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Herb of the week: St. John's wort.

Photo: Hypericum perforatum 22. A short profile:

Latin: Hypericum perforatum and other species of Hypericum -- if the yellow flowers color your fingers red when crushed.
Family: Hypericaceae, St. John's wort family.
Parts used: Flowering tops.
Taste: Aromatic, a little astringent.
4 humors:Dryish, warm-cold: neutral.


  • Good for the nerves, for nervosity, for the mood.
  • Very good, externally, for swelling from trauma. This includes sprains, strains, bruises and similar.
  • Very good externally and internally for nerve regeneration, inasmuch as nerve regeneration is possible.
  • Nice anti-inflammatory.


  • It's called "midsummer herb" in some languages (including English ... St. John's day is midsummer). Up here it'll flower mid-July, though.
  • If picked on a sunny day in mid-July, it'll be at its very strongest.
  • If picked during a rainy weed in mid-July, it'll work but not be at its best.
  • If picked on a sunny day in fall, it'll work but not be at its best.
  • If picked during a rainy week in fall, you'll be lucky to get some effect from the plant.
  • The oil should be made from the fresh flowering tops: dried herb won't turn the oil red.
  • The tincture and tea can be made from dried herb: they'll turn red from that, too.
  • The redness of various St. John's worty liquids corresponds with the efficacy of the plant. A deep red tincture is stronger than a pale red one, a deep red oil is stronger than a pale red one, and a deep red tea is stronger than a pale red one.
  • (I never remember if it should be St.John's wort or St. John's wort ... so prefer to shorten it to SJW.)


  • I give SJW in various more or less serious digestive problems, to help curb the inflammation. A powder in Crohn's and similar is nice.
  • I give it in urinary tract infections as well -- I got this use from Christopher Hedley. For that, also give calendula, plus your choice of urinary tract herbs.
  • While you could do SJW tincture for SAD (dark ages depression), the reason for that depression lies in a lack of vitamin D. So sure, do SJW, but also up your vitamin D intake.
  • It's absolutely astonishing for a wide range of external problems. Give it a shot for psoriasis (if it works it's reliable and quite effective), for some kinds of joint problems (if it works it's reliable and spectacular: the swelling goes down within 15 minutes, and with that, the ache and stiffness leave too), and for all sorts of bruises, scrapes, sprains, strains, and even broken bones.
  • Use the oil liberally in nerve numbness as well. If the nerve numbness comes from a lack of circulation, mix the SJW oil with, oh, mustard powder, or ginger, or cayenne or similar, to help circulation to the area as well as help the nerves.
  • Rub the oil (or tea or tincture or mashed herb or ...) onto fresh scars, where the nerves on one side don't work quite as they should anymore. SJW will help the nerves find their correct ends, and the weirdness will subside. This won't work on older scars, sorry.
  • SJW is a nice woundhealer as well. Give it a shot, as an oil or salve.

Comments on Facebook:

  • From Lauren H:
    Great digest, as always! Thank you.
    Preparing SJW oil is the highlight of my summer. I'm usually able to make enough to last the year and to share some with others, but *just* enough, so I regard it as precious. (It tends to lose its sparkle after 10 or 12 months anyway. Always a little sad for me to see that deep, magnificent red fading a wan shade that's neither red nor pink nor brown.) It's my go-to first aid for open wounds and trauma leading to swelling/bruises. A nasty head-wound my son received from a piece of metal healed so quickly under the oil's application that even I was amazed. I've also had success using it, as you mention, for sore joints, particularly that stiffness from old injuries.
    I did not have such success using it for Psoriasis. I don't relate this as a contradiction by any means; just, as you say, "when it works, it works," but when it doesn't,'s where the plant gets tricky for me: you classify it as "warm-cold," and I guess I haven't quite worked out the dividing line. At one point, I had great hopes for the oil in treating my husband's Psoriasis b/c of the way I'd observed it heal skin. Ultimately, it just seemed to make his spots -- which were so inflamed, you could feel warmth just by holding your hand above them - much worse. In this case it seemed to add heat to heat, and, not to get all folk-ish, but I remember thinking "Well, duh, this oil radiates a power forged in the furnace of the sun!" Still, its cooling properties are obvious at other times. So...we learn by trial and error, and apply herbs to people, not conditions.
    22 March at 15:57
  • From Lauren H:
    I'm eager to hear of anyone's experience -- first or second-hand if possible -- in using the oil during and after childbirth. I've only read about this from one source, but it made so much sense to me, especially as extended after-care in healing perineal cuts, tears, or general soreness; this is an area where nerve regeneration would be particularly ideal. It also seems a perfect choice for c-section aftercare. Anyone?
    22 March at 16:00
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    Ah. After childbirth. FABULOUS idea. I'll spread that one around a bit, see what feedback I get.
    As to psoriasis: there, too, if it helps it does so spectacularly. I haven't figured out which people it'll help yet. (I think it's neutral in humoral heat, but as you say, both hot and cold ... ho hum.)
    22 March at 16:07
  • From Katelyn B:
    I plan to do a SJW and Ginger Oil this year. My SJW is already springing skyward! We had such a mild winter that it never really died back at all, just continued snaking along the ground. The dog buried it in dirt a few inches deep at least 6 times over the winter, in her quest to unbury the squirrel's stash of acorns in the garden bed. I just unburied it each time, good as new. :-)
    22 March at 22:28
  • From Ember W:
    You mentioned using it for Psoriasis, Henriette's herbal, how exactly would you use it? In a salve? Or lotion then? Or some other way?
    23 March at 04:55
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    internally and externally; but give it a shot externally first: if it helps it does so fairly fast.
    23 March at 09:07
  • From Karin H:
    I used it after childbirth on my perineal tissues after every time I went to the bathroom. My swelling and skid mark healed amazingly quickly and the pain was gone in a matter of just a day or two. I love it for that use.
    23 March at 08:15
  • From Anamaria R:
    The herb I use most. Works wonders on colds sores.
    30 March at 00:08
  • From The Greenfield Clinic:
    Really worth making this oil mid summer. I make mine in Olive oil for the added anti-inflammatory benefits of it.
    23 March at 15:11
  • From Sara Jane O.:
    I just used it Monday to make another supply of my Baby Bum Salve. My 15 month old rarely ever gets a rash and didn't get her fist until after she was a year old!
    22 March at 22:17
  • From Michael DeMarco:
    My first choice for nerve inflammation.
    22 March at 22:23
  • From Sunny N:
    I made a massage oil with it, (olive oil based), added rosemary & lavender essential oils and vit.C. GREAT stuff! It really helps sore muscles!
    22 March at 22:35
  • From Pat P:
    Hypericum oil is one of my mainstays, for massage, for aching joints and muscles. I have passed it on to friends who also sing its praises.
    24 March at 07:38
  • From Joplin ZDN:
    This stuff also helps curb withdrawl symptoms of quitting nicotine.
    29 March at 02:56

