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September 11, 2015
Here in Maine, St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) grows in abundance along the coast, islands, fields and blueberry barrens. While living on an island a few miles off the coast in my early 20's, a friend showed me a brilliant way to identify this wonderful medicine. He picked a leaf off a plant that was growing in the back yard and held it up to the sun and had me look at it and I loved what I saw. The leaf was full of tiny see through holes that looked like perforations in the leaf, providing me with an "ah-ha" moment of where the name Hypericum perforatum came from. The holes in the leaf are medicinal oil glands, recognized by herbalist of old the holes in the leaves reminded them of the pores in the skin.
"The little holes where of the leaves of Saint Johns wort are full, doe resemble all the pores of the skin and therefore it is profitable for all hurts and wounds that can happen thereunto." - William Coles (1626–1662)
The beautiful yellow flowers have little black dots along the petals. When you rub the flower between your fingers it will stain them red. This is another great way to identify the plant and the medicine it provides. St. John's Wort makes brilliant and beautiful red medicine. This is how you know the medicine is of quality and prepared properly. I have had people come up to me and tell me that they have bought the tincture or the oil in health food store only to find that the medicine is brown. When they asked my why there is such a drastic difference in color from what they bought and the medicine that I make. I believe that if using the dried plant material you will not get the deep richness that you do from using carefully and ethically harvested plants. When making medicine with St. John's Wort you also want to place it in the sun. I don't suggest this for other oils or tinctures but it is necessary that you place your jars in the sunlight. A chemical reaction occurs with the plant material and the sunlight pulling out the hypericum in the plant which also is what gives it the beautiful color. I don't feel you are going to get as high a quality medicine when using dried St. John's Wort, which is why I only use fresh.
When purchasing the oil if it is in a clear bottle you will be able to see the quality, good quality oil looks like a bright candy red to a nice deep dark red, and if you are looking to purchase tincture look on the label to see if fresh plant material was used. The best bet when purchasing most herbal medicine is to find a local herbalist that you know works with fresh plant material and ethically gathers plants that are growing in your bio-region.Then you can know for sure that you are getting good high quality medicine that was made with care.
I truly love using St. John's Wort oil, it has a beautiful rich scent that has a hint of sweetness to it. I use it often in my massage practice as well as almost daily on myself sometimes mixed with goldenrod oil. Being an avid herb gardener as well as dealing with Lyme disease, I often deal with achy sore muscles and joints. Self massage is a wonderful way to nourish and ease the nervous system as well as sooth tired sore muscles and joints. I choose the combination of St. John's Wort and goldenrod oil. Goldenrod is great for muscle aches and pains as well as St. John's Wort. St. John's Wort is also soothing to nerves and can ease nerve related pain such as sciatica.
I recently had surgery and the surgeon went through my abdomen in three different spots. As I was healing, my skin felt numb and painful to the touch, this was from the nerves that had been damaged and were still in the process of regenerating. I started to gently use St. John's oil on my lower abdomen to help encourage the regenerations of the nerves as well as to sooth the numb and painful sensations.
St. John's wort oil is also great for sun burns as well as other first degree burns. I tend to first put raw honey on the burn and once the heat has been pulled out a bit I than cover the area with St. John's Wort oil, I have done this a number of times with great success. The oil can be used on bruises, inflammations and scrapes.
I love using St. John's Wort Oil alone but I also love to blend it when needed. Here are some of my other favorite oils to use with St. John's Wort. Sore and aching muscles: Goldenrod, Ginger, Tumeric and Lavender.
To make St. John's Wort infused oil, gather from plants that are far from roads and any other type of possible areas of pollution. It's important to be conscious of the amount of plants when you find them. If there are just a few then leave them. As a wild gatherer it is you responsibility to make sure that your harvesting in an ethical manner. Only harvest what you need, and when I come to a healthy stand of plants I harvest so you wouldn't know that I had ever been there. Some herbs though are considered a weed or invasive and St. John's Wort is considered a weed to many organic blueberry growers. So if you live near an organic grower it might be worth while to contact them to see if you can harvest from their fields.
When harvesting your looking for healthy, vibrant plants that are at their flowering peak. Years ago I used to only harvest the flowers one at a time, I found this to be extremely meditative, and it created a gorgeous red medicine. Over time though I started to harvest the top third of the plant, flowers and leaves as there is medicine in the leaves as well.
Once I have gathered what I need for the year, I coarsely cut the plant material and then loosely pack the cut material into a mason jar. I then fill the jar with a high quality oil, I often use an organic olive oil for it's own wonderful medicinal properties but also for its lengthy shelf life and stability. I do play around with other oils though such as jojoba, sesame and grape seed.
Once you have filled the jar with oil, use a stem from the plant or a skewer stick also works well, and gently poke the plant material down. This will help bring any air bubbles to the surface. This may take awhile so be patient. Once you have gotten most of the bubbles out, cover the jar but not to tightly in case more air still needs to be released. If keeping the jar in the house, place it on a plate in a sunny spot. You could also place your jar outside in the sun. I like to let my oils sit for a least 6 weeks before straining, I check on them regularly topping them off with oil and shaking them. After six-weeks, strain the oil, and place in a beautiful jar, label and use liberally. Enjoy!