In honor of Litha, today I’ll do an herbology post on St. John’s Wort, a traditional addition to the pagan sabbat, and veritable summer plant.
St. John’s Wort
aka Tipton’s Weed, Klamath Weed, Achlasen Chaluimchille (gaelic: armpit package of St. Colomba), Fuga Daemonum (scare devil), Goatweed, Johnswort, Chase Devil, Devil’s Flight, Grace of God, Penny John, Balm of the Warrior’s Wound, Devil’s Scourge, Witches Herb, Touch and Heal
aka Toute Saine (french: heal all), Tutsan (english corruption)
(Note: St. John’s Wort is also used to refer to many species of hypericum, but the above two are common/popular in herbal alchemy)
Flowers & Leaves: fresh or dried, both internally and externally
Stems: not edible, but used to make red dye
A natural restorative and relaxant, St. John’s Wort is an herb of the sun, fire, and warmth, beneath the sign of Leo. Therefore, in herbal alchemy it is used to treat depression, fatigue, & to dispell negative energy or bad spirits. Thrown in the bonfires at Litha, woven into hair garlands and used in teas, oils, tinctures and charms, St. John’s Wort is a highly potent summer plant.
These are some of the attributes found in St. John’s Wort leaves and flowers: Antibacterial, anti-fungal, antidepressant, burn healing, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, sedative, cardiotonic, can help reduce cholesterol levels.
History & Uses
To the Celts, St. John’s Wort was sacred first to St. Colomba, who apparently wore satchels of the plant in his armpit. Colomba’s Armpit Package was considered the luckiest if one found it accidentally.
The early Christians mystics are credited with naming it St. John’s Wort, for it usually bloomed around June 24th, which is considered to be St. John’s Day.
The healing properties of St. John’s Wort have been known in Eurasia for at least 2500 years, being prescribed to patients by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, and the foremost ancient Greek herbalist, Dioscorides. Known then to treat insanity, snake bites (when mixed with wine) and to drive away “bad spirits”.
In the middle ages, crusaders carried St. John’s Wort with them as a talisman against evil sorcery, but also made St. John’s Oil to heal their wounds, and for use a pain reliever. From my research, I’ve gathered the Crusader’s called the plant “Grace of God”.
Native cultures in the Americas also used several species of hypericum as an abortifacient, anti-diarrheal, dermatological aid, febrifuge, hemostat, snake bite remedy, and general strengthener.
St. John’s Wort tea is also used for rheumatism, neuralgia, sciatica, shingles and symptoms of menopause, and can be used to treat sore muscles from exercise or overexertion.
When picked, the delicate yellow blossom exudes a crimson red sap, said to be (depending on who you ask, and when) the blood of St. John, the blood of Baldor (Norse god), blood of Christ (blood-red oil made from infusing St. John’s Wort often used in exorcism), and woman’s blood*.
Blooming at the height of the daylight, on or around the summer solstice, St. John’s Wort blossoms, when worn or used in magic help us connect to the physical self, and as such, are used in healing the physical body, or bringing the subtle body in harmony with the daylight principles of honesty, courage, protection, physical strength, verbal communication, & longevity. But the blood red sap has long been associated with it’s properties for easing menstrual cramps and idiosyncrasies (read hormones), connecting it also to the fertility side of the sun god, that of the fertile goddess*. Interesting to note here, that St. John’s Wort can cause miscarriage, another vivid association with the blood red sap.
The yellow flowers are used to make yellow dye, the stems, a red dye.
Use St. John’s Wort incense or as a smudge to drive away negative energy, bad spirits and “evil” energies.
Oils, smudges and incense are used for banishment & exorcism.
Put it beneath your pillow to banish nightmares.
Hang drying stems and flowers at the windows and doors of your house to keep negative energies out.
Use fresh sap as symbol for blood in ritual/spellwork, or as a representative of menstrual blood in witches’ jars.
The Dark Side
With the rise of ignorance and & oppression in Europe, came the “burning time”. A time when those who practiced the Old Religion were labeled by the conquerors as manipulators, (wicce, wicca, wiccan), pagans (country-dwellers), and devils/demons/evil/etc and persecuted for a very long time. During these ages, St. John’s Wort was believed to drive away “witches” and protect one from “witchcraft”.
It is said that a suspected witch would be forced to take a handful of St. John’s Wort in his/her mouth to force a confession before they would be burnt at the stake/hung/tied to a rock and thrown in a river/etc.
Real witches, being perfectly harmless (most of the time) and wiser than the average, having the ancient wortcunning knowledge, probably grew St. John’s Wort and kept it with them always, hanging sprigs of it over their doors and windows. So while on the surface of oppression, St. John’s Wort is seen as an anti-witchcraft herb, in reality, it protects witches as much as anyone else, and can be worn by those of magical inclination as a talisman against closed mindedness, violence and persecution. Perhaps this is the folk root in the nickname “witch’s herb”?
For herbal tea: Infuse 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried St. John’s Wort Blossoms and leaves per cup of hot water. Drink several cups of tea a day.
Tea to Relieve Nervous Tension: 1 1/2 oz dried St. John’s Wort, 1 oz dried Lemon Balm leaves, 1 oz valerian. Use 1 tsp of mixture per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes. Drink before bedtime.
Herbal Alchemy Sun Infusion: 1 tsp St. John’s Wort, 1 tsp chamomile, 1 tsp calendula petals, mix in 8-12 oz mason jar (or something similar size) and fill with fresh spring water (room temperature) and sit in the sun for several hours. Strain. Drink. A potent restorative.
Here is a wonderful recipe for St. John’s Wort Salve.
*St. John’s Wort should not be ingested by woman who are pregnant or breast feeding, but it can be used as a topical or worn as charm, spell or talisman.