For my first post in the herbal medicine/people's medicine series, I wanted to write about an herb that has long been in my life, but only recently become one of the primary remedies I depend upon. I first became acquainted with St. John's Wort many years ago when I was buying herbs for a natural health food store. Back then this plant was very popular for it's use in treating depression. I think it got so much coverage for this one use, that it became pigeon-holes as a sort of one-use herb, and it's many other gifts received very little attention. This herb is an incredible nervous system tonic and certainly has been long used to treat anxiety and depression, but it is much more than that. It took me years to discover that St. John's wort is a powerful healing plant on many level.
St. John's Wort is a wound healing plant. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, pain-relieving, and relaxing. It is useful in treating muscle aches, swollen joints, stiff necks, sciatica, neuralgia, rheumatism, arthritis, chicken pox, shingles, and sunburn. With all this, it is definitely a plant worth knowing. So when I first moved out to the countryside and discovered St. John's Wort growing freely in the hedgerows around our house, I began harvesting it for medicine making.
Yellow St. John's Wort among other newly harvested herbs
I do dry some of this herb for use as infusions, but I have really come to depend on the healing qualities of the oil for daily use in my family. To make the oil, I let the freshly harvested flowering tops wilt for an hour of two. This decreases the water content and decreases the chance that the oil will mold. Then I coarsely chop the plant and fill a mason jar almost to the top. I then cover the herb with organic olive oil and stir with a chopstick to release and air bubbles. After capping the jar, I place it in a sunny spot in the garden, bringing it in at night and when rain is expected. After two weeks in the sun, I strain out the oil, bottle it, and store it in the pantry. The result is a beautiful red medicinal oil that is never too long between uses.
Herbal oils steeping in the sunshine (St. John's Wort is third from left)
What do I use this exceptional oil for? Oh, mostly normal, everyday complaints. Things like bruises, muscle aches, inflammation, cold sores and pain. But what makes it a stand-by in our home is how very effect it is for soothing growing pains. My first son never had them. But my second son gets them periodically in the middle of the night. He wakes and complains his legs hurt. At first I would just massage his legs, which provided some relief, but not enough for his to get back to sleep very quickly. When I thought of using the St. John's oil, though, the relief was very quick. I keep a small bottle of the oil in the bedroom for these night wakings, and it always sends him back to sleep very quickly. St. John's Wort's pain-relieving quality combined with it's relaxing ability make this an excellent remedy for treating growing pains. And any plant that can relieve my children's pain and get them back to sleep at night will always be a highly valued ally for me.