St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is in full bloom in New Brunswick right now. It is a beautiful plant, with cheerful yellow flowers. It has quite a distinct smell, and some very unique characteristics. It can grow several feet tall, and has a woody base. The flowers grow in clusters at the end of the branches. Each flower is bright yellow, has five petals, numerous stamen, and a single pistil. The leaves and flowers have small black dots. The leaves, if held up to the light, are peppered with transparent 'holes' (actually oil glands), which makes sense when you consider the latin name of the plant, perforatum (perforation). Possibly the coolest part of the plant, though, is that despite it's cheerful yellow colour, it 'bleeds' a dark purple. Squeeze a plump flower bud between your fingers, and it will stain your fingertips dark purple.
St. John's wort has been extensively studied for its actions against mild and moderate depression. It has gained such a solid reputation as an antidepressant that it isn't strange anymore to have allopathic doctors recommend it to their patients who wish to avoid pharmaceutical antidepressants. It is not, however, a pharmaceutical and lacks the instant action that some people have come to expect from man-made drugs. It needs to be taken over a period of time for its full effect to be felt, at least 2-3 weeks, and often months. Used properly, it is very effective due to the herb's active constituents. These increase the serotonin levels in the body, and level out the 'feel-good' neurotransmitters of dopamine, serotonin, and noradenaline to make them last longer in the body.
Topically, St. John's wort is wonderful for soothing and healing bruises, sore muscles, sprains, and burns. It is best used as an oil in this case. The oil and tincture must be made with fresh buds and flowers for it to be effective because the hypericin (active constituent) does not last as well in the dried plant matter. So, the few weeks when St. John's wort is ready is a very busy time of oil and tincture making! To know when the plant is ready, squeeze a bud between your fingers. If it is filled with purple 'juice', it's time.
These flowers and buds are at their peak. Most of the plant is at the bud stage, which is best. The buds are plump and juicy and ready to be made into remedies!
St John's Wort Tincture
St. John's wort flowers and buds
glass jar with lid
1. On a bright, warm day, pick enough St. John's wort buds and flowers to fill a glass jar 3/4 full. The plant matter should be fairly packed, but not too tightly.
2. Fill the jar with vodka (80 proof, or 40% alcohol) so there is very little headspace. The alcohol must completely cover the plant matter. Use a spoon to smoosh down the herbs if they float.
3. Cap the jar, being sure to put a non metal barrier between the alcohol and the lid. Parchment paper or plastic wrap works well.
4. Label with the ingredients and date. Store in a dark, cool cupboard for 6 weeks, shaking daily. The tincture will be a deep red colour.
DOSE: Generally, 1/2 to 1 tsp twice daily. Cycling is important. Take it for 3 weeks, discontinue for 1 week, and repeat.
SAFETY: Some people experience photosensitivity when taking St. John's wort. Discontinue if you experience skin issues. St. John's wort should not be taken in conjunction with pharmaceutical antidepressants without the guidance of your doctor. If pregnant or breastfeeding, seek the guidance of a health-care practitioner.
** This is fun, right?! And that's all it is for now. Information on the traditional uses and properties of herbs in this website are for educational use only, and are not to be mistaken for medical advice. Every attempt has been made for accuracy, but none is guaranteed. Many traditional uses and properties of herbs have not been validated by the FDA or Health Canada. If you have health issues, concerns, or questions, consult your health care practitioner. **
Gladstar, Rosemary, Medicinal Herbs A Beginner's Guide, Story Publishing, North Adams, MA. 2012
Clinical herbalist. Mother. Teacher. Ever student.