Saint John’s Wort is in full bloom in direct sunlight on the roadsides in Portland right now. It grows in clusters about two or three feet tall, with little oval opposite leaves. This plant, Hypericum perforatum, may be best known as a popular anti-depressant in its tea and tincture forms, especially in Europe, the land to which it is native, but it has many other uses, too. When infused into an oil and applied to the skin, Saint John’s Wort is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and mildly analgesic (painkilling), good for burns and abrasions, nerve pain, sciatica, and back spasms. It can also be ingested to soothe stomach ulcers.
When you pinch a leaf or flower of Saint John’s Wort, dark purple-red dye comes off on your finger. That stuff is hypericin, which is being studied as possibly effective against HIV.
I clipped the flowers and some leaves to make an infused oil that I’m going to try using as a natural sunscreen. I hear it works, though what’s interesting is that Saint John’s Wort is also widely rumored to cause hypersensitivity to the sun when ingested in tincture form. Many herbalists say it’s not true, but animal studies say it is. So I guess for us Portlanders, the safest bet is to use the oil topically during the less than two months we see the sun and ingest the tea or tincture the other ten. (Seriously, it’s July and I’m wearing a sweatshirt and the sky is gray!)
To make an infused oil, you just clip the flowers and new leaves and put them in a jar and pour oil over them. Then you let it sit in a sunny windowsill for two to three weeks, shaking the jar ever so often. I’m using almond oil.
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