Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is fourth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…
Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.
Latin Name: Hypericum perforatum
Common Names: St. John’s Wort, Tipton’s weed, goatweed, common St. John’s Wort, perforate St. John’s Wort, Balsamo (Greece)
History: Native to temperate Europe and Asia, St. John’s Wort is now considered an invasive/noxious weed in more than 20 countries (it’s also toxic to livestock). Its use goes back to ancient Greece and Rome, where is was used for snakebites, burns, wounds, sciatica, and to treat recurring fevers, among other things. It was also believed to protect against witches’ spells. Later, it was associated with the Norse God of Light and Summer, Baldr, thanks to the plant’s bright yellow flowers and tendency to bloom around the summer solstice (21 June). Eventually 24 June became St. John’s feast day and the plant was renamed. The flowering shoots were hung over doors and stalls to ward off evil spirits, and to protect both people and animals from harm and illness. In Greece it would be hung in homes over religious icons of St. John, which led to its botanical name (hyper, meaning “above” and eikon, meaning “picture” or “icon.”)
Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Animosity
Cultivation: Perennial (Zones 5-7). Produces creeping rhizomes and seeds–can be invasive (check with your local authorities before growing St. John’s Wort). Can be easily grown in any reasonable, well-drained soil; tolerates dry conditions. Prefers sun (will tolerate part shade). Start seed indoors and transplant to a permanent outdoor location after all danger of frost is past. Harvest flowering shoots and dry to use later, or preserve fresh flowers and buds in oil (see below). Because it spreads so easily, it can be readily found growing wild in fields, near creeks, and by the sides of roads.
Medicinal: Taken internally, St. John’s Wort has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate depression and symptoms of menopause. Be aware that supplements are not regulated and can vary widely in quality, reliability, and efficacy.
Externally, the oily extract is used to heal wounds, bruises, and various skin conditions. It can also be rubbed on sore muscles. Research has found that hypericin, one of the plant’s chemical compounds, has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Make your own extract by filling a sterilized glass jar with flower buds and flowers. Cover completely with olive oil (or other vegetable oil). Cover the jar and leave on a sunny windowsill for about a month. Wipe away any condensation that forms inside the jar. Oil should turn a deep red colour. Strain to remove flowers. Store extract in a cool, dry place. If mold develops while oil is steeping (usually because the plant material isn’t fully covered or there’s too much moisture in the jar) discard and start over.
You can also make a tea with fresh or dried flowers. Cool and apply the tea to skin with a clean cloth or cotton pad. Use for wounds, bruises, skin conditions, and burns. You can also drink the tea (hot or cold) for its medicinal benefits, although beneficial effects will be milder than from a supplement.
Caution: If you’re taking prescriptions (including anti-depressants, heart medicine, and birth control pills), avoid using St. John’s Wort internally, as it can interfere with absorption and cause interactions. It can also cause photosensitivity–avoid sun exposure entirely or cover up and wear sunscreen if you’re using St. John’s Wort in any form. Don’t use St. John’s Wort if pregnant or nursing.
Caution 2: If you’re taking St. John’s Wort for depression and decide to stop, make sure to wean off it slowly by gradually decreasing the dose. Stopping abruptly can have adverse effects.
Possible Side Effects: Restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, stomach upset, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, skin rash and tingling. It can also cause vivid dreams.
Crafts: Alcohol extracts of the plant produce a deep red dye. Used with different mordants, it can produce various shades on wool, silk, and other fibres.
Mara’s Uses: Mara mentions Hypericum as a plant worth studying for her blood substitute. It would also be part of her apothecary business, added to tinctures and extracts for other vampires to give their bloodletters (both to combat depression and to heal wounds), as well as for to human customers.