Midsummer’s Herb

St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum

St. John's Wort Flowers

St. John’s Wort Flowers

You’ve probably heard of this herb as a treatment for depression. And it’s true, St. John’s Wort extract can be helpful for mild or temporary depressions, particularly Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is not as useful for more serious depression, or other mood disorders, and can mix badly with prescription anti-depressants. But on its own it can certainly help lift one’s spirits during a difficult time.

Taking the extract internally can increase photosensitivity, which can explain its usefulness in treating S.A.D., but for those already sensitive to sunlight or taking medications that also increase photosensitivity, the effects can be severe. I don’t mean to scare you away from this lovely and useful herb, but it’s important to know the facts. It is especially important with a powerful plant to make sure that you are purchasing your product from a reputable company. Some capsules have virtually no St. John’s Wort in them, leading customers to believe that the plant does not work for them. Others contain only the standardized extract, which may have more side effects than the whole plant extract. There are some excellent tinctures (liquid extracts), such as Gaia Herbs brand. For capsules, I prefer Oregon’s Wild Harvest. When you open the bottle, there is a strong smell of the St. John’s Wort flowers, a smell that always reminds me of a sunny summer’s day.

St. John’s Wort is believed to be named for the fact that it flowers around Midsummer, close to the Festival of St. John on June 24th. In European folklore, it was believed to be able to dispel evil spirits. It was also thought to allow one to “see the fairy folk”. This may be because large quantities of the plant can cause photosensitivity to such a degree that some visual distortions can occur (unless you are already very sensitive to sunlight, it takes a very large dose to do this!)

Extracting the beautiful yellow flowers into a carrier oil at the height of summer creates a rich red medicinal oil. This oil is used to treat skin troubles of all kinds, especially burns and nerve pain. Infused oil of St. John’s Wort (which is different from the Essential Oil) can be used directly on burns, minor wounds or rashes, insect bites, or any irritation.  This oil is helpful for all sorts of aches and pains, and can be added to massage oil for tense, achy neck and shoulders, or tension headaches. Add a few drops of Lavender essential oil to an ounce of infused St. John’s Wort oil for a delightful massage oil for tension and headaches.

St. John’s Wort oil is particularly good for the difficult-to-treat pain of sciatica and fibromyalgia. Massage deeply (and gently!) into trigger points for fibromyalgia, or along the nerve path in sciatica. Rest quietly for at least 20 minutes after the massage. You may be amazed by the results.

Although useful for any type of burn, St. John’s Wort oil is my favorite for treating painful sunburn. Interesting that a plant that can increase sensitivity to sunlight when taken internally, is an external remedy for too much sun! The wonderful world of medicinal herbs is full of such balance!



St. John’s Wort Tincture



St. John’s Wort Oil




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