Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Golden St. John's Wort

This is one plant that most everyone has heard of, even if they've never seen it.

St. John's Wort can be found practically the world over, in one form or another. There are at least 490 species in its genus Hypericum, and they can be found in all but the lowest jungles, hottest deserts, and coldest regions at the ends of the Earth.

The most widely distributed and best known species is Hypericum perforatum, or Common St. John's Wort.

Although indigenous to Europe, it has escaped and invaded worldwide, and is now growing in the United States, Turkey, Russia, the Middle East, India and China, to name a few places.

There are 23 species of Hypericum in Tennessee, many of which are native - some even quite rare.

This is a Hypericum I found growing in the Blue Ridge mountains at around 6,000 feet in elevation. 

While today's featured plant, Golden St. John's Wort, isn't one of the rarest, it is one of the showiest!

A perennial, woody, branched shrub growing up to 40 inches tall, this guy is hard to miss - especially once those bright, sunny blooms open in early Summer!

Golden St. John's Wort, or Hypericaum frondosum, is a frequently encountered wildflower throughout the state, especially fond of the calciferous soils in cedar glades and rocky hillsides. Its range also includes much of the Southeastern US - from Texas to Florida to Indiana, as well as a few of the Northeastern states. 

The typical bloom time for Goldens is late May and early June.

For just about any species, no matter where they are found, they represent the beginning of the summer. This has always had powerful significance to humans, especially during the Dark Ages in Europe.

Their bloom coincided with the Catholic holiday the feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24th), hence their name. A flower head pinched away and crushed would leave a red stain, giving reference to John the Baptist's beheading. (The "wort" part of the name is simply an Old English word for "plant," referring especially those valued as food and medicine. )

Because of this correlation, the plant held a powerful spiritual significance. Their emergence represented the end of the long, cold winter, and the beginning of warmth and sunshine. They represented another year of life. They symbolized light overcoming darkness.

It was believed that this plant offered spiritual protection. It was nailed over doorways to keep witches away. It was brought along to exorcisms and tossed into the fire to purge the evil spirits.

Interestingly, Native Americans used St. John's Wort in a similar fashion, without European influence. The Cherokee would hang it above their doors to ward off evil. The Ojibways would throw it onto a fire to make a storm dissipate. It was even believed to divert lightning strikes.

Aside from all of its spiritual uses, Hypericum has been indispensable as medicine for virtually every culture throughout history.

The leaves and flowers are astringent, analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, astringent, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, nervine, resolvent, sedative, stimulant, vermifuge and vulnerary.

St. John's Wort has been used to treat virtually every affliction of the skin; including acne, wounds, ulcers, burns, cuts, bruises and nerve damage. It was even used to heal sword wounds during the Middle Ages.

The Cherokee would chew up the root, swallow a small portion and then apply the rest to a snakebite. Infants were bathed in a root tea to give them strength. The crushed plant was sniffed to treat a nosebleed. It was also used in medicinal mixtures to bring on menstruation in women and the sap of the plant was applied to sores and warts.

This plant also has antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been used to treat internal parasites, dysentery and bladder infections.

Perhaps its most notable clinical use, however, is in the treatment of depression. It was recently "discovered" as a natural antidepressant in 1997, and is still considered a safe alternative to most prescriptions. However, like any medication, it is not without its risks. It is not considered safe for pregnant women (some tribes even used it as an abortive), and it can cause photo-sensitivity. It is also known to interfere with the effects of other drugs, including other antidepressants, contraceptives and cholesterol medication.


St. John's Wort can also be used as a dye.

Yellow, gold and brown can be obtained from the leaves. Acidified flowers give a red dye.

Needless to say, Golden St. John's Wort belongs to a noble and cherished plant family that has assisted mankind throughout the ages, and that partnership continues even today.

Right now, the buds on Hypericum frondosum are ready to burst into bloom and brighten up our woods and shores. They are a reminder that the winter must always end, and summer is never too far away.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's Wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower: Prickly Pear

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Native Plants, Native Healing - Traditional Muskogee Way - Tis Mal Crow

Cherokee Plants and Their Uses - a 400 Year History - Paul B. Hamel & Mary U. Chiltoskey

Wildflowers of Tennessee  - Jack B. Carman


  1. Great post! This is actually one of the very few wildflowers I know a little bit about, but only because nursing school was VERY clear that we need to make 100% sure that we know if our patients are taking this when they are admitted to the hospital. The facility I work for also asks the nurses to check and has pharmacy check separately. In theory the MD should be the triple-check backup. We worry because a lot of the time the patient will say they aren't taking medicine and forget that herbal/plant-based supplements are still considered a medication. Sometimes they remember and don't want us to know because they think it will save them money if they have their family sneak their "morning vitamins" in instead of allowing their doctor to regulate what they need during their inpatient stay.

    Anyhoo, I ask patients very specifically about this kind of plant because it can be very dangerous if they are taking it and don't tell me- I'd prefer not to kill someone on my shift, too! For example, if someone is taking a certain class of antidepressants (SSRI) plus they take St. John's Wort, they could have a fatal reaction from serotonin syndrome. I also commonly give anticoagulants and it can prevent the actual blood thinner from being effective like with the medicine Warfarin (Coumadin). This can cause the patient to keep their blood clot (major health concern) or even make it worse (and kill them in the process, especially if it moves somewhere like their lungs. I'm so glad when you post things like this because knowledge is power and if someone reads this, then they will know to talk to their doctor if they want to take or if they want to start new medications while already taking it. :)

    1. It's very interesting to hear your experience with this. It is a powerful plant! I've never tried taking it myself because I am so sensitive to chemicals and meds in general, but a lot of people underestimate the power of herbal medicine - both good and bad!

  2. Good to know! Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop!

  3. Such beautiful flowers. I love your Wednesday posts, I always learn something new!

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday! I hope you'll stop back again this week!