can harvest from June to August, the fresh plant contains the highest active constituent contents at the end of June. For tea, gather the upper non-woody parts and hang them in a dark place with the flower heads down. Use only the flowers to make herb oil.
The fresh flowers can be used to make an oil that has proved particularly curative for skin problems, bruises and rheumatic ailments.
Extra tip : One way to identify St. John's wort is to pinch the leaves or flowers, which will turn red due to the release of hypericin. This red pigment was said to represent the blood of St. John the Baptist.
An onion planted on St. John's night will grow and grow to a farmer's delight
Guide to cultivation
The ornamental and balcony varieties of Hypericum usually do not contain any healing properties. Only Hypericum perforatum, which is rarely found commercially, has this capability. For this reason, look for St. John's Wort in speciality or mail-order nurseries, or find a clump in the wild and gather just the seeds (a thimbleful of seeds will suffice). Never dig up native plants because it could harm the balance of the natural habitat.
Seeding and planting
- Between March and May, sow the St. John's wort seeds thinly in a small box or a seeding tray filled with potting soil.
- Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Mist them thoroughly with water and keep them moist. The seeds will germinate in approximately 14-20 days.
- After the seedlings have reached a height of approximately 1-2 in., transplant them in clusters of 3 into small pots filled with a growing medium. Place the potted plants in a sunny location during the summer and make sure that they receive sufficient water.
- In early fall, set the plants out in well drained soil, about 12 in apart. Cover the base of the plants with a light mulch after the first frost. They will bloom the next summer.
The easiest way to propagate St. John's Wort is dividing the plants in the spring or fall. Dig up your plants and divide the root tufts into several portions. Replant in well-worked, enriched soil. Collect some seeds from existing plants in the fall and store them in a dry, dark place during the winter to sow in March.