It is amazing how many useful herbs can be found growing wild in our own backyards and in nearby fields and roadsides. I have a few young St. John's Wort plants in my garden, but was pleasantly surprised one day to find several plants blooming in a ditch at the edge of our property! Of course, this sparked my interest and I set out to learn more about the history and uses of this plant.
There are actually over 490 species in the genus Hypericum , all of which go by the common name of St. John's Wort! Several of them are familiar garden plants, but the particular St. John's Wort I'm writing about is Hypericum perforatum, (also called Common or Perforated St. John's Wort), which is the plant that is used medicinally. It can be easily identified by the tiny oil glands, or perforations, on the leaves, which are visible when they are held up the the light.
Another way to be sure of its identity is to squeeze the flower buds between your fingers. Hypericum perforatum contains hypericin, which has been shown to have antibiotic and antiviral properties, and it will also stain your fingers red!
There are many legends and superstitions about this plant. The botanical name Hypericum is derived from the Greek and translates to "over an image" or "over an apparition", referring to the belief that it would drive away evil spirits. It was traditionally used to decorate religious icons on St. John's day (June 24th). Perforatum of course refers to the perforations on the leaves. According to one German legend, the plant was so hurtful to the devil that witches pricked the leaves with needles over and over again out of spite!
No one seems to be absolutely certain how it came to be associated with St. John the Baptist. It does tend to come into bloom, and was traditionally harvested on June 24th, which is the feast of his birth. Another theory is that it was associated with his martyrdom, because of the way the flowers seem to bleed when handled. It is also said that bright red spots appear on the leaves on August 29th, the anniversary of his beheading (I have seen these red spots in July, however). Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) had only this to say about it: "It may be, if you meet a Papist, he will tell you, especially if he be a lawyer, that St. John made it over to him by a letter of attorney"!
It has also been associated with Christ's death. One legend claims that it was growing at the foot of the cross and caught the precious Blood as it fell, so that none of it would be lost. The oil of St. John's Wort (I'll get to that in a moment!) was also called the Blood of Christ.
Many people think of St. John's Wort as a natural anti-depressant, but it has actually been used topically for centuries. This is one case where the Doctrine of Signatures could be considered correct! William Coles (1626-1662) writes: "The little holes where of the leaves of Saint John's 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".
Gerard gives a recipe for oil of St. John's Wort in his Herball, which is quite similar to how it is made today:
"The leaves, floures, and seeds stamped, and put into a glasse with oile olive, and set in the hot sun for certain weeks together, and then strained from those herbs, and the like quantitie of new put in and sunned in like manner, doth make an oile of the colour of bloud, which is a most pretious remedie for deep wounds and those that are thorow the body, for the sinues that are prickt, or any wound made with a venomed weapon".
Nowadays, only the flowering tops, which contain the highest amount of hypericin, are used, and the oil only needs to be infused once. I thoroughly enjoyed making this oil! It was fascinating to watch as the yellow flowers turned the olive oil a dark, blood-red!
First, I harvested the flowering tops. The more buds you use the better, but these plants had already been flowering for awhile before I found them, so I used quite a few fully opened flowers in mine. Let them wilt in a warm, dry place for several hours to get rid of excess moisture and allow any bugs hiding in the blossoms to escape.
Then put them into a glass jar and cover with olive oil. Put the lid on and set the jar in a sunny place, preferably outside. While most infused oils can be made using either the dark pantry or solar infusion method, St. John's Wort needs to be solar infused.
I made two small batches of the oil which I started a few days apart. The first batch was picked in the morning, so it was ready to start infusing by mid-afternoon. It was a hot, sunny day, and I set the jar in my herb garden. A few hours later, I could hardly believe what was already happening!
All the little black stripes on the flowers had turned bright red and the oil had already taken on a reddish tinge as well!
The second batch was picked in the afternoon and therefore didn't start infusing until evening. The next few days were cloudy too, and this oil didn't even start to turn red until the sun came out again!
Check the oil every day or two and wipe away any condensation that builds up at the top of the jar. The oil should be allowed to steep for at least 3 weeks. By the end of this time, you should have a beautiful, thick, blood-red oil!
Now it's time to strain it. I poured mine through about 4 layers of cheesecloth...
Be sure to squeeze out the flowers too--you'll be amazed at how much oil will come off of them!
Here's what the finished oil looks like. Isn't it beautiful?!
The oil should be stored in a cool place out of direct light. A dark glass container is ideal as well. I just happened to have a few dark bottles around from herbal extracts we've bought in the past, so that worked out perfectly!
You can use your oil as is for stiff, sore muscles, nerve pain, burns, cuts, and even as a mild sunscreen (if you want to learn more, I found this article to be helpful). Or you can make it into a salve. I had about 3/4 cup of oil left over after filling that bottle, so I decided to try it. I didn't follow a recipe, so it's hard for me to give exact measurements. I just put in what I thought would be enough beeswax for the amount of oil (and I would suggest that you cut the beeswax into smaller pieces than I did...it took forever to melt!). You can add a few drops of Vitamin E oil as well (it acts as a preservative). I didn't need to add any essential oils for this one because St. John's Wort smells much better than the Comfrey oil did! Heat the oil over very low heat until the beeswax is melted. You can then do the "spoon test". Put a small amount of the hot salve onto a spoon and place it in the freezer for a couple of minutes. If it hardens to the right consistency for a salve, it is done. If not, add more beeswax and try again!
Pour the hot oil into jars and allow to cool completely before putting the lid on.
Store your salve in a cool, dark place. Enjoy!
* Special thanks to Auggie, for waiting so patiently while "grandma" was busy writing this!
Here he is enjoying the fan while I was uploading the pictures for this post! :D
Asters and golden-rod, yellow and blue,
"Out of the Summer's heart we came,
"Strangers and exiles in disguise,
"But patient and silent we grew and grew,
"We drank till our life could hold no more
"And then in a whisper the Summer said: '
"One glowing kiss, and the Summer died;
"And that is our story, and whence we came:
The goldenrod is in full, glorious bloom now, and I've made few new plant discoveries on our property this week. I was going to do a post on that today, but now it's late and I need to go do chores! So, here's a little animal humor instead. My sister's bird feeder has been attracting more squirrels and chipmunks than songbirds for some reason, and I love this picture she took of the squirrel! It looks to me like an illustration from a Beatrix Potter story!
A chipmunk stuffing his cheeks...
And I thought you all might enjoy this as well! All but one of the puppies went to their new homes this weekend. I'll have him the rest of the week, and he's getting spoiled! I played my accordion for him this morning, and he sang along! :D
Hopefully I'll be back with another plant related post in the next few days as things finally settle down to something like normal again! :)
Yesterday's post was rather hurried and this one will be too, but I couldn't wait to share some of the photos from today. I managed to snatch a few moments in the garden throughout the day, which was a real blessing. I'm focusing on drying herbs and flowers for winter use, and saving seeds...
A bouquet of 'Corsican' Basil before I hung it up to dry. It smelled sooo good!
I'm so thrilled that the Castor Beans are ripening seed!
Catching Valerian seeds at just the right moment can be quite a challenge! Cleaning all the fuzz off isn't easy, either! :D
This afternoon I settled down on the swing to shell some more Lupine seeds...
Well, after about half an hour of tedious work, this was all I had done, and I got to thinking there must be a more efficient way!
And then I had a rare "Aha!" moment. I found an old board and laid the pods out, and then, to the amazement of passersby, I started jumping on them! It did the trick and they were all shelled in no time! It also helped that it was a breezy day, so it was easy to blow off most of the chaff.
Anyone care to guess what this is? (And don't worry, it's not blood)! I'll be writing a post about it soon.
I'll close with a glimpse of the seed garden this evening. But this is taken at an angle that hides the other half which I never got around to preparing or planting, and so is full of weeds! I do think this garden has a lot of potential, though!
How did it get to be August already?! Seems like it was just Spring and the whole growing season was before us! Things are already starting to wind down here and I'm beginning to focus more on harvesting and seed saving (a topic for another post because I'm way too tired tonight!). Actually I haven't been able to spend much time in the garden at all the past week, and it's been hot and dry. I finally did get to water some things this afternoon, and some of the plants were in desperate need! The garden is looking pretty scruffy.
But in the midst of all the chaos of my garden, where too many unruly self-sown plants topple over each other, stands this regal lily! I have been so looking forward to the moment when it would bloom, but wasn't expecting it quite yet. One evening I noticed that the buds were swelling, and the next day I thought I noticed a strong and heavenly perfume in the air, but didn't have time to look until late in the day. What a beautiful surprise awaited me!
I don't even remember what this lily is called. I ordered several bulbs a few years back and thought I ordered the trumpet lily 'Regale Album'. But these don't match the photos of that at all and seem more like an "Orienpet"! Oh well, whatever they are they are certainly a delight!
I also have a few shorter Oriental lilies, with almost identical flowers to the taller ones!
You might have to look closely at this picture, but it's the lilies at dusk. It doesn't do it justice of course!
And now I'm off to bed. Hopefully things will settle down here soon so I'll have more time to unwind in my garden!
"Wake up from thy sunset bower,
Just some random garden notes and pictures today...
The 'Flemish Antique' poppies are so beautiful and I've taken so many pictures, that I probably should have done a post just about them. But since I seem to be lacking for words today, I'll just let them speak for themselves!
Spanish Mallow (Malope trifida) is in full bloom.
I can hardly wait to see this lily in bloom! I don't remember what it is called, but I'm thinking it must be an "Orienpet" although I sure don't recall having ordered any!
Old-fashioned Vining Petunias...the pale purples are my favorites.
And I love it when they get tangled up in the Catnip!
The "black" Hollyhock is really a deep wine red!
Lots of Dill...
'Fairy Bouquet' Toadflax...
It takes talent to grow Day Lilies unsuccessfully, and mind you, I have that talent! I had just about given up on this 'Strawberry Candy' Day Lily after 5 years with no flowers, but it finally has a few blooms! They look more orange to me, though!
Fennel Flower (Nigella sativa)...I wish I had planted a lot more of these!
Love-lies-bleeding grew very tall this year! I had 10 plants, but only a few survived the groundhog.
I don't think I ever shared the before-and-after-the-groundhog pictures from last year! Here was one of my plants at the end of August...
And then one morning this was all that was left!
Last but not least...the fragrant Nicotiana, 'Aztec Sweet'. Last year I had too much, but now I wish I had more!
"Where at dusk the dumb white nicotine awakes and utters her fragrance in a garden sleeping."
And now I must get back to work! Have a lovely day! :)
Just a little bit of everything in my vase today, much like my garden right now. It has been hot (as Maine goes) and I think this is the driest summer I've ever seen here. I don't really want to complain though, because we usually have such an overabundance of moisture, which can be frustrating as well. I've been watering almost every day, but although my garden looks lush and full from a distance, a closer inspection will show that a lot of the plants are withering up...and the drought hasn't hurt the weeds a bit of course! We did get some rain last night and are expecting some showers and thunderstorms the rest of the week, which should be helpful. :)
Sweet Williams are just going past their prime, but some of them still look nice.
Same for the Valerian, but another of its wonderful qualities is that it fades gracefully!
Cosmos 'Picotee'...the flowers are pretty, but I'm a little disappointed in the plants. I planted them near the back of the garden expecting them to be tall, but they only reached about 2 feet!
The last of the Sweet Rocket and some Stocks...
I love black Hollyhocks and all "black" flowers! Sadly, my plants now have rust, which of course also affected the new seedlings I planted this spring...so probably no hollyhocks next year. :(
I just call these Bellflowers...they come up every year under a tree near my garden.
Old-fashioned Vining Petunias...so pretty and fragrant!