Comments on the herblist:

  • From Miriam
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 12:59:53 +0200

    SJW in a salve with lavender took away the inflammation of shingles when my husband had them once.

    I use SJW-infused oil in a cream formula for pain and general horribleness from arthritis, tendonitis, any external -itis. The cream includes hot herbs, as Henriette suggested: chili-infused olive oil; eos of wintergreen (very little); clove; oregano; eucalyptus, and lavender for soothing. Very powerful combination, not to come in contact with eyes or face. I also suggest applying this to diabetic feet where there are no open wounds but dryness and numbness. People have said it makes them "feel their feet."

  • From Marguerite
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 15:55:27 +0200

    Miriam, I love the sound of this formula. I will use it. Thank you.

    I've been making / using a 'double wammy' SJW day time face cream for about last 14 yrs.

    Its SJW infused oil and SJW infused tea and then make into a day time face cream with typical cream making ingredients.Been using it on my body but mostly my neck and face since. Always felt that SJW anti-oxidants would help keep skin from unnecessary wrinkles and, it has a SPF of 8.

    What I'd like to add here is this: we all know how substances are well absorbed through our skin. Over the years, I found SJW seemed to have an emotional benefit thru the skin too. I noticed this when I started to sell SJW face cream to the public. When customers returned for more, they had a look of 'needing a fix' rather than needing some more. ;-) I've never tested this out. But I think it would make a great double blind study.

    It was very interesting to see this with a large number of customers.

    The recipe:
    Been using this recipe since 1997, from Dana Falconi's book - Earthly Bodies Heavenly Hair.
    Before that used Beatrice Traven - The Complete Book of Natural Cosmetics when I first started making face creams in the late 70's. It was from this book that I learned to use just a sprinkle of Borax powder or Lecithin for emulsification.
    I also add just enough sea salt to the water portion to make a 0.9% sodium solution, not for emulsification rather for preparing a liquid neutral solution that doesn't put any stress on the skin. The ratio is: 1 cup of water to 1/4 tsp sea salt.

    Cream ingredients:
    Heat and blend the following.
    6 oz Oil
    3 oz Solid Oil (shea, coconut, cocoa butter etc.)
    1 oz Beeswax
    Heat this separately.
    9 oz Water
    When mixing the oil and cream, they've got to be approx the same temp. The blending is started with the water in the blender and then you add the oil mix to the water.
    When all is blended well and creams poured into jars, you've got to let the jars sweat out the moisture for an hour or so and then put the lids on. Prevents condensation.

  • From Miriam
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 16:14:49 +0200

    Marguerite's SJW-based skin cream brings me to ask about SJW and increased chance of sunburn. Is that idea still around?

  • From George C.
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 16:24:20 +0200

    "brings me to ask about SJW and increased chance of sunburn"

    Hypericin, one of the active ingredients in SJW, causes photosensitivity. It has some anti-HIV properties and was tried as an injectable but the photosensitivity issues rendered it useless.

    Even people taking the herb internally have reported that. So! by all means, if you use the cream, be VERY cautious about going in the sun. (Which may be why one gets fewer wrinkles as opposed to a direct action of the product itself?)

  • From Marguerite
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 16:24:38 +0200

    However when used topically as an oil or cream, prevents sunburn.

