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Embodied sunlight: St. John's Wort

by Alyssa Dennis

St. John's Wort in flower

Like all calendar wheel markings, the solstice is a time of honoring the rhythm of life (the cycles) and a veneration to the Sun our fiery God: the giver of life. This Thursday marks the longest day of this year, an expression of the pinnacle of celestial capacity for photosynthesizing plant abundance. A feasting time of food and medicine. Just like the winter solstice (Xmas, the longest night) and the cross-quarter days (Easter, Halloween, etc.) the summer solstice carries with it a parable of birth and sacrifice (a parable = a tale holding deep wisdom that teaches us that the story is more than the sum of its parts). St John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, is a plant that carries an age-old wisdom story and the medicine to prove it.

Sunlight through a St. John's Wort leaf.

St. John the Baptist is Jesus’ cousin who was born six months before him, just near the summer solstice. Like Jesus, St. John is derived from pagan (of the land) traditions and is always depicted as the "wild man" or summer itself in human form. He wanders and communes with the abounding animals and plants given to us by the wedded union of Mama Earth and our Sun. (This time of year we also celebrate Father’s Day. Could St. John be the father of the summer?)

While feast of St. John has historically correlated with summer solstice; his eventual death, his beheading, also holds strong connection to this sunshine herb. The zenith of light or Renaissance paintings that depict a halo or a head placed on a round golden platter visualizes the “sacrifice” of light which begins the cycle of shorter days. This type of mythopoetics also exists within the ideal harvest of Hypericum which is to “bleed out” the hypericin by “beheading” the unopened flowers of budding “light.”

Imparting a balsamic taste, St. John's Wort hits the solar plexus or 3rd chakra, warming us from the center outward, and bearing an active clearing energy that is ideal for someone who needs to “grow toward the light.” As Wolf Storl says, “Hypericin oil is really transformed sunlight.”

Being more active in summer can bring it’s own unique challenges, and St. John's Wort can teach the realignments that come with summer ailments—like injury or trauma (stagnation and darkness)

St. John's Wort wine in perfect red.

of the body whether skin, muscles or nerves. Greek “hyper" means “over" and “eikon" means “icons,” including pictures, images, apparitions. In this way, “Hypericum lifts the soul over threatening internal images” and imagination (Wolf Strol). It has been tradition to harvest the flowers and infuse them into wine and then wait to drink it on the winter solstice; a time of seasonal depression and low spirits but to also honor and bring into awareness the birth of new light (Jesus).

To label St. John's Wort as an anti-depressant or mere liver tonic is far too simplistic a categorization. By helping to clear the Liver (of life) St. John's Wort is often referred to as a neurological adaptogen stress-reliever, mood balancer, and a plant that “chases away darkness” so that you can live your life to the fullest.


Alyssa Dennis is an interdisciplinary artist, Earth activist, educator, clinical herbalist and founder of Eclipta Herbal which recognizes that our body and that of the land body are one in the same. Eclipta focuses on reclaiming plant medicine as cultural common knowledge for the sustainability of human health and as ecological restoration. She is an ArborVitae alumni and graduated from the program in 2020. Check her website for upcoming opportunities.


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