St. John’s Wort

Last issue, I wrote an article on the “medicine power” of black cohosh. After writing the article on Black Cohosh I decided I had been attracted to the herb because I needed it’s medicine. I was feeling “trapped” and could not see my way clear from the problems that were entangling me. I took a flower essence of black cohosh for a few days and “saw” the way out of my difficulties. So what I wrote really works. My wife took some, too, and it also helped her.

I was planning to write about yarrow in this issue (one of my favorite herbs) but everywhere I turned questions about St. John’s Wort kept popping up. (See this month’s Letters to the Editor.) So, I decided maybe I needed to research the medicine power of this plant. It is another herb associated with bringing light into darkness. (Is someone trying to give me a message or what?) Anyway, here’s my interpretation of the healing energies of this plant.

St. John’s wort, sometimes known as Klamath weed, is a rapidly-spreading perennial. The plant grows about one foot tall on erect stems with numerous bright yellow flowers with small black dots on the petals. They have five distinct petals and numerous stamens similar to flowers from the rose family.

The leaves have tiny holes in them (which let the light in) again suggesting the plant’s association with light. The leaf margins also have tiny black dots. There is a reddish tinge to the new flowers or buds.

This valuable herb is considered a weed by farmers and ranchers because it is difficult to irradicate once it gets established. It causes a special problem for ranchers, because it produces a toxic reaction in animals that are exposed to sunlight after they comsume it. It’s an effect called photo-toxicity. A constituent in St. Johns wort becomes toxic when the skin is exposed to sunlight. This can be a problem for humans too, if an excessive amount of the herb is consumed and the person is exposed to sunlight. The effect is not deadly, it just causes severe dermatitis (inflammation of the skin).

This “side effect,” however, is a perfect “signature” for the medicine power of this plant. St. John’s wort helps to sensitize the body to the light of healing. From it’s bright, sunny flowers to its physiological effects, this plant has a powerful connection with sunlight and health.


St. John’s wort is being widely tauted as an anti-depressant herb. It has a long history of use for this purpose. The Latin name for this plant, hypericum, comes from the Greek huper eikon meaning “over an apparition” which refers to its traditional use as an agent for dispelling evil spirits. The plant was used anciently for mental illness, melancholy and epilepsy (all of which were thought to be caused by evil spirits). Hence, its association with casting out “devils.”

Research in Europe shows that a complex substance in the plant, hypericin, helps to increase activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. Since over 25 double-blind studies have confirmed this property it is widely used in Europe for this purpose.

Because the plant increases sensitivity to sunlight, it helps to overcome SAD syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder), the depression which occurs in people who don’t get enough exposure to sunlight in the winter. St. John’s wort is also a specific for depression associated with menopause.

So, St. John’s wort can bring the light into the darkness of depression. Don’t expect this plant to be a quick-fix, however. It takes about two or three months for the full effect to take hold.

Nervous System Problems

St. John’s wort not only aids depression, it also has a history of use for anxiety, nervous tension, irritability and emotional upset. Again, it is a specific for emotional upset associated with menopause.

One important way in which St. John’s wort aids the nerves is by reducing certain types of pain. It has been specifically used for neuralgia, sciatica, backpain, shingles, headache and rheumatic pain. Homeopathy has documented this use of St. John’s wort very specifically. The homeopathic remedy is indicated for pains which are out of proportion to the injury. Pains which are tearing or sensitive to pressure or touch is also a symptom associated with the need for homeopathic St. John’s wort.

This yellow-flowered herb is considered to be homeopathic “arnica” for injuries to the nervous system.1 St. John’s wort is the herb of choice for injuries which involve nervous system tissue. Both homeopathically and as an herb it helps to regenerate damaged nerve tissue. It is an outstanding herb to promote regeneration of severed nerves. It is an excellent remedy to promote healing of injuries to tissues with a rich nerve supply, such as the spine, cranium, fingers, toes, lips, mouth and eyes. According to American Herbal Medicine it was proven on the battlefield in the last century to aid battle wounds to the spine and skull.

Some years ago, I met a lady with an inherited degenerative nerve disease. All her siblings had it and it had crippled them all. She had been able to control the illness using homeopathic St. John’s wort in potencies of 200c and 30c. Since that time I have also heard reports of St. John’s wort oil being applied in cases of severed fingers or limbs to create remarkably fast regeneration of damaged nerve tissue. The herb can also be taken internally for these purposes, but works best if it can be applied topically directly to the affected area. The homeopathic version of this remedy may also be helpful in these cases.

