Herbal KnowledgeFeb 2, 2022

Pharm Education: St. John's Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is in the Hypericaceae family. There are over 300 species of the Hypericum genus throughout the world, but this is considered the official plant and the one most commonly used in herbalism. Native to Eurasia and North Africa, this plant most likely came to North America in the 1700s.


The history and symbolism of St. John’s Wort

The budding and flowering tops of this plant have been used for centuries, and it is said that Benedictine monks named it after St. John the Baptist, as it flowers around June 24, St. John’s Day. St. John’s Wort helps to promote a positive mood and emotional balance.* It has a long history of use, and it is an ingredient in many of Herb Pharm’s products.*

St. John’s Wort has a beautiful and unique relationship with the sun. Its seeds contain phytochrome, a photoreceptor that prohibits germination unless the seed is exposed to light. If you are trying to grow St. John’s Wort at home, be sure to gently tamp the seeds into the surface of the soil instead of covering them so that germination is more likely. As St. John’s Wort flowers around the summer solstice, it is also a symbol of the beginning of summer.


Identifying St. John’s Wort

If you lift a leaf of St. John’s Wort and backlight with the sun, you will see an array of dots that look like perforations, hence the species name perforatum. These are actually tiny oil glands. The darker spots closer to the leaf margins contain hypericin, a constituent of this plant, and they are very much a distinguishing characteristic. You will see red spots of hypericin along the yellow petals of the inflorescence (cluster of flowers), as well as at the tip of the stamens. Squeezing a fresh flower bud will produce a bright red, resinous pigment that is a great indicator that you are dealing with high-quality Hypericum perforatum.


How we source St. John’s Wort

Herb Pharm's fresh St. John's Wort is responsibly wildcrafted in the Siskiyou and Cascade mountains around our farm in southern Oregon. These plants prefer compacted soils that were once shaded by forests, and they reclaim these areas as they soak up the sun. St. John’s Wort is classified as an invasive species in some states (including Oregon), and it’s interesting to note that it often appears in places that have been disturbed by human activity, such as roadsides and clearcuts, although we do not harvest from these locations.


Herb at a glance

Botanical name: Hypericum perforatum
Common name(s): St. John’s Wort
Plant family: Hypericaceae
Native habitat: Eurasia and North Africa
Parts used: flowering top
Botanical description: Clusters of small yellow flowers; leaves have dots that look like perforations
Use(s): promotes positive mood & healthy emotional balance*
Flavor profile: mildly balsamic, slightly bitter