Habitat and Cultivation: Commonly found in dry, gravely soils, fields, pastures, abandoned fields and in other sunny locations throughout many parts of the world
Parts Used: Flowers, though many use all aerial parts in flower
Distinguishing Features: St. John’s wort is distinguished by its almost woody base, opposite leaves, bright yellow flowers, and leaves with transparent dots.
Flowers: St. John’s wort flowers are bright yellow. Numerous flower clusters are at ends of branches with each flower measuring about 2 cm across. It has five yellow petals with several, small, black dots along the center. It also has many stamens in 3 clusters and a single pistil in the centre. Blooms from June to August.
Leaves: Leaves are very identifiable as they have transparent dots throughout and occasionally with a few black dots on the lower surface. The leaves exhibit obvious translucent dots when held up to the light, giving them a perforated appearance, hence the plant’s Latin name (perferatum). It has opposing, stalkless, narrow, oblong leaves that are about 15 mm long.
Height: Grows to about 3 ft high.
Actions + Specific indications: Nervine, Sedative, and Trophorestorative~ This is the action that is the true vitalist action of St. John’s Wort that is often mistakenly listed as “anti-depressant.” You see the term “anti- depressant” isn’t actually an herbal action, rather it is saying this this herb is good for depression. Remember an herbal action should give you an indication of how a plant will shift our physiology. The term anti-depressant doesn’t tell us this, it merely states that the plant is often used for depression. But why is it used for depression? In this case, it is primarily because of it’s actions upon the nervous system.
Bitter Tonic: Like all bitters, St. John’s Wort has an influence upon the entire digestive apparatus: the stomach, intestines, gall bladder, and liver. The signature of the yellow flowers indicates a liver/gall bladder affinity, and it has long been used as a detoxification agent. But we have to remember that this remedy is not only acting through the digestive system but also the nervous system- thus it has a particular affinity for the “enteric brain” or what I like to call the “neural gut.” This indicates it’s uses as a remedy to “reset” the intelligence of the digestive system and re-coordinate the vastly complex signaling mechanisms that enable it to operate seamlessly and in a timely orchestrated manner.
Hepatoprotective: This more modern herbal action denotes a remedy which is beneficial in
protecting the liver from oxidative stress, inflammation, and damage from poisons.
Astringent/Vulnerary: St. John’s Wort is one of our best topical agents in the treatment of wounds, specifically puncture wounds.
Anodyne: The anodyne action refers to a particular agent which is beneficial in the treatment of pain. St. John’s Wort is an anodyne with a specific affinity for the nerves, especially for shooting nerve pains, shingles, neuralgia, sciatica, and other pains oriented around the nervous system. It is one of our best specific plants for nerve pain and should always be remembered in this regard. It is also a valuable inflammation modulating remedy and can be used when there is excessive pain due to inflammation.
System Affinity: Digestive System: Acts upon the stomach itself, balancing its acidity/alkalinity, weakness of the stomach, poor appetite, leaky gut, diarrhea, uncoordinated digestion (IE secretions happening at inappropriate times, valves being too constricted or lax etc.) and overall weak digestion. Liver, Bladder, Skin
Energetics: Has a predominantly warming and drying effect upon the constitution, though it is worth noting that is also has an oiliness to it which does bring a degree of moistening action- though in this case it is most likely only to the nerves. This can be seemingly contradictory, as it is a remedy classically used to treat irritable and inflamed tissues which need to be cooled down. This is likely an issue of dosage. While it is a warming plant, it is by no means pungent and hot.
Contraindications and Interactions: There are no major contraindications for St. John’s Wort, except for the multitude of herb-drug interactions. It is critical to exercise caution in using this plant when someone is taking any of the drugs in the categories listed below. It is contraindicated for use when being exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time as it increases photosensitivity.
Interactions: Because of it’s profound impact upon phase II liver detoxification pathways which affects the bodies metabolizing processes of prescription drugs. In general, it is recommended to avoid using St. John’s Wort when taking other MAOI’s or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) due to a potentizing effect upon the drugs which can potentially be quite dangerous. In essence, never take St. John’s Wort in conjunction with other antidepressants.. which can be nothing short of frustrating clinically, but you have to learn to work with what you can in those situations (lifestyle, diet, etc.)
It is also contraindicated for use with other sedative or hypnotic drugs, immunosuppressants, non-sedating antihistamines, contraceptives, antiretroviral agents, anti-epileptic drugs, calcium channel blockers used for high blood pressure, cyclosporine, chemotherapy, macrolide antibiotics, and certain anti-fungals.
Preparation and Dosage: Fresh Tincture: The fresh tincture of St. John’s Wort is far superior than any extracts prepared from dried plant material. Because there are more of the volatile oils, it is best extracted in a higher percentage of alcohol. Michael Moore suggests all fresh plants to be extracted in pure 95% alcohol, though I prefer a bit lower- around 70% makes a very nice, blood red tincture which is very effective.
Infused Oil: An infusion of the fresh flowers in a carrier oil, such as olive oil, is an excellent way to prepare this remedy. It extracts the volatile constituents quite nicely and works well in topically for nerve pain, nerve damage, sunburns, wounds of all sorts (but especially deep puncture wounds), bruises, contusions, and all other manner of injury. The infused oil can then be prepared into a salve, but the oil itself works wonderfully as well. When preparing an oil from fresh plant material, it’s important to infuse it warm with a lid off in order to evaporate any water thus preventing spoilage, as well as making sure not to press the plant material too intensely when separating the marc from the oil which would squeeze out some of the water in the plant. I recommend gently wilting the fresh plant materials to remove some of the water prior to infusing the oil as well.
Infusion: St. Johns Wort is best as fresh plant tincture or infused oils, St. John’s Wort definitely prepares nicely as an infusion from dried plant material. There is a slightly different biochemical profile as opposed to a high alcohol tincture. It has a relatively mild and pleasant flavor, and formulates well with other nerve tonics and sedatives.
Dosage: St. John’s Wort in the case of using it for depression or melancholy is that results are typically cumulative over time with consistent use. Most do not feel it upon the first dose! It is generally recommended to take the plant daily and consistently for at least 3-6 weeks to begin to notice the effects.
2-4 mL (1-3 dropperfuls) 3x a day of a 1:3 extract in 75% ETOH.