St. John’s wort – characteristics, cultivation and use

yellow lower of St. John's wort
yellow lower of St. John's wort

St. John’s wort is the best-known midsummer plant. Even its name comes from the St John’s Day on June 24. In the days around the summer solstice St. John’s wort opens its bright yellow flowers. It can be found growing on roadsides, sparse bushes, embankments and even on rubbish dumps. St. John’s wort brings warming sunshine into depressive moods. Already in the Middle Ages Paracelsus knew this and today this knowledge is even confirmed by conventional medicine.

Profile of St. John’s wort:

Scientific name: Hypericum perforatum

Plant family: St. Johnswort family (Hypericaceae)

Other names: perforate St John’s-wort, common Saint John’s wort

Sowing time / Planting time: March – April

Flowering period: June – September

Harvest time: May – October

Useful plant parts: leaves, flowers, shoots

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: nutrient-poor and well-aerated soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: depression, nervous restlessness, stress, anxiety, wound healing, swelling

Use as aromatic herb: fish

Plant characteristics and classification of St John’s wort

Occurrence and origin of St. John’s wort

St. John’s wort can be found on many parts of the earth. They can be found in both extreme and hostile regions, such as deserts or arctic tundra, as well as in the tropics or subtropics. Above all, it grows on fallow land, nutrient-poor meadows, forest edges, forest clearings and paths.

Plant order of St. John’s Wort

The St. John’s wort belongs to the family of St. John’s wort family (Hypericaceae), which includes about 600 to 700 species.

In botany, the true St. John’s wort is subdivided into various subspecies, which differ slightly in each case in the development of the leaves and flowers. Known subspecies are:

Broad-leafed St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum ssp. Latifolium)

Small-leaved St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum spp. Microphyllum)

Common St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum ssp. Perforatum)

Narrow-leaved St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum ssp. Angustifolium)

Characteristics of St. John’s wort


St. John’s Wort is a perennial herbaceous plant that can reach heights of growth of 50 cm to one meter (20 to 40 in). Sometimes, the plant forms very deep and branched roots that can reach up to 60 cm (24 in) into the ground.


The leaves look elongated and slightly oval and are arranged opposite. The leaves contain numerous oil glands and are 2 to 4 cm (0.8 to 1.6 in) tall. The striking dark spots on the leaves are oil tanks, which storage the essential oils of St. John’s wort. Both the leaves and the stems are hairless.


Between June and September the heyday of St. John’s wort is expected. The small flowers are golden yellow and joined together to form so-called cymes. The St. John’s wort flowers contain like the leaves a variety of oil glands, which, however, look rather reddish here. Because of this property, the St. John’s wort was for a long time one of the most important dye plants. Legend has it that the sap does represent the blood of John the Baptist. Striking are the stamens, which protrude far above the calyx as rays. The flowers usually appear at the time of the summer solstice. St. John’s wort is pollinated by insects.


The fruit of St. John’s wort is an egg-shaped capsule fruit, which is about 10 mm (0.4 in) long and has three compartments.

St. John’s wort – cultivation and care

Due to the curative effect but also due to the unmistakable flower splendor, St. John’s wort is cultivated occasionally in the garden or on the balcony.


The plant thrives best in sunny locations in the garden, for example, at the top of the herb spiral.


Soil can be lean to fertile. However, it is important that the ground is well drained and well ventilated. If it is grown in loamy locations, it is recommended to loosen the soil with a few drops of sand, perlite or vermiculite. St. John’s Wort tolerates neutral to slightly acidic soils. If the soil is acidic (pH below 5.5) it is recommended to lime the places where the herb should grow.

Sowing and cultivation

The common St. John’s wort is a light germ. The sowing can be done as pre-cultivating in shells or directly outdoors, whereby the sowing in the field is usually preferred. Its seeds can be sown between March and April and are only pressed slightly in the soil. If the herb is pre-cultivated in trays, the plant can be prick out as soon as the first leaves become visible. It is recommended to sow the St. John’s wort seed already in late October or early March. When growing St. John’s wort, make sure to keep a planting distance between each plant of about 30 cm (12 in).


St. John’s wort is a typical low feeder, which makes only very small demands on the nutrient supply. If the herb grows in commercially available herbal soil or in a well-managed garden soil, usually no additional fertilizer inputs are required.


