The St. John’s Wort plant, also known as witches’ herb, is a wild plant that grows everywhere in our countryside. The current great interest in this plant harks back to ancient uses in folk medicine. It has always been considered a valuable aid in treating conditions that we now define as anxious-depressive, which were once associated with madness or even demonic possession. Many modern studies confirm its extraordinary ability to alleviate nervous disorders, of course with due precautions. St. John’s wort, however, has many other properties, one of which is its oil, used to treat all kinds of skin injuries. It is an extract that is easy to prepare at home using a simple maceration process.
But before we continue, let’s get to know the structure of this plant and its exceptional properties better.
The St. John’s Wort Plant
The St. John’s Wort plant, scientific name Hypericum perforatum, is a perennial and evergreen medicinal plant belonging to the botanical family Hypericaceae (or Guttiferae).
The name of the species, perforatum, comes from the Latin perforo, meaning “to perforate,” referring to the numerous translucent glands present on the leaf blade, giving it a perforated appearance. This distinct feature makes it recognizable even when not in bloom. St. John’s Wort is a glabrous plant, with an erect and lignified stem marked by two prominent longitudinal lines. It can reach heights varying from 20 cm to 90 cm.
The leaves are opposite on the stem, ovate-lanceolate in shape, and bright green in color. As mentioned, they are dotted with oily glands. Small black dots are present along the edges, which are glandular structures containing hypericin, the active ingredient of Hypericum perforatum. It is a red pigment found in greater quantities in the flowers.
The flowers are the most interesting part of the St. John’s Wort plant. They are golden-yellow in color, composed of five delicate petals, which can be up to twice the length of the sepals. They are arranged in multi-flowered corymbs. When the flowers are torn from their stalks or their petals are rubbed, they release a blood-red sap containing active principles. Hence another of the plant’s many common names, red oil herb.
The flowering of the Hypericum perforatum plant occurs from June to August, although the best period, according to popular tradition, is during the week of June 24th, the Christian feast of St. John.
St. John’s Wort is a perennial plant present year-round, as it does not fear the cold. It is native to the British Isles and is currently found worldwide. It is present in all regions of Italy, and it prefers to grow in sunny positions, semi-shaded at most, with a dry and moderately humid environment, like that of abandoned fields or borders.
For St. John’s Wort, the inflorescences are harvested during the flowering period. These are gathered into bunches and placed in a shaded and ventilated location to dry. However, it’s better to use fresh flowers if you have the opportunity.
What Does the St. John’s Wort Plant Contain?
The flowers and leaves of the St. John’s Wort plant contain a series of highly characteristic (and obviously natural) chemical elements. Among these elements are: naphthodianthrones (hypericin and pseudohypericin), phloroglucinols (hyperforin and adhyperforin), flavonoids (hyperoside, quercitrin, and isoquercitrin). Additionally, there are catechinic tannins, caffeic and chlorogenic acids, pectins, a high content of mucilages, tannic substances, and many other secondary elements.
All these combined elements provide the Hypericum perforatum plant with exceptional therapeutic properties, both for internal and external use.
Antidepressant Properties of St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is considered the natural remedy par excellence for some cases of psychogenic depression and generally for nervous disorders caused by endocrine dysfunctions (of course, before starting treatment, it’s always necessary to consult a doctor). This plant has antidepressant activity and helps rebalance mood. It also has anxiolytic effects.
For this reason, the Hypericum perforatum plant is highly sought after by herbal industries for the preparation of natural tablets that are easily available in the market (for example, you can find them here).
St. John’s Wort can be considered a natural medication, making it ideal for those who intend to, under medical consultation, treat depression with herbs. However, it’s important to note that it has known interactions with other medications. This is because the natural substances it contains induce various enzymes responsible for drug metabolism. This reduces the plasma levels and efficacy of some medications when taken simultaneously.
In particular, the use of Hypericum perforatum is discouraged if you’re taking medications based on indinavir and other antiretroviral drugs for HIV-1 infection, warfarin, cyclosporine, theophylline, digoxin, and oral contraceptives. Its use is further discouraged if you’re undergoing other antidepressant drug therapies.
