St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is strongly linked with ancient superstition and Midsummer’s Day: ‘hypericum’ derives from Greek and relates to the practice of placing flowers above religious images in the home to drive off evil spirits at Midsummer. It is also thought to be named after the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, who used this herb to treat wounds on Crusade battlefields. A medieval prescription by the Physicans of Myddfai for chillblains survives from thirteenth century Wales.
Traditionally used to treat nervous complaints and externally for healing, St John’s wort fell out of use in the 19th century. Its revival in the next century was due to clinical trials which demonstrated its effectiveness in relieving mild to moderate depression. Today it is used internally for anxiety, depression, nervous tension, the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopause though in the past it was used for a broader spectrum of ailments including bladder problems (in particular, an infusion is given before retiring to treat a child’s bedwetting). The herb is also useful when applied externally to treat burns, bruises, injuries, sores, sciatica, cramps and sprains.
A cooling herb which promotes healing, calms nerves, reduces inflammation and benefits circulation. It is also locally antiseptic and analgesic.
CAUTION: Harmful if eaten; can cause dermatitis/skin allergy in sunlight
Flowers June to August
An oil is made by infusing the flowers in olive oil.
PLEASE NOTE: These notes on the history and use of herbs have been compiled for general interest and are not intended as medical advice, for which you should consult a professional herbalist.
'A Modern Herbal' Mrs M. Grieve FRHS ed. Mrs C. F. Leyel (1973)
'The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal' Penelope Ody MNIMH (1993)
'RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses' Deni Brown (2002)