St. John’s wort does not need special attention in terms of water supply. Shorter dry phases with high temperatures are generally well tolerated. For longer periods of heat (more than a week), the area should be poured vigorously.


When the St. John’s wort is in full bloom, it can be harvested. Cut the flower crowns and, if necessary, the leaves and stems.


The flowers can be dried in a shady and airy place. If oil is to be made with the plant parts, it is important not to collect the flowers and leaves in humid weather, but only when they have had the opportunity to dry in the sun. Otherwise, they threaten to mold in the oil.

Preparation of St. John’s wort oil

For the preparation of St. John’s wort oil, put dried flowers in a screw-top jar, fill with olive oil and leave the mixture covered in a dark place for three weeks. Externally, the anti-inflammatory oil can then be used for minor burns and rheumatic complaints.

a St. John's wort plant
a St. John’s wort plant

St. John’s wort and its use

The St. John’s Wort is a long-known and still frequently used medicinal herb.

St. John’s wort in the kitchen

St. John’s wort has little meaning in the kitchen or as herbs. Occasionally it is used for fish marinades. The taste is described as very bitter.

St. John’s wort as a medicinal herb

The use of St. John’s wort as a medicinal plant dates back to antiquity. Especially as a wound healing agent, it was widely used. In old herbal books it was recommended for numerous other diseases. For example, one used the seeds of the herb for internal bleeding or bladder stones. A wrap of the herb simmered in red wine has been used to treat constipation and other digestive problems.

St. John’s wort was also recommended for some external complaints. For example, the leaves were dried and pulverized to combat skin rot and ulcers. Anyone who suffered from tremor and tired limbs should be helped by rubbing St. John’s wort on legs and arms.

Many of the historically used treatments are barely noticed today. On the one hand, this is because the effect of the herb on some of these complaints is called into question. On the other hand, there are usually much better medicinal herbs for those cases. Nevertheless, the St. John’s wort is still a very versatile medicinal plant, which is used in everyday life.

St. John’s wort can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • anxiety
  • back pain
  • bedwetting
  • bronchitis
  • bruises
  • bruising
  • bumps
  • burns
  • contortions
  • cracks
  • cystitis
  • depressions
  • diarrhea
  • dry skin
  • eczema
  • endometritis
  • epilepsy
  • fever
  • gout
  • headache
  • hemorrhoids
  • hypochondria
  • indigestion
  • insomnia
  • intestinal inflammation
  • irregularities with the menstrual cycle
  • itching
  • loss of appetite
  • lumbago
  • menopausal symptoms
  • menstrual cramps
  • migraine
  • muscle strains
  • nervousness
  • neuralgia
  • rheumatism
  • scar pain
  • sciatica
  • sprain
  • sore throat
  • stab wounds
  • stomach upset
  • trigeminal neuralgia
  • ulcers
  • uterine cramps
  • varicose veins
  • wounds

Medicinal properties

  • analgesic
  • antibacterial
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antispasmodic
  • astringent
  • decongestant
  • diuretic
  • expectorant
  • hemostatic
  • hematopoietic
  • reassuring
  • toning

Preparation of a St. John’s Wort tea

Both the flowers and the leaves can be used for the tea. It should help with many mental upsets such as depression or restlessness. St. John’s wort tea is also recommended for complaints such as stomach upset or gastritis.

Time needed: 10 minutes

This is how you prepare a St. John’s Wort tea by yourself

  1. put 1 to 2 teaspoons of the herb in a tea strainer in a cup

  2. dash with boiling water

  3. let steep for 5 to 10 minutes

  4. drink at least two cups of this tea daily

Preparation of a St. John’s Wort tincture

  • Fill the herbs in a screw-top jar
  • Leave about half the space in the glass
  • Pour double grain over the herbs until well covered
  • Close the glass
  • Leave the tincture in a warm place for two to six weeks
  • Gradually, the tincture takes on more and more color
  • After the waiting time, the tincture is filtered off. A coffee filter is suitable for this
  • Put the coffee filter in a second glass
  • Pour the tincture through the coffee filter
  • The finished tincture drips into the second glass
  • The tincture is then filled into a dark bottle
  • Close the bottle
  • Label the bottle with content and date
  • Stored in a dark, cool place, such a tincture will last at least a year

St. John’s Wort as a remedy for depression

Even in the Middle Ages, the St. John’s Wort was used against melancholy, but this was forgotten until the conventional medicine in the 1970s proved the antidepressant effect in medical studies. Since then St. John’s wort is not only a mood-brightener, but also the most important herbal antidepressant.

