St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)


You can recognise St. John’s wort immediately by the dots: if you hold the flowers up to the light you will see numerous small bright spots: glands containing a fluid of essential oils and resin. If you rub the golden yellow flowers between your fingers they will be stained blood red, the characteristic colour of St. John’s wort oil. This wondrous colour change results from the fact that light and oxygen break down constituents of the flowers. The perennial St. John’s wort plant grows to a height of 90 cm. From May/June to August/September the many branched, woody stems are covered over and over with the five-rayed flowers. This oil-rich plant, whose leaves are also densely covered with oil glands, grows by the wayside, on banks, on grassland, in open woods and scrub, preferably in the full sunlight which it requires for luxuriant growth.


Paracelsus was convinced of the wound-healing, antiseptic and eliminating action of St. John’s wort. He saw the pore-like perforation of the leaves as an indication that the plant could be used to treat any kinds of opening in the skin, either internally or internally, and that it would also support elimination through the pores.

In fact, St. John’s Wort stimulates the blood circulation and carries anabolic and nourishing processes to the sphere of the nerves and the senses.

With its calming, pain-relieving and wound-healing properties it brings relief not only in chapped, cracked and irritated skin accompanied by redness but also in mild burns. Embrocations with the characteristic red oil help relieve nerve pain, rheumatism, lumbago and sprains. St. John’s wort is used internally for treatment of depression. It is also used to treat bed-wetting, which usually has emotional causes.


There is frequent mention of photosensitization by St. John’s wort. In fact the skin reacts more strongly to sun exposure after internal use of the herb. This has at any rate been observed in animals: light-skinned grazing animals who had eaten a lot of St. John’s wort were seen to develop skin rashes and blistering. In humans such effects have only been obtained, if at all, after drastic overdose with St. John’s wort preparations. The effect very rarely occurs when St. John’s wort is applied externally, for example as oil. On the contrary, it even has a soothing effect on the skin after sunburn.

When to harvest: Around June 24 (3 days after midsummer solstice)

The red juice which emerges when the flowers are crushed was interpreted by the Germanic tribes as the blood of the sun god Baldur who sacrificed himself to the earth every year at the time of the summer solstice. St. John’s wort, one of the magical plant beings of the summer solstice, devotes itself to the sun like no other plant. It is said to have the greatest healing powers at the Feast of St. John (24 June), three days after midsummer night, when it is at the height of its bloom and is imbued with the full power of the summer sun. At this time the light has reached its climax and the sun joins in matrimony with the earth. Since time immemorial people have honored this day of union between the light and the earth, between spirit and matter, with great feasts. A remnant of this tradition can be seen today in the bonfires lit on midsummer’s night.

On account of its ability to drive away demons and evil spirits St. John’s wort was also called fuga daemonum and hung on doors and windows of houses and stables to keep away storms and evil spells.

Incidentally, a decoction of St. John’s wort can be used for dying textiles. It produces a yellow to greenish-yellow color.

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
St. John's Wort
Hypericum perforatum

Yellow, gold and brown dyes are obtained from the flowers and leaves[168]. A red is obtained from the flowers after acidification[141].

A red dye is obtained from the whole plant when infused in oil or alcohol[7, 61, 115]. A yellow is obtained when it is infused in water[7, 74, 115].

The plant is said to contain good quantities of tannin, though exact figures are not available[223].

  • Medicinal Use

    St. John’s wort has a long history of herbal use. It fell out of favour in the nineteenth century but recent research has brought it back to prominence as an extremely valuable remedy for nervous problems[254]. In clinical trials about 67% of patients with mild to moderate depression improved when taking this plant[254].

    The flowers and leaves are analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, astringent, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, nervine, resolvent, sedative, stimulant, vermifuge and vulnerary[4, 9, 13, 21, 165, 218, 222]. The herb is used in treating a wide range of disorders, including pulmonary complaints, bladder problems, diarrhoea and nervous depression[4]. It is also very effectual in treating overnight incontinence of urine in children[4]. Externally, it is used in poultices to dispel herd tumours, caked breasts, bruising etc[4]. The flowering shoots are harvested in early summer and dried for later use[7]. Use the plant with caution and do not prescribe it for patients with chronic depression[238]. The plant was used to procure an abortion by some native North Americans, so it is best not used by pregnant women[257]. See also the notes above on toxicity[21, 222].

    A tea or tincture of the fresh flowers is a popular treatment for external ulcers, burns, wounds (especially those with severed nerve tissue), sores, bruises, cramps etc[222, 238]. An infusion of the flowers in olive oil is applied externally to wounds, sores, ulcers, swellings, rheumatism etc[240]. It is also valued in the treatment of sunburn and as a cosmetic preparation to the skin[240].

    The plant contains many biologically active compounds including rutin, pectin, choline, sitosterol, hypericin and pseudohypericin[222]. These last two compounds have been shown to have potent anti-retroviral activity without serious side effects and they are being researched in the treatment of AIDS[222, 238].

    A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh whole flowering plant[232]. It is used in the treatment of injuries, bites, stings etc and is said to be the first remedy to consider when nerve-rich areas such as the spine, eyes, fingers etc are injured[232].

  • Edible Use

    The herb and the fruit are sometimes used as a tea substitute[7, 183].

    The flowers can be used in making mead[183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    Skin contact with the sap, or ingestion of the plant, can cause photosensitivity in some people[13, 76, 222].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – sow in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in the autumn or in the spring. It normally germinates in 1 – 3 months at 10¡c. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer. Division in spring or autumn[111, 238]. Very easy, larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring.
Easily grown in any reasonably good well-drained but moisture retentive soil[1]. Succeeds in dry soils[238]. Plants grow well in sun or semi-shade but they flower better when in a sunny position[200]. St. John’s wort is often found as a weed in the garden[1]. It grows well in the summer meadow and is a useful plant for attracting insects[24]. The whole plant, especially when in bloom, gives off a most unpleasant smell when handled[245]. Hypericum perforatum is apparently an allotetraploid that would appear to have arisen from a cross between two diploid taxa, viz. H. maculatum subsp. maculatum (Europe to western Siberia) and H. attenuatum (western Siberia to China)[266].
Europe, including Britain, south and east to N. Africa, the Azores, Madeira and W. Asia.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.