Making an Infused Oil with St. John’s Wort

Hypericum_perforatumMany people have heard of St. John’s wort, often as an herbal aid for depression. But St. John’s wort is also a marvelous herb for your skin.

Surprised? Well, many herbs have both internal and external uses, and St John’s wort is no exception.

This wonderful herb has been used for hundreds of years for nerves. We have nerve cells both inside our bodies (the central nervous system, where neurotransmitters regulate our moods) and in our skin, where nerves let us know if we’re hot or cold, or if our skin (our body’s outer defense layer) has been hurt in any way, such as scratches or insect bites or sunburn.

Over the years, many cultures observed that a plant’s shape and/or growth seemed to roughly correlate to parts of the human body. People realized that the herb, or the relevant part of it, benefits the corresponding area of the body (in Christianity, this was known as the “Doctrine of Signatures”).

It is easy to make a beautiful, dark-red oil from St. John’s wort to be used directly on your skin, or add to salves and lotions.

All you need is a clean, dry jar with a lid, good-quality olive, sweet almond oil, or other vegetable oil (preferably organic), and a nice stand of the plant in bloom.

St. John’s wort is easily identified with the help of a good field guide. The cultivar you want is known botanically as Hypericum perforatum, the “perforatum” of the species name referring to little translucent glands scattered throughout its leaves, somewhat mimicking the nerves and glands of our skin.

Other species of Hypericum don’t have the constituents that are needed, so even if you have a beautiful ornamental St. John’s wort shrub in your yard, resist the temptation to use it –you’ll get disappointing results.

St. John’s wort grows in sunny fields and roadsides, as well as partial shade. I was surprised one year to find it taking over the woodsy hill in my backyard!

It blooms from the middle of June until August or September, though less profusely after July. The herb got its name because it blooms around St. John’s Eve, June 24.

So, on a beautiful, sunny day, when dew or rain have dried off the plants (usually late morning), take a pair of scissors and a basket or paper bag and go harvest St. John’s wort tops.

Take only the top quarter of the plant (flowers, buds, possible seed heads, leaves, and stems). All these parts contain active ingredients.

Two cups loosely packed is enough.

This allows the perennial plant to keep growing and blooming so it can come back next year.

Be aware of where you are picking. Do not take plants closer than a few yards next to a highway or busy street, or from an area you know or suspect is contaminated with lead or other chemicals/heavy metals. Remember that whatever goes onto your skin gets absorbed into your body to some extent.

When you get home, spread the St. John’s wort out to wilt for a few hours or overnight, or place in a very low-temp oven for a short time. This gets out some of the moisture, so your oil is less likely to mold. It is called fresh-wilting.

Next, cut up the plant material to some extent.

Lightly pack the St. John’s wort into your clean jar. You don’t want to cram as much plant material as possible into the jar, but you also want more than a few sprigs of herb. The herb matter should be slightly springy.

Pour the oil in and fill the jar to a little above the top of the plant matter, then take a skewer or chopstick and stir to get air bubbles out.

Screw on the lid.

Label your jar with the date, the herb, and the kind of oil you used.

Check the jar the next day and add more oil if necessary, because the plants may have absorbed some and the level may have dropped. Make sure plant material is completely covered, because any plant matter that is above the oil, in air, can easily cause molding. You can shake the jar to get the herb and oil to combine more completely.

Depending on your preference you can leave your oil on a sunny windowsill or place it in a dark cupboard. Either way, put it on a plate or something oil-resistant! Some of the oil will inevitably ooze out of the jar. Let this mixture brew for six weeks (if you’re in a hurry, 4 weeks will do), checking it occasionally and stirring out air bubbles.

After six weeksyour oil may go bad if you wait too long. Using cheese cloth or clean muslin (don’t use a coffee filter or paper towels, the pores are too fine and will clog up), strain out the plant matter, then squeeze out any leftover oil from the plant matter.

Put your infused oil into another clean, dry jar. Label this jar also.

The oil will last for several years, especially if you keep it refrigerated or in a cool place.

You can use the oil directly on your skin, or as the base for salves and lotions. St. John’s wort oil is a great soother for sunburn, sun-poisoning rash, and some eczemas. It is also a fine moisturizer. Traditionally St. John’s wort has been used externally to help with nerve pain.

Remember not to use it on open wounds, and always consult a health-care practitioner about any skin problems.

26 thoughts on “Making an Infused Oil with St. John’s Wort

  1. Thanks for the great insight! I was wondering if this would help my fiance. He has a neurological condition so he does not feel much on his right side of the body. Maybe this would help stimulate his nervous system feeling. Thank you!

