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St. John's Wort

  • Hypericum perforatum L.
  • (Perforated variety)
  • Hypericaceae family

Common Names

herbsKlamath weed
herbsRosin Rose
herbsSt. John's grass
herbsTipton Weed

Parts Usually Used

The entire plant is dried for use. Usually the fresh flowers are used, but dried flowers are also used.

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

A shrubby hairless, branched herbaceous perennial plant with a woody branched root produces many round stems which put out runners from the base. The Plant has a pale brown stem, top branches and oblong stalkless leaves that grow in pairs. On the perforated leaves are transparent spots (oil glands), that look like holes, but on the unperforated varieties are rust-colored spots and were believed by pious country folk to be the mark of the blood of St. John the Baptist. Also, the sap of the plant is reddish colored and represents the blood of St. John the Baptist. Flat topped cymes of yellow flowers, whose petals are dotted with black along the margins, appear from June to September. Each flower has five yellow petals with black dots on the margins and many yellow stamens. The fruit is a three celled capsule containing small, dark brown seeds. The whole plant has a turpentine-like odor. The flowers appear in late summer and are bright yellow. Plant grows 1-3 feet tall with delicate .6 to 1.2 inch bluish-green elliptical leaves, requires full sun to partial shade. This perennial is very tough and will tolerate any soil type, extreme heat and drought. Even with extreme wilting, usually it will revive after watering. Seeds are very small and germination is spotty. Seeds may be sown in outdoor seedbeds as early as October for spring germination. The plant reseeds very lightly in the garden. In early summer, propagate by stem cuttings. Should be planted about one foot apart, no fertilization is necessary. True St. John's Wort has three extraordinary features that help identify it and virtually rule out any possibility of mistaken identity: the stalk is two-edged, (extremely rare in the plant kingdom). Hold the leaves up to light and you can see the oil glands or transparent dots. The golden-yellow flowers turn dark red if rubbed between your fingers. There is no objection to collecting the seeds of plants growing in the wild. When the seeds are ripe, shake loose from the capsules easily, collect a thimble full, dry them well and store until the following spring. In May, sow the seed in small boxes of garden soil, keep moderately damp. After 14-20 days the seeds germinate, then after another 14 days thin out the plants. Two or three weeks later the seedlings are ready for transplanting into well loosened soil in a sunny place. Set out 2.5 inches on all sides. In September, move the plants to permanent place in garden, 8 inches apart on all sides. Plants will survive the coldest winter if covered with some brush or straw. The following year the herbs will bloom. Then you can leave them alone, harvest what you need, and not need to cover them again.

Other varieties: Hypericum frodosum is a small deciduous shrub with similar flowers, also called St. John's Wort; the Chinese herb (Hypericum chinense), also called St. John's Wort, is used as an ornamental plant and should not be confused with (H. perforatum).

Where Found

Commonly found in dry, gravely soils, fields, and sunny places in many parts of the world, including eastern North America and the pacific coast. Found on roadsides, waste places and a weed in some places. Found throughout Canada and much of United States. Was introduced from Europe.

Medicinal Properties

Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, restorative tonic for the nervous system, sedative This bitter tasting herb works on the central nervous system and has been a popular cure for neuritis. It was once given to patients recovering from surgery because of its painkilling properties. It is said to prevent hemorrhages. Antispasmodic, astringent, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, blood purifier, tranquilizer, sedative, nervine, vulnerary, aromatic, diuretic, stimulates digestion.

Folk remedy for bladder ailments, stab wounds, shingles, gout, furunculosis, skin ulcers, swellings, depression, or worms. The calming properties have been used quite successfully in treating bedwetting, insomnia, stress reactions, hysteria and other nervous conditions. An oil extract can be taken for stomachache, colic, intestinal problems, and as an expectorant for colds and/or congestion in the lungs. A tea made from the flowers is good for anemia, headache, insomnia, jaundice, chest congestion, and catarrh, neuralgia, and rheumatic aches and pains. Excellent for pus in the urine.

Tea made from the herb has been used for uterine cramping and menstrual difficulties including irregular menstruation, pains following childbirth, suppressed urine, diarrhea, and dysentery. The oil extract makes a good external application for slow-healing cuts and burns, wounds, sores, bruises, tumors, vericose veins, boils, and other skin problems. It is applied as a liniment or poultice for sciatica, neuralgia and rheumatic pains.

