It is Midsummer, and I’m writing this as I sit beside my cauldron distilling St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). I feel delightfully connected to an ancient lineage of healers and alchemists stretching back into time immemorial. All those others who have gone out on Midsummer day to gather this magick plant and transform sunlight into liquid gold. A potion to chase away winter blues and calm nerves.
Hypericum Perforatum, ancient lore
The herb Hypericum Perforatum is associated with St. John the Baptist (his saint’s day is the 24th of June) and midsummer, when the flowers are traditionally harvested. It is said that the red sap “bleeds”on the day when St. John was beheaded. Or, another theory holds that the name Saint John’s Wort is said to be in honour of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem who used this herb to treat battlefield wounds. It is now known to be antibacterial, antiseptic and astringent so a great wound wash and dressing, particularly for puncture wounds.Those Knights knew something, I guess.
Hypericum is known as a protective herb. It is traditionally burned in the Midsummer Fires. Flowers brought into the house on Midsummer Day are said to protect the household from misfortune, including the evil eye, illness and fire. The ancient name Fuga Daemonum (Scare Devil) and the Latin name Hypericum (meaning “over an apparition”) reflects the belief that it could drive away evil spirits. In modern times it has proved to be an anti-depressant and is known as “natural Prozac”.
One legend I am fond of says if you step on a St. John’s Wort plant, you will be stolen away by a faerie horse. So far, I haven’t found that to be true, much to my disappointment.
St. John’s Wort has been used in medicine for over 2,400 years. It was used by Hippocrates for insanity, among other things. A nerve restorative, St. Joan’s Wort steadies the spirit and calms the nervous system, making it very useful for conditions such as neuralgia, anxiety, and tension. Internal use may also help back pain and sciatica. Because it combines antibacterial, nerve reparative and anti-inflammatory properties, hypericum is useful for post surgical wound healing.
It is also anti-viral. And one of the best things I know for soothing burns. Combine St John’s Wort infused oil or hydrosol with lavender essential oil and keep it in the fridge for emergencies, including sunburn.
St. John’s Wort is a highly effective anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It has antimicrobial properties; making it a soothing and cleansing spray for cuts, wounds, burns, sores, ulcers, and bruises. It is skin reparative and can even help with scars. It can help calm the digestive system, as well. Its antispasmodic properties may help reduce colicky spasms. Additionally, St. John’s Wort has been found to have mucolytic properties, which can make it helpful for relieving respiratory issues.
Chemical composition: Herb and flowers contain different flavonoids (rutin, hyperoside, isoquercetin, quercitrin, quercetin, I3,II8-biapigenin, amentoflavone, astilbin, miquelianin), phenolic acids (chlorogenic acid, 3-O-coumaroylquinic acid), different naphtodianthrones (hypericin, pseudohypericin, protohypericin, protopseudohypericin), phloroglucinols (hyperforin, adhyperforin), and also essential oils (composed mainly of sesquiterpenes). The naphthodianthrones hypericin and pseudohypericin, along with the phloroglucinol derivative hyperforin are thought to be the active components.
On my property in Portugal, the St John’s Wort grows on the moister northerly slopes in the light shade of the cork oak trees. We have made macerated oil from the flowers in the past years, which is wonderfully soothing and supportive, as it carries the imprint of the woodland community. This is our first year of steam distillation for this plant.
The percentage of essential oil in the plant is low, so I am distilling for the aromatic water (hydrosol with the essential oil still in it, a gentle but powerful combination). Susan Catty in her seminal book on the subject, says the hydrosol tonifies skin, soothes irritation internally (digestion) and externally (skin, burns, nerves) and is mildly anti-depressant.
As the aromatic water comes off the still it has a wonderful fresh green, slightly sharp fragrance, with a grounding hint of earthiness and a surprising almost camphoraceous edge.
The animals who live with me are active participants in my aromatic experimentations. Today the mini hound took great interest in the process from the beginning. As I was decanting the aromatic water he came by and asked for some. He is Fire element, with a very fast nervous system, and delicate skin that heats easily. He also has a delicate digestive system and a tendency towards flatulence if he eats too much rich food, rabbit for instance. He will fall into depression if he feels left out (he might have invented the expression “hang dog”) and is very sensitive to the moods of others. In other words, a typical “Hypericum” type.
He licked approximately 2ml of the aromatic water from my hand then sat down and processed for a moment. Shortly afterward he was seen running in circles of ecstatic doginess, which is what he does when supremely happy.
This special aromatic water could be used with cats and small animals, and any sensitive souls, for any of the conditions mentioned above. Just add 2-3 drops in a saucer of water and leave it for them to smell, or lick. Provide fresh clean water as well, and change the aromatic water daily. Or dilute 50/50 with distilled water to wash wounds and soothe skin
- restorative tonic for the nervous system
- stimulates bile flow
Caution: Over-ingestion may cause dermatitis or excess sun sensitivity.
If you would like to experience the joyful alchemy of distilling, and gain a deeper connection with essential oils and healing plants, join us for the Awaken Your Senses Retreat here in Portugal in 2020.
If you would like to learn more about using aromatics for animals, check out our online courses