Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Herbal Medicine/People's Medicine--St. John's Wort

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.


  1. It is so very true that many people including me, only know of the properties of Sy John's Wort for treating depression and anxtety. It is a herb I have never used, but you have piqued my curiosity and interest in it! I have often wondered if it would be a useful addition to my SAD protocol. I live in the (often dark and glooomy) coastal part of BC, Canada, and we lack sunshine at the darkest part of the year. In addition to the new things I've learned here about using SJW for (thank you!), I may revisit it for use for mood and add it to my intake of 4000 iu of Vit D, B12, fish oil, and nettle and other goodies to combat the seasonal blues. What do you think? Have you used it for mild depression/anxiety and achieved a more positive outlook and/or mood? I would love to hear of your experience with it, or of others...


  2. Erin, yes, many people find SJW very effective in treating SAD. I deal with it myself, although the winters in Pennsylvania are nothing like those in Canada. I am very sensitive to the lack of sunshine. I have heard others refer to SJW as the sunshine plant, and I think that is so true. It stores the sunshine for us to use during the colder, darker months. You can take the tincture or the infusion. I prefer the infusion because it is a nice golden yellow (sunshine) and has a pleasant, mild taste. For me, the SJW infusion, maybe a quart a day, is very effective in pulling me out of the winter blues.

    If you do take it internally though, be careful if you are on medications (MAO inhibitors) as this may cause some problems.

    Love and light.

  3. This is a great post. I long for the day when I am better versed in identifying herbs in the wild. At this point I grow a lot of my own and depend on dry herb companies for the rest.
    I am going to try this oil for my eldest. She too wakes with growing pains. I typically use an arnica oil for her with some lavender in her pillow. I will make some of this and try it for her. Thanks for the info!

  4. Thank you :-) I will do some experimenting. I may try a purchased tea or tincture first, and if it works well, try making my own.


  5. Thank you for this, April. I was so pleased to find sjw in our garden when we moved here. It's deer resistant so it does well in my backyard. I'm dealing with a real lack of sun here these days and wish I had done more with my sjw.

    I'm so looking forward to more of your postings!

  6. I really enjoyed this post & look forward to others. I'm seeing an integrative physician next week to discuss all-natural remedies to aid me in my side effects (from my multiple breast cancer-related surgeries).

    I am BRCA2+ (i.e. my cancer is genetic) and have had a full hysterectomy to avoid my increased chance of getting ovarian cancer. I must avoid estrogens (including phytoestrogens) due to having ER/PR+ tumor (it feeds off estrogen/progesterone) yet I'd love to look into herbal supplements to relieve me of my menopausal symptoms.

    I'll keep stopping by & gleaning information from your posts!! Thanks muchly!! :)

  7. I love herbs, when I moved to my farm I bought all the seeds but in the tropics it's hard to grow what you have. I long for nettles, St. Johns wort and many others. I can't complain because I have beautiful borage flowering at the moment, which I've made flower essences with. Calendula, Chamomile, Comfrey, Spilanthes (which I love and is so powerful) I have just sowed some seeds. I have nettle powder for my allergies. Goldenseal, slippery elm, elderberries and marshmallow are always found in our home.
    I used to have leg cramps until I began taking liquid minerals, this could be a lack of magnesium. I would look into the liquid minerals I buy them from bodybio.