ST JOHN’S WORT
St John’s wort has been used to cure many ailments for hundreds of years. ‘Wort’ is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a medicinal herb. The name St John’s wort came about because it was used by the nights of the Order of St John to heal the deep wounds sustained during the battles of the Crusades.
St John’s wort, hypericum perforatum, is an attractive medicinal herb which grows about —2 ft (30—6 I cm) high. Its upright, reddish stems are square and branched. The small thin leaves have veins radiating from the base of the leaf and growing thickly along the branches. Each leaf has numerous small perforations which can be clearly seen if a leaf is held up to the light. They are transparent oil glands, containing the same valuable oil as the flowers. This feature of the leaves is an easy way to distinguish the St John’s wort from other hypericums. The flowers, which bloom in June and July, are bright yellow star-shaped blossoms clustered together at the top of the stems. When in full flower the stamens stand up above the petals. The herb can be found growing along country lanes, on dry banks and waste land, in hedges and meadows.
St John’s wort is a neat growing herb to have in the garden and it can easily be grown from seed sown in May directly into its flowering position. Sow the seed in light rich soil in sun or semi-shade and, when large enough, thin the seedlings a handspan apart. In March it can be propagated by careful division of an established plant. St John’s wort has little fragrance when in flower, but when crushed the plant has an aromatic smell of balsam. The ripe seeds have a strong smell and the leaves and flowers have a bitter dry flavour.
St John’s wort is a useful remedy for many minor ailments and is usually used in the form of an oil. The oil can be purchased from homeopathic chemists (pharmacists) or it can be made in the home. St John’s wort oil is helpful in relieving bruises and contusions, sciatica and other cases of nerve injury; it is a remedy for skin irritations, shingles and burns, cuts and abrasions. The oil is used in the form of a compress which is most effective or, where the skin is unbroken, it can be lightly smoothed on to the affected part. It will also soothe and heal a heat rash.
* To make the oil: Fill a small glass jar with freshly picked flowers and pour on sufficient olive oil to cover the flowers. Cover the jar with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band and leave on a sunny windowsill or in the greenhouse for 3-4 weeks depending on the amount of sunshine. When ready for use, the oil should be a strong red colour. Strain into dark glass screwtop bottles and store in a cool place. The oil can also be made using almond in place of olive oil – this will make a more penetrating oil, It is important that preparations containing St john’s wort made for external use should only be used at night-time because its use can make the skin sensitive in susceptible persons and cause discoloration.
St John’s wort tea, made from the dried flowers or leaves, can be taken as a remedy for bronchial catarrh and headache. It is soothing and calming and can be helpful to those who cannot sleep. It is also said to be a remedy for depression.
* To make the tea: Pour ½ cup of boiling water on to a teaspoon of the herb. Cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Sweeten it with honey and drink warm or cool as wished.
St John’s wort helps to keep the skin soft and supple and the infusion can be added to creams and lotions for using at night. St John’s wort oil (see Medicinal Use) can be rubbed over the hands at night to prevent age spots and to keep the skin smooth. The infusion used as a lotion is an effective moisturizer, again only for applying at night. The lotion is gentle and can be used on dry, delicate skins.
* To make an infusion: Pour 1 cupful of boiling water on to 3 teaspoons of dried flowers. Cover and leave to infuse for 10 minutes before straining into a stoppered bottle. Store in a cool place and use within a few days.
As a moisturizer, use in the form of a compress. Cleanse the face thoroughly, then dip pieces of lint in the lotion and cover the face, pressing the lint lightly on to the skin. Do not cover the eyes or mouth. Relax with the compress in place for 15-20 minutes. Afterwards rinse the skin with soft water or milk.
St John ’s wort tincture can be bought at some chemists or specialist herb shops but a simple preparation can be made at home.
* To make a tincture: Use powdered dried herb, both flowers and leafy tops. Put 2 tablespoons of the herb in a screwtop bottle and add I cup of rubbing alcohol or vodka. Cover and keep the jar in a warm place for 2-3 weeks, shaking the bottle once a day. Strain the tincture through a fine cloth.
The tincture can be used to make a hair lotion which stimulates the growth and keeps the hair shining and in good condition.
* To make a hair lotion for blonde hair: Add I part of the tincture to 2 parts tincture of chamomile flowers and add an equal amount of rosewater. Put all into a stoppered bottle and shake thoroughly. Use the lotion not more than twice a week, rubbing it into the scalp with a pad or ball of cotton wool.