St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a perennial (zones 4-9) native to Europe but naturalized (and quite a pest) in places as far flung as Canada, South Africa, California, Colorado, Arizona and Australia. It likes sun (but will tolerate partial shade) and thrives in poor soil. Plants grow to about three feet and produce lots of bright, yellow flowers in summer. If you hold the small leaves up to a strong light, you'll see that they have tiny dimples or perforations, hence the "perforatum" in the plant's name.
St. John's wort is so easy to grow that it's considered a pernicious weed in many locations. You may find it thriving wild in a meadow or ditch near you. If you try cultivating it in the garden, keep a close watch over it. Given a chance, it'll crowd out more delicate herbs. You may even want to consider growing it in a pot and then burying the pot in the soil to overwinter in cold areas.
How to Propagate St. John's Wort
The best times to propagate St. John's wort are in spring and fall, from either seed or stem cuttings. To help seeds germinate more quickly, soak them in warm water for a few hours or overnight. If you're in Zone 4, protect plants with a layer of mulch over the winter months.
This is one herb you should let flower before you harvest. In the second and subsequent years, wait for blossoms to appear in July, and then harvest around a third of the plant, including flowers. Dry leaves and flowers by hanging stems in a cool, dry, dark place for a week to 10 days, or hasten drying with a dehydrator (or on a cookie sheet in a warm oven).
St. John's Wort and Depression
St. John's wort has gotten a lot of press for being a mood regulator that may have the efficacy of an antidepressant without some of the side effects. After dozens of studies -- over 30 at last count -- the jury is still out on claims that St. John's wort can be used as an effective treatment for depression. Current popular opinion is that it may be useful when dealing with mild to moderate depression like seasonal mood disorder.
According to the health division of the Consumer Reports website, St. John's wort may make you feel better by dialing down the anxiety. It may also increase appetite and concentration, and make it easier to sleep.
Apparently St. John's wort is a complex little plant containing a dozen or more chemical compounds that may (or may not) impact brain chemistry -- or possibly -- regulate hormone levels in the body. Before you give it a try, though, there are some cautions you should consider carefully:
People taking St. John's wort have reported side effects: nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, dizziness, reduced sex drive, headache and confusion.
One of the most troubling side effects of St. John's wort is that it interferes with other drugs. If you're taking high cholesterol medication, birth control pills or any of a number of other drugs, St. John's wort can potentially reduce their effectiveness. Before you make a decision about taking this herb, talk to a professional. It may be a boon and just what you're looking for; then again, it may be the last thing you need.
Beyond its applications for the treatment of mood disorders, St. John's wort has also been used to treat pain, nerve damage, insomnia, inflammation, as a diuretic and to promote the healing of bruises, burns and lacerations.
Consumer Reports Health. "St. John's Wort Natural Therapy." 5/28/10. (5/5/11).
"Drug and Natural Medicine Advisor." Time Life Books
Houdret, Jessica. "Practical Herb Garden." Anness Publishing Ltd. 2003.
Discovery Health. "How St. John's Wort Works." Undated. (5/5/11).
USDA Plant Profile. "Hypericum perforatum L. - Common St. John's Wort." Undated. (5/5/11).
Photo1 - St.John'sWort1_Wiki.jpg Anne Burgess [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/St_John%27s_Wort_-_geograph.org.uk_-_522 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASt_John's_Wort_-_geograph.org.uk_-_522493.jpg
Photo2 St.John'sWort2_Wiki.jpg Glyn Baker [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/Common_St_Johns_Wort_-_geograph.org.uk_- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACommon_St_Johns_Wort_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1382488.jpg
Photo3 - Courtesy of Morguefile.com