At high doses, it can relieve mild and moderate depression after 4 to 6 weeks of use.

However, the conventional medical dosage is so high that it can not be achieved with teas or commercially available agents. For the officially necessary dosage for the relief of depression daily 900 mg to 1800 mg ( 0.03 to 0.06 oz) of St. John’s wort extract are necessary. As a drug for the treatment of moderate depression, some preparations are only available by prescription.

Conventional medicine makes the active ingredients hypericin and hyperforin responsible for the antidepressant effect.

The classical herbal medicine and the modern anthroposophic medicine consider the St. John’s wort as a plant that can store the sunlight of summer, to give the joy of sunny summer then in the dull winter and to brighten and warm the minds.

From this point of view, you can drink a St. John’s wort tea instead of commercially available supplements. Or you put the St. John’s wort in corn schnapps and make a tincture out of it. From this tincture you can take 20-50 drops three times a day.

St. John’s Wort as a remedy for the nerve system

St. John’s wort is also a valuable medicinal plant for diseases of the nerve system. It helps against nervousness, insomnia and anxiety. Headaches and migraines can also be relieved.

St. John’s wort also makes a valuable contribution against neuralgia such as trigeminal neuralgia or lumbago. You can take it internally and also rub the affected area with St. John’s wort oil.

St. John’s wort as a remedy for digestive organs

The digestive effect of St. John’s wort has almost been forgotten in view of its effects on the nervous system. But St. John’s wort strengthens the stomach and intestines, relieves inflammation and helps against diarrhea. In addition to the tea you can take the St. John’s wort oil internally against indigestion. To do this, take one teaspoon of the oil three times a day.

St. John’s wort as a remedy for women’s complaints

St. John’s wort also has a lot to offer against women’s complaints.

Its anti-spasmodic properties relieve menstrual cramps. It also contains an estrogen-like substance which can help regulate irregular cycles and relieve menopausal symptoms. Since the menopause is often accompanied by depression, St. John’s wort is thus an optimal medicinal plant for this important phase of life.

Other internal effects of St. John’s wort

In addition to the numerous internal applications already described, St. John’s wort tea or tincture can also be used to combat bladder infections. It also helps against rheumatism and gout. Even bronchitis and other inflammation of the respiratory system can be alleviated.

External use of St. John’s wort

One can apply the St. John’s wort as a tea or diluted tincture in the form of washes, baths and envelopes externally. However, the best known external use of St. John’s wort is the red St. John’s wort oil, which is made from the fresh flowers.

The oil helps against muscle pain, strains, puncture injuries, bruising and other injuries. Even mild burns, infected wounds, ulcers and neuralgia can be relieved by St. John’s wort oil. Because of its diversity, the oil belongs in every home remedy kit.

Buy St. John’s wort – What is there to pay attention to?

St. John’s wort can be obtained in many ways. Since the herb is now a popular herb, you can find the plants sometimes on plant or perennial markets. When buying plants care should be taken that the soil is not too humid. Inasmuch as St. John’s wort is also to be considered for use as a medicinal herb, it is recommended to pay close attention to the botanical name. Frequently other plants from the genus are sold, but they have nothing to do with the common St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum).

The plant is also to buy as dried herb. Good products usually contain both leaves and flowers. The loose herbs are mostly used for tea blends. Some manufacturers also offer ready-made tea bags in appropriate portions. Those who take St. John’s wort for the first time and are unsure about the quantity or dose, should access the finished tea bags. The higher prices usually refer to herbs that have been organically grown.

Seeds and plants can be easily bought in garden centers, in the hardware store or online. However, caution is advised for the species. There are a variety of attractive species available for decorative purposes. The attractive ornamental perennials are well suited as ground cover and offer a colorful sight in every season. Unfortunately, they do not have any healing powers. For this you should pay attention to the botanical name for St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum).

The price for a plant is between 3 and 5 EUR/$. A package of seeds can be purchased for about 1.50 to 2.50 EUR/$.

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