St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): An Herb for Body & Spirit

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

St. John's Wort is a plant of ancient use, one that has been a protector and healer of people for centuries. Folklore dictates that the herb wards off evil influences and protects against harmful, unseen forces.

While we may not use it in quite the same way as it once was, St. John’s Wort continues to offer physical, emotional and spiritual protection for modern humans living in a world with its own unique challenges and negative influences.

In recent times St. John’s Wort has been popularized for its ability to lift the spirits and to alleviate mild depression and seasonal affective disorder. In my experience it is indeed very useful when one feels melancholic, especially in the deep winter months. It seems fitting that such bright yellow flowers would be uplifting in darker days, especially Hypericum flowers which bloom right at the peak of summer, when the days are longest. If you sometimes suffer from seasonal melancholy or from “the blues”, you might consider bringing this joyful, light-filled herb into your life.  

St. John’s Wort also has a great affinity for the whole nervous system. In particular I have found it remarkable for its ability to help with feelings of nervousness, anxiety and vulnerability. Personally, I have used both the flower essence and the tincture with very noticeable results to help myself feel protected, safe and centered when I otherwise would have felt anxious.  In general, I find that St. John’s Wort is an amazing support for sensitive people who tend to feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed in new social situations, or who need to feel more protected in order to express themselves.  

St. John's Wort is a slightly bitter herb, which makes it beneficial for the digestive organs by stimulating gastric juices and bile flow. It also affects the liver, speeding up the metabolic process and removing toxins from the system.  This brings me to a word of caution about Hypericum: if you are taking any pharmaceutical medications it is best to avoid using this plant. St. John’s Wort increases the activity of liver enzymes that metabolize drugs so using this herb in combination with any medications is not recommended.

Traditionally, this beautiful plant has also been used externally as a wound healer. The infused medicinal oil, red from the crimson-hued juice of the flower buds, can be rubbed into the skin. This oil has been used with great success to help with the pain of burns, sore muscles, sciatica and damaged nerves. I have seen it work wonders for the excruciating pain of shingles.

Although it’s now too late in the season, next time you come across a flowering St. John’s Wort, crush a blossom between your fingers. It will exude a deep red stain. This pigment is the bioactive compound hypericin, where much of Hypericum’s medicine resides. Then, take one of the plant’s leaves and hold it up to the sunlight. Can you see small window-like holes in the leaf? This is another excellent way to identify the plant — there aren’t many leaves that are able to let the sunlight shine right through them.


St. John’s Wort may be used in tea or tincture form, but remember that if you are on any medications ingesting the physical herb is not recommended. 

The infused medicinal oil can be used topically, and is a wonderful addition to any home apothecary for use on minor wounds, burns and sore muscles.   

As a flower essence St. John’s Wort is especially beneficial for sensitive people, providing emotional protection, healthy boundaries, and the ability to share one’s own unique inner light with others.  

This beautiful plant has many gifts to offer us — I encourage you to seek out St. John’s Wort and to welcome it’s joyful, healing qualities into your life.

Steph Zabel is an herbalist and educator based in Somerville, MA who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world.  She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness consultations, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference.  Learn more about her work at: and

Wood, M. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants

This blog post — St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum):  An Herb for Body & Spirit   — is for general health information only. This blog post is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.