John's Wort

The wild Saint John's Wort (Hypericum peiforatum) is a frequent

plant in our woods and hedgebanks, having leaves studded with

minute translucent vesicles, which seem to perforate their structure,

and which contain a terebinthinate oil of fragrant medicinal virtues.

The name Hypericum is derived from the two Greek words,

huper eikon, over an apparition, because of its supposed power

to exorcise evil spirit
, or influences; whence it was also formerly

called Fuga doemoniorum, the Devil's Scourge, the Grace of

God, the Lord God's Wonder Plant. and some other names of a

like import, probably too, because found to be of curative use

against insanity. Again, it used to be entitled Hexenkraut, and

Witch's Herb, on account of its reputed magical powers.

Matthiolus said, Scripsere quidam Hypericum adeo odisse

doemones, ut ejus suffitu statim avolent, Certain writers have said

that the St. John's Wort is so detested by evil spirits that they fly

off at a whiff of its odour.

Further names of the herb are Amber, Hundred Holes, and Sol

terrestris, the Terrestrial Sun, because it was believed that all

the spirits of darkness vanish in its presence, as at the rising of

the sun.

For children troubled with incontinence of urine at night, and who

wet their beds, an infusion, or tea, of the St. John's Wort is an

admirable preventive medicine, which will stop this untoward


The title St. John's Wort is given, either because the plant blossoms

about St. John's day, June 24th, or because the red-coloured sap

which it furnishes was thought to resemble and signalise the blood

of St. John the Baptist. Ancient writers certainly attributed a host of

virtues to this plant, especially for the cure of hypochondriasis, and

insanity. The red juice, or red [288] oil, of Hypericum made

effective by hanging for some months in a glass vessel exposed to

the sun, is esteemed as one of the most popular and curative

applications in Europe for excoriations, wounds, and bruises.

The flowers also when rubbed together between the fingers yield a

red juice, so that the plant has obtained the title of Sanguis

hominis, human blood. Furthermore, this herb is Medicamentum

in mansa intus sumptum, to be chewed for its curative effects.

And for making a medicinal infusion, an ounce of the herb should

be used to a pint of boiling water. This may be given beneficially

for chronic catarrhs of the lungs, the bowels, or the urinary

passages, Dr. Tuthill Massy considered the St. John's Wort, by virtue

of its healing properties for injuries of the spinal cord, and its

dependencies, the vulnerary arnica of the organic nervous system.

On the doctrine of signatures, because of its perforated leaves, and

because of the blood-red juice contained in the capsules which it

bears, this plant was formerly deemed a most excellent specific for

healing wounds, and for stopping a flow of blood:--

Hypericon was there--the herb of war,

Pierced through with wounds, and seamed with many a scar.

For lacerated nerves, and injuries by violence to the spinal cord, a

warm lotion should be employed, made with one part of the tincture

to twenty parts of water, comfortably hot. A salve compounded

from the flowers, and known as St. John's Wort Salve, is still much

used and valued in English villages. And in several countries the

dew which has fallen on vegetation before daybreak on St. John's

morning, is gathered with great care. It is thought to protect the eyes

from all harm throughout the ensuing year, and the Venetians [289]

say it renews the roots of the hair on the baldest of heads. Peasants

in the Isle of Man, are wont to think that if anyone treads on the St.

John's Wort after sunset, a fairy horse will arise from the earth, and

will carry him about all night, leaving him at sunrise wherever he

may chance to be.

The plant has a somewhat aromatic odour; and from the leaves and

flowers, when crushed, a lemon-like scent is exhaled, whilst their

taste is bitter and astringent. The flowers furnish for fabrics of silk

or wool a dye of deep yellow. Those parts of the plant were alone

ordered by the London Pharmacopoeia to be used for supplying

in chief the medicinal, oily, resinous extractive of the plant.

The juice gives a red colour to the spirit of wine with which it is

mixed, and to expressed oils, being then known as the Hypericum

red oil mentioned above. The flowers contain tannin, and

Hypericum red.

Moreover, this Hypericum oil made from the tops is highly useful

for healing bed sores, and is commended as excellent for ulcers. A

medicinal tincture (H.) is prepared with spirit of wine from the

entire fresh plant, collected when flowering, or in seed, and this

proves of capital service for remedying injuries to the spinal cord,

both by being given internally, and by its external use. It has been

employed in like manner with benefit for lock-jaw. The dose of the

tincture is from five to eight drops with a spoonful of water two or

three times a day.

This plant may be readily distinguished from others of the

Hypericaceous order by its decidedly two edged stem. Sprigs of it

are stuck at the present time in Wales over every outer door on the

eve of St. John's day; [290] and in Scotland, milking is done on the

herb to dispel the malignant enchantments which cause ropy milk.

Among the Christian saints St. John represents light; and the flowers

of this plant were taken as a reminder of the beneficent sun.

Tutsan is a large flowered variety (Hypericum androsoemum) of

the St. John's Wort, named from the French toute saine, or heal

all, because of its many curative virtues; and is common in Devon

and Cornwall. It possesses the same properties as the perforate sort,

but yields a stronger and more camphoraceous odour when the

flowers and the seed vessels are bruised. A tincture made from this

plant, as well as that made from the perforate St. John's Wort, has

been used with success to cure melancholia, and its allied forms of

insanity. The seed-capsules of the Tutsan are glossy and berry-like;

the leaves retain their strong resinous odour after being dried.

Tutsan is called also provincially Woman's Tongue, once set

g(r)owing it never stops; and by country folk in Ireland the Rose of

Sharon. Its botanical name Androsoemum, andros aima, man's

blood, derived from the red juice and oil, probably suggested the

popular title of Tutsan, heal all, often corrupted to Touchen leaf.

Gerard gives a receipt, as a great secret, for making a compound oil

of Hypericum, than which, he says, I know that in the world

there is no better; no, not the natural balsam itself. The plant, he

adds, is a singular remedy for the sciatica, provided that the patient

drink water for a day or two after purging. The leaves laid upon

broken shins and scabbed legs do heal them.

The whole plant is of a special value for healing [291] punctured

wounds; and its leaves are diuretic. It is handsome and shrubby,

growing to a height of two or three feet.