The Dirt

No medicinal herb bespeaks sunshine more than Saint John's wort (or St. J's, as we fondly call it). It loves sunny, open places, blooms at the height of summer, soothes sunburned skin and even brings sunshine into our lives via its mood-elevating properties. So why not establish this sunny plant in your garden this spring?

Mood lifter? St. John's wort, Hypericum perforatum, has been studied as a potential treatment for depression — particularly the dark moods associated with SAD. Photo courtesy Red Moon Herbs

The best-known, most widely used species of Saint John's wort is Hypericum perforatum, which has been studied as a potential treatment for depression — particularly the dark moods associated with seasonal affective disorder. It's often said that plants grow where they're needed — and, in fact, St. J's is so prolific it's virtually a weed in the Pacific Northwest, where dark and rainy winters contribute to a high incidence of SAD.

Additionally, St. J's contains substances known to support the nerves and help the body fight viruses, both when taken internally and when the oil is extracted for external use. This plant has been bringing relief from viral diseases affecting the nervous system (such as cold sores, herpes, shingles and chicken pox) for centuries.

We have our own wild varieties here in Western North Carolina, including Hypericum punctatum, but the latter is not found in any great abundance, as it is in some other parts of the country. Therefore, it's best to plant this herb in your home garden — it's easy to grow and, once established, it blooms year after year. You'll also appreciate the beauty this truly lovely plant adds to your garden, with its five-petaled yellow flowers, small seed pods and delicate yellow-green leaves.

At Red Moon Herbs, we've started about 50 St. J's plants over the past two years. Having saved the seed from our original garden plant, we started them in a tray, watered them for several weeks till they germinated, then planted them out in the spring. We established them along a fence line, helping stabilize a sloping bank. They also provide food for our bees and medicine for us.

This year, we plan to put in another 120 St. J's plants to help produce the 15 gallons of St. J's extract we need to make annually. For the home garden, however, 10 plants will create a patch that can help keep a family healthy (see box, "Do-It-Yourself Health Care").

If you don't want to grow them from seed, however, this year's Asheville Herb Festival at the WNC Farmers Market runs Friday, April 30, through Sunday, May 2. Expanding your spring herb purchases to include St. J's and other medicinal herbs is another step in taking charge of your own health care.

But even if you don't make your own extracts, this plant will brighten up your life. And after the kind of winter we just had, who couldn't use a little sunshine?

The director of Red Moon Herbs at Earthaven Ecovillage in Black Mountain, Corinna Wood is also the founder/director of the Southeast Women's Herbal Conference. Herbalist/homesteader/writer Lee Warren helps coordinate the conference.
For the home garden, 10 plants will create a patch that can help keep a family healthy.

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