Plant Spotlight - Native Saint Joan's Wort
By Kathryn Sisler Waple, (c) 2023.
Saint Joan's Wort Image descriptions clockwise from top left: Full Bloom (New Jersey, July 2023); Wild seedling found (and left) in the Pisgah National Forest (April 2023); second-year seedling in my Mother's Garden (New Jersey, April 2023); Buds about to burst! (Carolina Beach, May 2023); ; Pictures 4-5, Going to Seed (New Jersey, August 2023); the first batch my mom and I made together (New Jersey 2017).
Let’s begin with a brief excerpt from James Green’s “Ritual of Communication” on page 46 in The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook:
'Let me suggest that there are plants out there fully prepared and eager to communicate with you. [...] Over 99 percent of our (human) being is a vibrational communicator. [...] Note the plants that attract you most (vibrational communication). Note the ones that you have always enjoyed looking at, the plant entities that when you are near them, you can’t (and never want to) keep your eyes off. You feel pleasantly uplifted whenever you are near them (vibrational communication).These are the plants that are already your visual lovers; and believe me, if you're that attracted to them, they are appreciating you just as much (vibrational communication).'
This is an excellent summary of how my mother and I have been in relationship with Saint Joan’s Wort (Hypericum punctatum). I was introduced to this beautiful native herb by my first teachers, Corinna Wood and Ivy Lynn. I know she (the plant) wants to be in relationship with me because over the last 15 years, she keeps showing up in the garden, but in a circuitous way.
When I finished my apprenticeship with Corinna, I moved in with my parents for the summer. Part of the experiential harvest from the apprenticeship that I took with me were cuttings from Corinna’s garden of native medicinal herbs that are (were) harder to source. I had a trifecta of Vitex, Stinging Nettle and St. Joan’s Wort. I didn’t know then, what I know now, is that Saint Joan’s Wort is incredibly difficult to propagate by cuttings or start from seed. I had one little sprout that I nurtured into taking root and flourishing. While at my parent’s house, I didn’t know what my next move was going to be, so I planted those three herbs in my Mother’s Garden as a nursery space.
Over the next 15 years, every spring when I visit my parents, I would take at least a half dozen of the Saint Joan’s Wort seedlings that pop up all over her garden. This plant is native to the Appalachian region of the state, and I have come to determine that the coastal plain is too hot for the seeds to easily self-propagate. Coastal New Jersey seems to be just right!
I am not sure if Saint Joan’s Wort shows up for me, or for my mom, but either way, her presence in our lives has helped deepen both mine and my mother’s connection to plants. My mom, in her own words also has a deep affinity for the garden, flowers and growing things, but Saint Joan’s Wort was one of the first medicinal plants she started working with after I shared it with her. She had so much of it growing in her garden in 2017, she called me and said “There is so much around, I feel like I just HAVE to do something with it!” When I was there that summer, we made our first batch of Saint Joan’s Wort Oil together. This is an excellent example of a plant wanting to be in relationship with someone. It shows up. It flourishes. When you spend time with it, there is almost a compulsion about needing to interact with that plant. When you feel those things for (and from!) a plant, listen to it! They will guide you and show you something you may not have even known that you needed.
So what is Saint Joan’s Wort (Hypericum punctatum) used for and how is it different from Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)? Excellent Questions! Saint John’s Wort is the variety native to Europe. They have different growth habits (St. John’s (H. perforatum) is low, creeping and delicate while St. Joan’s (H. punctatum) is a shrubby, woody upright growing bi-annual. Saint Joan’s Wort is also known as Spotted St. John’s Wort. I like to use the common name of Saint Joan’s Wort, introduced to me by my teacher, as a nod to the historical woman who was seen as a revolutionary figure and brave person who withstood persecution. This variety also blooms around the same time as her Saint’s Day, is useful for treatment of burns and this just feels right as a name for her. While H. perforatum has little red dots of the active compound hypericin along the outside edge of the leaf, H. punctatum has them across the entire leaf as well as on the flower petals and buds.
Both H. perforatum and H. punctatum have similar medicinal qualities*, but in my experience the H. punctatum variety is preferable both due to its’ native status and higher quantities of hypericin. While it is important to know the active compounds of a plant and to include that knowledge when using them, to quote Richo Cech:
“You still need to know the herb itself, not just the chemistry, in order to be able to derive the full benefit from it. Herbs work best as whole entities, not as isolated compounds, because the constituents contained in herbs often work together to create a whole effect. Furthermore, the herbs themselves have an innate nature that is larger than their chemistry.”
-Making Plant Medicine p.48
With this guidance in mind, the most effective extracts are made using the whole fresh plant, harvesting the flowers, buds and leaves and infusing those whole parts into either alcohol (100 proof) or olive oil, without the stems. This extract method, using either the Wise Woman (Folk Method) or Weight-to Volume method makes a preparation that contains, in concentrated and preserved form, the balanced chemical constituents from the whole plant.
The most well known benefits of the Hypericums are the mood-balancing and uplifting qualities. I enjoy this herb during the winter when I am experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, any time of the year when I have “the doldrums” (nothing is going wrong, but I just am missing my usual sunny optimism), as well as during times of acute stress - travel, vacation, back to school season. Hypericums are also a nervine tonic, meaning that it supports a well regulated and healthy nervous system. It has nervine sedative properties making it useful for anxiety, restlessness and irritability. Anecdotal feedback from customers reported that it also helped with the nerve irritation from Shingles and the numbness and tingling from diabetic neuropathy. It does this through helping to restore damaged nerve tissues and deadening nerve pain. It can be used for burns, both heat or sun burn, and to help relieve the pain of soft tissue injuries.
While Hypericum has many benefits, it also interacts with most prescription medications, because of the protective action it has on the liver. This plant helps the liver clear pharmaceuticals by a rate of greater than 50% (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC16574/). This means that it is contraindicated for anyone taking prescription medication, especially when it is time released/time sensitive. It can also cause photosensitivity in some individuals. Even individuals without preexisting photosensitivity can develop it if too much herb is taken. Hypericin is readily absorbed through the skin, so if using this plant topically, only apply to the affected area and be in good communication with your doctor or health care provider.
I enjoy the relationship building aspect of working with plants almost more than anything else, and I hope this article has inspired you to get to know a plant growing in your yard, one that just keeps showing up for you, a little bit better.
*None of the information in this article is intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease or health issue and does not constitute medical advice.
Making Plant Medicine Richo Cech
The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook Jame Green
Corinna Wood, Website: www.SoutheastWiseWomen.Com