Another precaution is for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
In short, the potency of St. John’s Wort’s active ingredients doesn’t align well with traditional pharmacology. So, if you want to use Hypericum perforatum, consult carefully with your doctor, especially in relation to the use of conventional medications.
Other Internal Uses of St. John’s Wort
In addition to its antidepressant properties, the St. John’s Wort plant has other internal uses. It has antiseptic and disinfectant properties, not to mention its decongestant and soothing actions. It is therefore used in the form of herbal tea to alleviate inflammatory conditions of the bronchi and urinary tracts. It’s also used for liver insufficiency, enuresis, and difficult digestion. Lastly, it has proven capillary-protective effects and hypotensive activity, meaning it can reduce blood pressure. If you’re interested in trying it, you can easily find Hypericum perforatum herbal tea here.
St. John’s Wort Oil
One of the most common uses of St. John’s Wort is external, through its famous red oil. Indeed, it’s considered the ultimate natural remedy for all possible skin lesions, primarily burns but also various types of sores and wounds.
For mild burns and scalds, the oil can be applied directly to the skin. It effectively eliminates pain within a few minutes. In these cases, it’s also an excellent analgesic, as long as the burn or wound is covered with Hypericum perforatum oil, the pain won’t return.
St. John’s Wort oil is also useful for accelerating the healing process of lesions, even severe ones, without causing skin contraction. It’s also recommended as a natural remedy for all skin lesions, abrasions, scrapes, and erythemas.
This oil with exceptional properties is also used for massages and frictions. It soothes pain caused by bruises and accelerates healing, aiding in the reabsorption of hematomas and reducing swelling.
In short, we’re talking about a real panacea for the skin, which you can prepare at home with a bit of organization.
We will see the recipe in detail in the following section, but of course, if you have limited time or little inclination to make it, you can easily purchase it here.
How to Prepare St. John’s Wort Oil
Now let’s see how to prepare *oleolito*, or St. John’s Wort oil, at home.
The ingredients needed for a good quantity are:
- 500 ml of extra virgin olive oil, preferably from organic olive cultivation
- 150 g of Hypericum perforatum flowers, collected before they wither, between June and August.
Place the St. John’s Wort inflorescences in a transparent glass jar and then fill it with oil. The flowers should be completely covered, and the oil should exceed their level by about 2 cm.
At this point, seal the jar tightly and leave it in a sunny spot to macerate. The sun maceration period is about a month, and during this time, the oil will take on the typical blood-red color, absorbing the active ingredients contained in the flowers. To facilitate this process, shake the jar every two days to mix it.
After this sun exposure period, filter the oil with a fine mesh strainer. Then, store it in a glass container, preferably dark, away from light and heat sources.
If stored correctly, Hypericum perforatum oil can preserve its soothing properties for a period of about two years.
- MDPI Agriculture: “The Influence of Phytohormones on Antioxidative and Antibacterial Activities in Callus Cultures of Hypericum perforatum L.” – Natural extracts of Hypericum perforatum L. are used in the pharmaceutical industry for their antiviral, antioxidant, antibacterial, antidiabetic, and antidepressant activities.
- MDPI Antioxidants: “Hyperforin Enhances Heme Oxygenase-1 Expression Triggering Lipid Peroxidation in BRAF-Mutated Melanoma Cells” – Hyperforin, found in Hypericum perforatum extract, exhibits antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antitumor activities, with a recent study revealing its antimelanoma effect.
- MDPI Pharmaceuticals: “Hypericum perforatum L. and the Underlying Molecular Mechanisms for Its Choleretic, Cholagogue, and Regenerative Properties” – Defects in bile formation can lead to cholestasis, liver fibrosis, and more. Hypericum perforatum has therapeutic properties in this context.
- MDPI Horticulturae: “Non-Enzymatic and Enzymatic Antioxidant Responses of Hypericum perforatum L. Hairy Roots upon Photooxidative Stress” – The study evaluates the antioxidant response of fifteen Hypericum perforatum L. dark-grown and photoperiod-exposed hairy root clones.
- MDPI Journal of Clinical Medicine: “Efficacy and Safety of Co-Administered St. John’s Wort and Ginkgo biloba Extracts in Patients with Subjective Tinnitus” – Extracts of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) improve depressive symptoms. This study investigates their effect on tinnitus symptoms.