Saturday, 28 June 2008

Celebrating the solstice with St John’s wort

Although both dates for the summer solstice (21st June) and midsummer (24th June) are passed, it feels appropriate to mark them with a posting about St John’s wort. This herb has a special meaning for me. When I first started growing SJW, the flowers always opened a week after the solstice, but two years ago they moved a week forward and the first bloom opened on 21st June. I was sure this year they were going to come beforehand, but they didn't, they waited!

I have been growing SJW for at least twelve years. It was one of the first specialist herbs I bought to grow in my garden. I couldn’t believe anything so delicate could provide such strong and helpful medicine, but it does!

Each spring I cut down the dead stalks of the plant and watch with bated breath as the tiny fronds emerge from the soil. This year it was March when I took the first photo. By the beginning of May the stalks were about four inches high and now they wave delicately around from a height of about two feet.

The tiny flowers are perfect stars – so perfect and bright it is almost impossible to get a picture in focus! Each year I make a sun infused oil and tincture. If there is profusion, or I find a bonus harvest elsewhere as I did last year at Birmingham International Railway station car park, then I might make a SAD syrup and dry some for ritual use.

SJW is thought to be a cleansing herb which repels negativity. It can be used in the bath for purification. It can also be used in rites of purification and exorcism.

Most people know SJW as a nervine, helpful in mild to moderate depression. They forget or are unaware of its other properties as an anti-viral, healer of burns and general external “heal all”. I won’t go into its constituents as that is something for others to comment on. I’m just interested in its uses.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t suffer with depression. There are times when I’m sad or emotionally upset, but I tend to turn to other nerviness – lemon balm, skullcap and vervain – before using SJW tincture for myself. I don’t think I’ve ever tried SJW tea – maybe I should add fresh SJW tea to my list of “new things to try” this year and see how it makes me feel!

Henriette recommends SJW for the pain and depression of grief, when everyone needs extra comfort and support through difficult times.

My dearest love of SJW is the oil. It is perhaps the greatest wonder of the herbal world to cover yellow star flowers in yellow sunflower oil, place it in a sunny window and watch as the oil begins to darken and finally turns a deep and glorious red. It has a very distinct smell entirely its own. There is no need for other perfume when you make the salve.

I use the oil in virtually every salve I make. I use it alone to deal with the itching and ache of venous degeneration in my ankles or to spread on burns after the heat has been taken out, with marshmallow as a diabetic foot salve, with calendula and marshmallow as a general winter salve, with calendula and chickweed for infected eczema, with elderflower to moisturise my face, with calendula, marshmallow and lovage in my “ladies’ lubrication salve” and with rosemary to make a massage oil for sciatica or arthritic joint pain.

I’ve also made a sunburn soother by adding SJW, calendula and aloe vera gel from the inside of freshly cut leaves to an aqueous cream base. I took it on holiday to Cornwall in our caravan fridge one year and gave it to a neighbour on the campsite who was badly burned on her back, arms and shoulders. After one application left overnight, the burn was soothed.

To make a salve, use 1oz of grated beeswax to every 8oz of infused oil. Heat gently in a double boiler saucepan until the wax has melted, then pour into clean pots. Label and date. Store in a cool dark place and the salve should last unopened for at least two years.

Here is the recipe for the SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder) Syrup based on David Winston’s teaching using lemon balm with SJW for SAD. The recipe for a syrup comes from Non Shaw and Christopher Hedley's book, "Herbal Remedies"

1 l (2 pints) water (remember these are European pints (20 fluid oz) not US pints)
40 g (1 1/2 oz) dried herb or 100g (4oz) fresh chopped herb
450 g (1 lb) sugar
Put herb in water, bring to a boil, let simmer 20-30 minutes, strain. Clean out pan, pour liquid back into it, let sit on minimum heat until you only have 2 dl (7fl.oz.) left Add sugar, simmer until sugar has dissolved, pour into jars, label.

For SAD syrup I use equal quantities of dried St John's wort and lemon balm which I ground up in a coffee grinder if the herbs are dry, otherwise I bruise or shred the fresh herbs. I use aerial parts of both plants. Normally I only use the flowers of SJW to make oil and tincture, but I often make the syrup when the plants have gone to seed, so I use seed heads, flowers and some of the stalk.

Remember lemon balm only has a shelf life of 6months when dry, so if you buy some from a supplier, ask when it was picked. You should also pick the leaves before they flower, but if most of my plants have flowered when I make syrup, I try to pick as many secondary shoots as I can (shoots which grow up from stems cut earlier in the year).

Before the herbs simmer in the water, I add the grated rind of a lemon and when the syrup is finished, I add the juice of a lemon so it isn’t too sickly. I add lemon or orange juice to a lot of my syrups and use them more as hot cordials than taking 1 tsp at a time.

The dosage for SAD syrup would be around 1tsp three times a day. Don't use this syrup if you are already taking SSRI drugs for depression or if you've had a bad reaction to SJW in the past. Some people who take medication for migraine conditions find it can bring on a migraine.

The difficulty with this syrup is that it tastes so good, it could be quickly used up, so take care and don't take too much at once! As with all medicines, make sure children can't go and help themselves or you will suddenly find the bottle is empty!


Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah! What a beautiful red salve! I have my first SJW oil infusing right now :-)

Growing in the Green said...

our pictures of teh SJW oil are that red is fabulous.

Right now the hypericum we are seeing is not perforatum so I have not had the pleasure of fresh flower oil...yet.

Keep up the good work over there:)
Love, KR

Anonymous said...

You write such a thorough, informative, inspiring blog-- thank you for sharing all this information! And your SJW is GORGEOUS-- I think that's as red as I've ever seen it! Wow!(;