Sunday, August 24, 2014

St. John's Wort

The first thing to stand out to me about St. John’s Wort was its name, a bit odd, but I found out “wort” is simply Old English for “plant”.  There are many folklores surrounding this herb.  The most common one, of the Western world, is of how the blood-red oil from its bruised petals is in honor of John the Baptist.  One of my favorites is from Brittany where the picking of the herb is symbolic of the dismembering of the God, the Summer Lord. When one gives the plant as medicine to the sick, you are re-membering the God:  putting his scattered pieces back together.  Many feel the scent alone repels evil spirits, causing them to fly away.  It is also a charm to be hung above one’s door to protect from demons and unwanted mischief makers, especially on Midsummer’s Day.  It is usually ready to be picked from Summer Solstice through August, depending on elevation.  This plant, at one time, could be found very easily, but due to its classification as a “noxious weed”, it is becoming harder to find.  In our area it is referred to as “Klamath Weed,” with very little respect showed for its powerful healing abilities.  I find it in hidden pockets throughout the mountains here, often close to creeks at the animal trail cross paths or in the middle of overgrown roads.  I reserve patches found along the roadside for dyeing, while off-road growth for medicine.   
My first experience with this plant was from a fellow mother at Tipi Village, who used it regularly to heal herself and others.  She brought our family a jar of oil she made and there began our relationship with this amazing plant.  We use it for cuts, scrapes and burns from the fire, watching its quick work.  I was introduced to many healing plants, while at Tipi Village, and have noticed a unique connection to St. John’s Wort.  I began making the crimson St. John’s Wort Oil myself, by solar infusion with olive oil, and eventually turning it into salve, with the addition of beeswax.  In our family’s travels over the last year, I have shared this healing salve and oil with people all over the country… giving it away more than selling it!  Giving medicine, as a gift, feels best to me.
The dye from St. John’s Wort will give many colors depending on whether one is or is not using alum, as a mordant, and the re-use of the same dye bath.   I have tried dyeing with this plant a few times and only once successfully extracted a brilliant maroon.  I believe I will figure it out next year.  Natural dyeing is one experiment after another and since I am self- taught it takes a bit longer to produce consistent results.

Calendula Oil and St. John's Wort Oil 3 weeks in the sun.
Just picked buds and blossoms.

Here are a few books I regularly use as reference when researching plants:
Dewey, Laurel.  The Humorous Herbalist.  1996.
Grieve, Mrs. M.  A Modern Herbal. Vol. I and II,  1931.
Hopman,  Ellen Evert.  A Druid’s Herbal.  1995.
Moore, Michael.  Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West.  1993.
Pond, Barbara,  A Sampler of Wayside Herbs.  1974.

I also have started listening to herbalist Susan Weed’s podcast, free through iTunes.  She has a long history of practicing plant medicine and I have learned a lot from the few podcast I have listened to so far.

I hope to write about the other plants I have worked with, including:  elder, nettle, yarrow, and usnea.

No comments: