An herb to help you not lose your head named for a saint who lost his.

Shrubby St. John's Wort native to PA
Shrubby St. John’s Wort native to PA

There is a genus of plants that consists of nearly 400 species with nearly worldwide distribution. It is kind of amazing. These plants all have bright yellow blossoms. Some of the plants are perennials. Some need to reseed. Some are shrubby bushes. Some are trees, growing almost 40 feet tall. They are almost all called St. John’s Wort, with other descriptors or qualifiers before it. it’s genus name, hypericum, comes from the fact that they bloom just prior to the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist on the summer solstice, June 24. The faithful would take branches of the flowers and place them over the icons in their homes and in their churches for the feast day.  Some varieties continue blooming until the feast of St. John’s Beheading on August 29.

St. John's Wort - hypericum perferatum
St. John’s Wort – hypericum perferatum

The petals of the flowers contain hypericin which is an antidepressant. For millennia people have been using the flower petals for tea for this purpose. Now drug stores sell 300mg capsules of powdered, dried St. John’s Wort that one may take three times a day. It is the only antidepressant I know of that doesn’t list suicidal thoughts as a possible side effect. (Miscarriage is a possible side effect, however.) Doctors prescribe it as it has been proven effective. We have three varieties of St. John’s Wort growing here. The photo above is from our front yard. It is a close up of a blossom on a native PA shrubby variety.  We have hypericum perforatum by the driveway side of the house and Four-petal St. John’s Wort, a native of Florida, back by the barn.

Non-native St. John's Wort in front of Telford-Souderton Post Office
Non-native St. John’s Wort in front of Telford-Souderton Post Office

I find it interesting that our local post office has loads of St. John’s Wort in front of it. Our local postal workers all seem to be happy and well adjusted. They have a couple of native bushes and then loads of these woody stemmed perennials, with giant blooms. The bees only bother with the natives. It provides a graphic lesson in the importance of planting natives. Only natives provide food for the bees and insects, butterflies and birds.

Four-petal Florida St. John's Wort
Four-petal Florida St. John’s Wort

Last summer, our plants each had one blossom on them the day before the feast and burst into full bloom on the day of the feast. This year, our native bush had only one blossom open two days after the feast. It is just now starting to fill with blooms. I think it is observing Old Calendar, this year.

 

St. John the Baptist icon by the hand of Constantine Youssis
St. John the Baptist icon by the hand of Constantine Youssis

 

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