The Life of an Urban Herbalist
A collection of musings and some articles with a more scientific approach.
Depression and Pain
St Johns Wort is best known as a herb to treat depression. Clinical studies have found it equal to or better than some antidepressants when treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. It has traditionally been used more for it's nerve pain relieving qualities and it's healing effects.
You can easily identify medicinal species from purely decorative. If you look closely at the leaves you can see what look like lighter green dots. then you hold the plant up to the light you can see they are in fact holes where the leaf glands are. It is this perforation from where St Johns Wort gets part of it's Latin name. Hypericum perforatum-(perforation) (The Hypericum is more peculiar deriving from Greek Hyper or above and Elkon or picture relating to the practice of puting flowers over religious images to ward away evil.) The other identifying feature is that when you pick lots of the flowers your fingers go purple. Pick a bud and pinch it and this lovely dark read 'bleeds' onto your fingers. This is hypericin, one of the main therapeutic constituents of SJW.
I pick the flowers in the morning on a warm day and add each day's handfull to a jar containing organic cold pressed olive oil. The jar is left, slightly open so moisture can evaporate so it doesn't go mouldy, on a sunny window sill. Over the weeks the medicinal components of the flower are transferred into the oil turning it the most beautiful deep red. After three or four weeks of filling the oil with beautiful sunshine yellow flowers and leaving it in sunlight you have a fully infused solar oil.
You can also cut the whole plant when it is flowering and either steep it in vodka to make a tincture, this is a way of concentrating and preserving the medicinal qualities of the plant for internal medicine. It can me done with fresh or dried plant. A fresh tincture will be vibrant but will last for a shorter period of time. The whole plant can be dried by tying upside down in bunches in a cool dark place and stored in a paper bag in an air tight container. The paper bag helps to reabsorb any moisture left in the plant matter so that it doesn't become mouldy during storage. In this picture you can see the seed pods gradually turning red. I'll store the pods and sew next spring for a fresh crop of SJW in 2017.
A gift from the birds.
I have a special relationship with St Johns Wort. As I came to the end of my training the full enormity of what i had yet to learn finally dawned on me. While I passed my exams and gained a good degree i realised i had much more to learn. One morning that summer I looked out into my front garden and there were a clutch of these plants with their beautiful sunshine yellow flowers. I'd never seen them grow wild but i knew immediately what they were. They came as a gift from the birds but they brought with them some certainty that I had knowlege. So now I care for my summer visitors and carefully nurture their presence. I watch the bees dip in and out of them and think of the additional medicinal benefit that nectar will bring the honey. And the oil i make from the flowers becomes the base for salves and creams to treat pain and bruising in the skin and deep muscle tissue.