This week the earth reaches its point of full tilt. It’s a special day when the orbital axis hits the maximum angle. In fact, it’s the longest day of the year. (At least for those of us in the northern hemisphere.)
Some call it the Summer Solstice. Others simply refer to it as the first day of summer. Pagans and Wiccans light bonfires and dance into the wee hours in honor of Litha and Midsummer. And in Catholic countries, they observe the feast day of Saint John the Baptist, on the 24th of June.
But Mother Nature has her own ways of ringing in the season of sunshine. One such ritual is the flowering of the Hypericum perforatum, more commonly referred to as Saint John’s wort. It’s not impossible that this early Christian prophet was familiar with the medicinal properties of Hypericum. As a matter of fact, recorded use of the plant dates back to the ancient Romans. But the special shrub gets its name not from a connection with John the Baptist, but because it typically flowers around the time of his feast day.
St. John’s wort is high in hypericin and hyperforin, both if which are found in the flowers and unopened buds of the plant. This means that the best time to harvest the herb for medicinal purposes is also around summer solstice, or St. John’s Day.
Traditionally, herbalists have long considered St. John’s wort to be something of a panacea, using it in all sorts of antidotes and medicinal concoctions. Today its flowers are widely believed to provide a powerful herbal remedy against depression. A topical tincture can also be made to use on burns and bruises.
St. John’s wort has fairly distinctive, bright yellow flowers, making it pretty easy to recognize. To help identify, you can also squeeze an unopened flower and it will release a deep red resin. You can also hold the delicate leaves up to the light, and you should see little perforation holes. This is how the plant earned its botanical name, Hypericum perforatum.
If you are preparing your own tincture, it’s best to use fresh flowers. The red oil that comes out when you squeeze the buds is the primary active constituent, hypericin. If you let the flowers dry out, the oil will come out clear instead of red, and with much less potency.
Some of the simplest preparations you can make at home include oil, tincture and tea. Submerge fresh, clean flowers in a jar of olive oil for 3 to 4 weeks to make an easy infusion. The oil should take on a bit of the red tint after a few weeks, and then you can strain off the flowers with a cheese cloth. The oil can be used topically for scrapes, burns and bruises. Do NOT use the oil for eating or cooking.
You can also make a powerful tincture by soaking the fresh leaves and flowers in alcohol. High grade vodka works great, but some people prefer to use a good brandy. Just don’t use cheap liquor when you’re making medicine. Shake the bottle regularly and strain the flowers off after about 4 weeks. The tincture is supposed to be effective for anti-depressant and antibiotic properties.
The easiest preparation of all is a St. John’s wort tea. Simply steep a few teaspoons of fresh flowers in hot water for about five minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon or a spoonful of honey as desired. By itself, the tea has something of a lemony flavor.
St. John’s wort can be poisonous to livestock and should be consumed with caution. Don’t drink more than one cup of tea at a time, and women who are pregnant or taking contraceptive pills should avoid St. Johns altogether.
One possible side effect from taking too much St. Johns wort is photosensitization. The skin can become excessively sensitive to light, burning easily in the sun.
Although native to temperate regions of Europe and Asia, St. John’s wort has spread worldwide and become invasive in many areas. If you are cultivating St. John’s in a medicinal garden, you should take care not to let it spread into the wild. The plant can be dangerous to animals and also harmful to the soil.
To learn more about other common, medicinal herbs, take a look at some of our other articles.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mona Eendra (Unsplash)