June 21, the official beginning of summer and with it, the plant herald, St. John’s Wort, (Hypericum perforatum, L). Full of magic and folklore, this plant has a wonderful bit of story associated with it and the summer solstice.
In Medieval days, the Catholic holy day of St. John fell close to the summer solstice. St. John was associated with the growing times, life and light. The term “wort” is an Anglo Saxon word meaning “plant” and it is literally the plant of St. John taking its name from both the association with the saint and the season . The beautiful yellow blossoms of the plant are a perfect symbol of the bright sun of summer. The plant is traditionally picked on June the 24th and is used to help keep evil spirits away. It was often hung on alters and over doorways as well as on religious icons. They also would bring good luck. Some however, believed the best day to pick this plant was on August 29th, the day of John’s beheading marked by the red spots on the leaves. Ironically, the best hue of red is obtained from the newly opened flower blossoms extracted into a light oil, not from the leaves.
Christopher Hobbs talks about another bit of folklore associated with St. John wort. “Until as recent as 1850, Hypericum was used to determine how long members of a family would live. Some of the fresh plant would be hung from the rafters and in the morning examined to see which were most wilted-which foretold which member would die the soonest.” Another belief was that if a sprig of the fresh flowers was placed under your pillow, St. John would come to you in your sleep offering blessing for the year. http://www.christopherhobbs.com/library/articles-on-herbs-and-health/st-johns-wort-ancient-herbal-protector/ .
Matthew Wood in, The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines, tells us St. John was the plant most associated with the “little people” or the fairies. These fairies may be small but were very powerful beings. They were associated with the underworld and the dreamtime. The little people could kidnap mortals and take them to their kingdom sharing secrets and keeping them or letting them go. It is said if you are lost in the woods, giving an offering to the fairies will help you regain your senses and find your way home. Using the plant St. John may get you special favors.
So as we welcome summer this season why not harvest a bit of St. John’s Wort. It could bring a little summer light into your home.
St. John’s Wort Flowers in full bloom