    I've seen this in action several times, that is, using SJW cream, topically to prevent sun burn, by fair skinned persons.

    One of these persons was not only fair skinned but was taking SJW supplement that had previously caused her to have a sunburn. I suggested she try using SJW face cream topically, it helped her from burning there after.

  • From Henriette
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 16:50:51 +0200

    "Is that idea still around?"

    Internally, yes, in some susceptible individuals, even if you use whole plant.

    Externally, it'll work as a sunscreen, sunblock factor 11 or so.

  • From George C.
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 17:10:58 +0200

    This is really fascinating! Why do you think this is? I love paradoxical reactions like this.

  • From Henriette
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 17:29:02 +0200

    I expect it helps absorb UV light, be it internal or external ...

  • From d
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 18:14:01 +0200

    unfortunately, I have to agree from personal experience. I can't remember if I was using the sjw topically or internally, but I was using some, went out in the gardens and got a scorcher of a sunburn (I usually don't burn). That was 3 years ago and you can still see the outline of the garment on my skin, that I wore when that burn occurred, today.

  • From Denise
    Date: 2012 03 22 - 19:06:26 +0200

    My very fair-skinned husband got a terrible sunburn when using SJW oil while on doxycycline. The burn was much worse with the SJW than without (he was working outside and getting burned every day while on the doxy).

  • From Cami R.
    Date: 2012 03 23 - 01:17:49 +0200

    Two summers ago I tried an experiment and filled one jar with individually-squeezed flower buds and one with flowering tops, a mix of almost-budding and perfect and past-plump buds. Blended both of them in electric mixers and steeped them out over the full moon. The finger-staining individually squeezed oil was just a smidge darker red than the flowering tops jar. I felt like they worked equally well or near enough the I couldn't detect the difference.

    This year I've got a sjw/goldenrod fresh oil and it has been wonderful for sacrum or neck and shoulder pain where there's a combo of nerve/knot pain.

  • From Jan F.
    Date: 2012 03 23 - 09:46:52 +0200

    Doxycycline photosensitized me to the point where even sunlight coming through tinted car windows was extremely painful. I've never used SJW, so that wasn't a component. I'm fairly light-skinned western European ancestry.

  • From Bonnie Kavanagh
    Date: 2012 03 23 - 14:50:46 +0200

    Just had to comment regarding the topical use of SJW as I have been a faithful user of Marguerite's SJW face cream for years. I have very blonde hair and fair skin. I use her skin cream on my face, year round, in and out of the sun. I very rarely wear sunscreen (unless I go to the tropics or the beach!) as I think that there is also a connection with sun blocking agents and skin cancer...

    for instance, the highest per capita incidence of melanoma occurs in Australia (makes sense...fair skinned people near the equator...) but they also have the highest per capita use of sun blocks....her cream has never caused any difference in my "burn rate" fact, it is wonderful to apply after a sunburn (which are best to avoid for obvious reasons).

    I actually had the pleasure of assisting Marguerite in the task of cream making during my visit to her home in January. She makes this cream like she cooks...effortlessly...and it's wonderful.

  • From Brenda L.
    Date: 2012 03 23 - 16:57:45 +0200

    Making a salve:

    What works best for us: We put the oil base in a blender, mix at medium speed until it starts to cool, then while mixing we slowly add our water base. We also use Vit E, Rosemary, or Peppermint as a natural preservative. We find that refrigeration helps maintain the quality of the cream longer.

    Dried herbs have no water content therefore do not add 'their water' to the formula and also help preserve the cream. We find that the cream (if not used often) will discolor the cream that is exposed to air.

    (Henriette's comment: SJW needs to be fresh for an oil or salve, though.)

  • From Christophe Bernard
    Date: 2012 03 25 - 09:49:57 +0300

    Photosensitivity happened to me as I was picking a particularly good SJW (judging by color and taste). I picked a good part of the day, my hands dark red. I was sweating quite a bit and I brushed by forehead several times to get the sweat out of my eyes.

    I kept red sun marks for about 10 days after that, where I had brushed. So SJW (the pure pigments) externally was not protective at all to me in that instance, at the contrary.

    Of course, I am just an "n=1" sample.

    For info, I am a pretty typical Pitta person, very active, always outdoors, love the sun and tolerate the sun very well. Never wear sunscreen. Diet leans toward paleo, I cultivate my own veggies, and consume a liberal amount of good meats and fats.

Please add your own experiences etc. in the comments!

St. John's wort is in my book, Practical Herbs. There, I've written, lemmesee, 5 pages on it, so there's a tad more substance. And nice recipes, and pretty photos. And stuff. Buy the book, it's excellent!.


I have taken St. John's wort as a tea from fresh leaves, as small handful steeped about 20 minutes, and become lightheaded and weird feeling. It frightened me! I was looking here to see if anyone else had taken it that way and had a strange time with it. I had drank it a few times before with no weird effects. On this weird time I had put a few lemon balm leaves in for flavor. I think one just needs to be super careful- perhaps it was the mixing of 2 relaxing herbs. Any thoughts?