Biochemical Information

Contains active compounds volatile oils, tannins, resins, choline, pectin, flavonoids (including rutin), sitosterol, hypericin (a glycoside that is a red pigment), a polyphenolic favonoid derivative (hyperaside), and pseudohypericin. Recent studies have found that hypericin and pseudohypericin have potent anti-retroviral activity, without serious side effects. Being researched for treatment of AIDS.

Legends, Myths and Stories

This herb has long been linked with magic. Its ancient name Fuga Daemonum testifies to its alleged ability to repel demons. (Fuga Daemonum or Scare Devil) The generic name, Hypericum, clearly shows that the herb was highly regarded as having power over evil spirits. It is taken from two Greek words, hyper and eikon ('over' and 'apparition'). From earliest times people have accepted as perfectly natural the idea that man has a body and a soul. At death the body was easily disposed of, but what to do with the soul or spirit was a different matter. Special rituals were developed and performed to honor the departed as fear of what the disembodied spirit could or would do to the living. The ritual was really a way for people to protect themselves from the wrath of the dead. The problem of demons and uncanny beings who had never lived among mortals was also handled by special rituals. One way to protect one's self was to use powerful plant magic, thus the use of St. John's Wort. To the early Christians the yellow stamens and bright golden flowers suggested the light of the sun. This was "proof" of the herb's effectiveness since spirits of darkness hated the light; neither would they come to it. Satan had no power over anyone who carried a talisman of St. John's Wort. The Plant was gathered on St. John's Day, June 24th, and hung over the door or window. In some lands it was burned in the midsummer fires for various magical purposes, or worn as an amulet or charm.

Although used widely today as an herbal remedy for certain illnesses, wounds, etc., it was originally used for treating insanity, especially when demonic possession was suspected. Among some races it is still customary to burn the herb; the smoke and flame being considered potent for dispelling all types of evil influences.

Rub the petals of the flowers between the fingers and red resin will ooze out, leaving a stain on the hands. Perhaps, according to legend dating back to the Middle Ages, that is why the plant was said to spring forth from John the Baptist's blood when he was beheaded.


Bedwetting, insomnia, hysteria, menstrual irregularity, stress, reactions, neuralgia, rheumatism, aches and pains, menstrual cramps, anemia, headaches, chest congestion, catarrh, nervous conditions, blood purifier, expectorant, slow healing wounds, blisters, scalds, diuretic, digestion stimulant, bladder ailments, swellings, stab wounds, shingles, gout, furuncles and carbuncles, skin ulcers, depression, worms, colic, intestinal problems, jaundice, thrombosis, phlebitis, embolism or pains following childbirth, mastitis, skin care for babies, mumps, ear infections, diarrhea, dysentery, vericose veins, sciatica, minor wounds.

Formulas or Dosages

Prepare a standard infusion from the leaves and chopped stem. Used externally, this lotion heals blisters, scalds, and all minor wounds, but an oil of this herb is used as a soothing rub and as a dressing for wounds slow to heal. Dried aerial portions of the herb plant: one to two teaspoons per cup of boiling water, taken two to three times daily. Standard decoction or 3-9 gms.

Steep 1 tsp. dried herb in 1/2 cup water for 5 minutes, covered. Take warm, 1/2 cup before breakfast and 1/2 cup when going to bed for the night.

Oil extract: Take 10 to 15 drops in water. To make, put fresh flowers and leaves in a jar and fill with olive oil. Close the jar and leave it in a sunny or warm place for 6 to 7 weeks, shaking it often. The oil will turn red. Strain the oil through a cloth. If a watery layer appears when the oil has stood a while, decant or siphon it off. If stored in a dark container, the oil will keep for up to 2 years.

How Sold

Capsules or oil extracts. (The red dye of St. John's Wort is oil soluble and is much more effective as an oil form than as a tincture.)


Caution should be noted here, St. John's Wort has sometimes poisoned livestock. Its use may also make the skin sensitive to light. Taken internally or externally, hypericin may cause photodermatitis (skin burns) and photosensitivity when persons are exposed to light. This photosensitivity or being sensitive to light, means if you use St. John's Wort, you should avoid exposure to the sun.

Contact dermatitis can be caused by pruning or gathering the plant.

Not recommended for long term use, but safe in short term use. However, it is safer than some of the medications typically prescribed for anxiety, depression, and emotional problems.

May be toxic to some people. Should be used with competent medical supervision.

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