The oil of St. John’s wort is made by infusing the fresh flowers in olive oil. The yellow flowers turn the oil blood red. The oil is nervine, anti-spasmodic, antiseptic and vulnerary. It has been called the “heart of Jesus oil” and has been used after surgery and laceration of tissue, for sprains, muscle and joint inflammation, tennis elbow, neuralgia and sciatica. I’ve used this oil for a relaxing massage, too. Interestingly, I’ve been told that if you make the oil from the dried herb, it won’t turn the oil red unless you put the bottle in the sun. (There’s another “signature” showing this plant’s connection to light.)

I have done some experimentation (with good results) with a mixture of arnica oil and St. John’s wort oil in helping injuries . For example, I gave some of the oil to a neighboring farmer who was losing movement in his wrists from excessive work. He massaged it in and reported it aided in his regaining movement in his wrists. I am trying the same therapy on my wrist which was damaged in a Moped accident many years ago. There is nerve damage which keeps me from extending my thumb. I don’t know if it will have any effect on this old of an injury (and I haven’t been as consistent in applying the oil as I should be) but I do believe it is helping. When I do use the oil it reduces the dull pain in my wrist and increases some of the lost mobility.

Other possible nervous system problems St. John’s wort may assist are prevention of lockjaw, injured nerves from animal bites and shock. It may even help jetlag.

Wounds and Injuries

This herb gets it’s common name from a Christian association with John the Baptist. It is reported to have been used by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who used it to treat wounds in the crusades. The holes in the leaves were thought to be a “signature” of its ability to heal puncture wounds. It has been used for ulcers, sores, cuts, bruises, laceration, burns, hemorrhoids and varicose veins. It helps relieve pain and repair nerves after surgery, too.

Modern research and traditional uses suggest the herb is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antiseptic and stypic making it ideal for healing injuries. It fights infection, reduces swelling and pain, plus helps to stop bleeding. A cream made from the plant has been made to treat localized nerve pains, cramps, sprains and breast engorgement during lactation. It is probable that the oil or a poulitice made from the dried herb would have similar effects.


Recent studies have shown that hypericin and pseudohypericin (both found in St. John’s wort) have potent anti-retroviral activity. This has lead to the experimental use of St. John’s wort for AIDS patients. While I personally don’t believe that retroviruses (HIV) are the cause of AIDS, it is none-the-less, a good remedy to consider for AIDS patients. They need a lot of it, however, and should avoid excessive exposure to the sun when taking the herb for long periods of time or in high doses.

The herb has traditionally been shown to be effective against TB and influenza A. It may also work for other viral disorders and is included in many commercial anti-viral remedies.

Other uses

St. John’s wort has a number of other effects which are not as widely publicized. For one, it is an expectorant. Michael Moore in Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West says it is a dependable remedy for this purpose when taken as a tea, made with one teaspoon of the herb per cup. Hence, the remedy may have some value for respiratory congestion and colds.

The plant is also a diuretic. It has been used for bladder ailments and to relieve bedwetting in children. The flower remedy is also supposed to be good for bedwetting. Thus it helps to remove toxins via the lungs and kidneys.

Hypericum also reduces blood pressure and capillary fragility. Its mild astringency has lead the plant to been used for dysentery, diarrhea and worms. This may also account for its use in aiding painful, heavy and irregular periods and PMS


St. John’s wort’s use as a flower essence sort of sums up the light-bearing nature of this plant. The flower remedy is for sensitive people, who are prone to fears of the dark or psychic attack. They often have restless, disturbed sleep and nightmares. Children needing this remedy are fearful and tend to wet the bed. They are also oversensitive to heat and light and prone to environmental sensitivities. They experience pain out of proportion to the nature of their injuries.

This herb of sunlight engenders a feeling of protection, dispelling negative thoughts and enabling one to dwell safely in the light. This use as a flower essence mirrors the herb’s abilities on the physical plane to lift depression (a form of darkness), relieve anxiety (fearfulness and worry), regenerate the nerves (the bearers of light messages in the body) and heal injuries. It’s ability to to fight infection and throw off toxins (expectorant and diuretic) also reveals the enlightening quality this remedy bears.

So, keep the herb of St. John in mind. When you find your spirits sagging, your fears taking control of your life, your nerves frayed or damaged or your body wounded and in excessive pain, open up a bottle of this remedy and let its’ sunshine in.

1 For those of you who don’t know about arnica, it is one of the very best choices both herbally and homeopathically for healing injuries like sprains, bruises, etc. Arnica is found in healing AC Cream and Distress Remedy and if you’ve never tried it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it reduces swelling, relieves pain and promotes healing in injuries where the skin hasn’t been broken. St. John’s wort has similar effects in healing injuries to nerve tissue.