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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2010
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St. John’s wort — Hypericum perforatum

St. John’s wort, also known as Klamath weed, has a rich history of use, dating back to the first century and recorded by Dioscorides, a well-known Army physician, pharmacologist and botanist, in his 5-volume book, “De Materia Medica.” Its traditional uses are very similar to the current uses in herbalism today, including antidepressant, antiviral, antibacterial, nervine, diuretic, nerve injuries, and topically for wounds, burns and bites.

This herbaceous perennial prefers sandy, dry soil in full sun. It grows to 2 to 3 feet tall with bright yellow flowers that bloom in July. The leaves are opposite and lanceolate featuring oil glands that look like small holes. The yellow petals also have small black dots on their margins, which are oil glands that produce a red stain when crushed. This was once thought to be St. John The Baptist’s blood and is where the plant gets its name. It is native to Europe, but now grows as a wayside weed throughout the U.S. The aerial top is harvested when the buds start to appear.

St. John’s wort has been touted as a cure-all for depression, although it may be helpful for individuals with mild depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this herb is best applied for other indications. For SAD, it is best combined with lemon balm for greater activity. Most herbalists do not use St. John’s wort singly for depression, but combine it with eleuthero, schisandra, lemon balm, rosemary, basil, black cohosh, lavender, or substitute it completely with other more appropriate herbs, in addition to lifestyle and nutrition changes and therapy. In spite of its label as a depression herb, St. John’s wort has been found to be more effective used for menopausal nervousness, anxiety and sleep disorders, as well as for damaged nerve tissue, as an antiviral and topically for wounds, burns, and bites.

Its optimal preparations are a tisane (tea), tincture or infused oil. High quality tinctures and infused oils should be burgundy red in color and have a fragrant aroma. Infused oils should also be bright red in color. A tisane can be made by steeping one teaspoon of the dried herb in eight ounces of hot water for 15 minutes. Tinctures can easily be made at home by steeping the herb in a vodka or brandy for six weeks. The infused oil or tincture can be used topically for its anti-inflammatory and wound healing abilities.

St. John’s Wort Infused Oil

  • St. John’s wort flowering tops
  • Olive oil
  • 1 pint sized Mason jar

Harvest the top flowering parts in early July when the buds appear. When squeezed, release a red stain. Allow to wilt for a few hours to permit the bugs to crawl away. Add to a pint-sized Mason jar and cover with olive oil and top with a coffee filter and a rubber band. Sit in a sunny window for 2-4 weeks. The oil will turn a bright red from the hypericin constituent. Use the oil externally on wounds and burns, or turn into a salve to extend the shelf life.

Note: There are a few cautions listed with St. John’s wort use. The pathway that St. John’s wort is metabolized is the same pathway as several pharmaceutical drugs and interactions are possible. Individuals on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) should use caution when combining with St. John’s wort. It is possible to reduce effectiveness of oral contraceptives, nonsedating antihistamines, certain antiretroviral agents, antiepileptic medications, calcium channel blockers, cyclosporine, some chemotherapeutic drugs, macrolide antibiotics and selected antifungals. A few side effects have been noted with long-term use such as headache, pruritus and gastric irritation. Photosensitivity is possible in fair-skinned individuals when consuming high doses but is very rare. Use caution with excessive sun exposure.

As always, please talk to your health care provider before adding herbs into your diet.


“Medical Herbalism.” Rochester, Healing Arts Press. David Hoffman. 2003.

“Herbal Therapy & Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach.” Wolters Kluwer Health. David Winston et al. 2008.

“The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine.” Laguna Beach, Basic Health Publications, Inc. Bridgette Mars. 2007.

Dana Schlies

Dana is a Certified Women’s Herbal Educator and Community Herbalist. She is passionate about educating women about the many botanical and alternative methods to bring the body into balance and create vibrant, healthy living. She utilizes a comprehensive approach including environment, nutrition, exercise, stress reduction and botanicals to bring support to the whole body. She is part of the team at Sweet Willow Naturals, and can be reached at 920-530-1188 or [email protected]

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