St. John’s-Wort (Hypericaceae) produces abundant bright yellow flowers, 1 inch across or less, with several or many in terminal clusters. It is a perennial plant and grows naturally throughout much of the world
The shrubby St. John’s-Wort (H. prolificum), which are provided with stamens so numerous, the many flowered terminal clusters have a soft, feathery effect. In the axils of the oblong, opposite leaves are tufts of smaller ones, the stout stems being often concealed under a wealth of foliage. Sandy or rocky places from New Jersey southward best suit this low, dense diffusely branched shrub which blooms prolifically from July to September.
Farther north, and westward to Iowa, the Great or Giant St. John’s-Wort (H. Ascyron) brightens the banks of streams at midsummer with large blossoms, each on a long footstalk in a few-flowered cluster.
The flowers and stems of St. John’s Wort have been used to prepare yellow and red colored dyes.
St. John’s-Wort’s history is rather interesting . . .
“Gathered upon a Friday, in the hour of Jupiter when he comes to his operation, so gathered, or borne, or hung upon the neck, it mightily helps to drive away all phantastical spirits.” These are the blossoms which have been hung in the windows of European peasants for ages on St. John’s eve, to avert the evil eye and the spells of the spirits of darkness.
“Devil chaser” – its Italian name signifies. To cure demoniacs, to ward off destruction by lightning, to reveal the presence of witches, and to expose their nefarious practices, are some of the virtues ascribed to this plant.
The flower gets its name from St. John the Baptist and is often harvested around St. John’s Day – the superstition that on St. John’s Day, the 24th of June, the dew which fell on the plant the evening before was efficacious in preserving the eyes from disease. So the plant was collected, dipped in oil, and thus transformed into a balm for every wound.
St. John’s Wort has been used for about 2400 years for many different purposes throughout its history. Today it’s more common for St. John’s-Wort to be extracted and used as a popular formula in herbal medicine for depression and anxiety. It is a combination of St. John’s Wort’s main ingredient, hypericin, along with the whole plant extracted including its xanthones and flavonoids which makes it a more potent antidepressant. It also appears to help the immune system combat viruses.