I'm very fond of these 'Emperor William' Bachelor's Buttons.
And of course more Borage, which you all are probably getting tired of seeing snapshots of!
I added a few wildflowers as well. These daisies bloom near a wood pile in our yard.
And White Sweet Clover (Melilotus albus) caught my attention with its sweet fragrance.
Not included in the vase, but I just had to show you the first 'Flemish Antique' poppy that opened yesterday! Isn't it beautiful?
It's always a pleasure to pick a bouquet, however simple or elaborate, and join other gardeners from around the world each week for IAVOM! You can see what they have gathered today at Rambling in the Garden.
So much has happened in the garden that my last garden update is already outdated, so I thought I'd show you what's in bloom now in my rather messy garden, along with a few other things that are keeping me pleasantly busy this summer...
We recently bought this swing from one of our neighbors...it's so nice to have a place to relax and enjoy the garden whilst reading or shelling peas!
The Valerian is still heavenly fragrant.
'Black Currant Whirl' hollyhocks...there are a lot more double or semi-double flowers this year than last for some reason!
Close-up of mignonette...
These petunias looked dazzling in the morning sunlight!
The Morning Glories are making their way upwards...and the Forget-me-nots are looking weedy.
I love taking close-ups of them!
The Castor Beans are loving the heat...
And they are even starting to ripen seed! Yippee!
Stocks really should have a prettier name! I usually think of them as Gillyflowers, but I know a lot of flowers have been called by that name so it could get confusing.
Nicotiana perfumes the evening air...
'Emperor William' Bachelor's Buttons...I like these simple flowers much better than the newer doubles!
'Picotee' Cosmos...I had high hopes for this variety, but I think I still prefer 'Sensation Mix' over all the others I've tried.
The lovely Balsam...
Malope is always one of my favorites...and I just found out it does have a couple of prettier names including Mallow Wort and Purple Spanish Mallow!
The 'Flemish Antique' poppies are just about ready to burst!
Heartsease and Rue...there's an old book of poetry by that title! Rue is another new herb in my garden. I have some doubts about it surviving the winters here but just had to try it!
Toadflax just starting to bloom. I had planted a lot more of it and it was all coming up beautifully. Then one day we had a man here helping with some roofing, and he turned the dirt over with his hand (the seedlings were still very tiny) and said that this would be a great place to plant flowers! Arrgh! I'm learning to be on my guard when men are working around my gardens!!
Part of the herb garden with Lemon Balm, Borage, Oregano, Basil, Sweet William and Stocks.
Lemon Balm in bloom...
Comfrey...about a week after I cut it back to the ground!
The "seed garden" with Lovage, Basil, Wormwood, Balsam, Dill, and Borage...
I'm so happy with the basil this year! I've never had them grow out so bushy before.
Dill in the seed garden...
And now getting random...
I'm keeping 6 hens for a friend right now. I had to give my birdies away last year (to another friend!) and I've really missed them, so it's nice having these around again. They wait expectantly for an extra treat when I'm weeding the garden!
Speckles enjoying their "Flock Block"...
And of course, the "pupkins" keep me plenty busy! Now that they are being weaned, I'm practically their mommy, and it's a lot like taking care of 7 toddlers! They are such fun, though. They've learned that when my alarm goes off at night that means I'm about to take them out, so even before I can turn it off I hear a rush of little feet scampering for the door!
This little one looks exactly like her mommy did at that age!
Here's mom now, just being silly! :)
Goldfinch at my sister's feeder...
Moose across the road last month...
I need to do another woods update soon, but just had to share these pictures now. This little feller wasn't very happy about my presence!
A sunny bouquet of St. John's Wort...but that's a subject for another post!
I hope you are enjoying these busy summer days, too!
This post has been submitted to Heirloom Gardener. You can read it here.
I am a passionate gardener and seed-saver, who also enjoys playing the violin and accordion, running, spending time with my 4 golden retrievers, keeping chickens, photography, and reading. I also blog for Heirloom Gardener.