    • Hi, it’s good thought but I don’t think it will help. To really help your fiance’s body, I think you need to work with the nervous system from the inside out. Good luck.

  2. Pingback: Three Herbs to Forage for Year-Round Skincare | Iris Weaver

  3. Could one use this olive oil/Saint Johns Wort as a food like in a salad dressing?
    I cannot find anything about this other than it’s good topically. Any ideas?

    • Hi, sorry not to answer your question sooner!

      I would not recommend using this oil as a salad dressing because of the concerns of possible botulism. If you wanted to make a SJW oil to use for salad dressing then I would use the stove-top method of making an infused oil, where you put your oil and plant material in the top of a double boiler or other heat resistant container over a pot of boiling water, heat the oil/plant mix to 125-130 degrees F, and let infuse for 40 or so minutes, let cool, and strain. The heat will kill the bacteria.

    • Hi Rivka, no we don’t generally use SJW oil as a salad dressing because of the concerns of botulism in an oil that has been steeped for a few weeks. I hope this answers your question. Take care, Iris

    • I found a salad dressing that contained St. John’s Wort at a major supermarket and discovered this allowed me to sleep wonderfully (after I ate approximately 4 salads).

      Others shoppers also found this out and eventually that salad dressing became the most popular salad dressing in the whole supermarket. When this became widely known, the salad dressing suddenly disappeared from the shelves (likely due to competitor complaints).

      Afterwards I started to lose sleep again, and so now now I’m making my own salad dressing (using infused oil that I bought on-line) while looking in other stores for salad dressing containing St. John’s Wort.

  4. Hello,

    May someone please post details of the difference between EXTERNAL use of St.John’s Wort & INTERNAL use of St.John’s Wort.

    So there is St.John’s Wort OIL ,
    but what difference is there, is there a oil for external and another oil for internal?

    And if so, how do you know between the two.

    • Hi Jimmy, sorry to take so long to answer your question.

      There are differences between internal and external uses of St. John’s wort. Internally it will affect the nervous system as a whole, have a definite effect on the liver (to the point where it affects metabolism of certain medications), have other effects, and can cause photosensitivity in some individuals. It should not be used by those who have HIV/AIDS.

      Externally it can be absorbed through the skin but not enough to affect the liver. It is a marvelous skin-healing herb and also can help relieve some nerve pain topically.

      SJW oil is not generally used internally, though I have heard from one or two people who have used it that way. It (the infused oil) would, I imagine, have similar effects to using the tincture, though with different substances doing the extracting, some different constituents would be extracted and available for phsyiological use.

      the oil is not now used internally because of concerns about botulism. You can also see an answer to a reply below.

      That’s the best I can answer, I hope this answers your question to some extent.

        • Hi Flo, St. John’s wort is an herb traditionally associated with the nervous system. Topically the infused oil can help some with nerve pain, though it has its limits. For inflamed nerves, I would actually go with other herbs. I hope this helps, take care, Iris

  5. Iris, do you have a photo of your St. John’s Wort Oil ? Would love to see it ..

    • Hi Forest, here is the picture of my St. J’s wort oil. It has been infusing in the garden for a few weeks. I brought it inside to snap the picture.

      St John's wort oil infusing

  6. I think that I’ve read that an infusion made with St. John’s Wort must be made with fresh herb…that a purchased dried herb will not produce a good infusion. Do you know if this is true?

    • Hi, sorry not answer sooner. You can use dried St. John’s Wort for infusions. In fact, infusions really should only be made with dried plant material.

      However, you want to make sure you get good quality dried herb material that includes flowers as well as leaves, and not many stems. It can be hard to tell if you get cut and sifted (cs) herb.

      Basically, you want the dried herb you use (whatever herb it is) to look to some extent like the fresh plant, thus ensuring that you are getting an herb that has been dried well, isn’t too old, and is the actual part of the plant you want.

      Knowing who your supplier is and how it was grown and harvested will help you get the best quality plant material of SJW or any herb.

      I would not use the dried herb, however, for tinctures or oils.

      Hope this answers your question!
      st j's wort dbunch drying

      driedn sj's wort

      • Yes, this answers my question. Sorry that I wasn’t more specific…I did mean an oil infusion, like the one that you made in your article. Wish I had access to fresh herb but I can only get dried. Thank you so much! Jan

        • Jan, sometimes you can find people that will send it to you fresh at the time it is blooming. Some small growers and herbalists will do this. If you wan to contact me the middle of June next year, I will see if I have enough to send you some.

          • Iris, thank you so much! That is so kind of you…I’ll try to contact you next June and see how your harvest is going :) I mostly buy Calendula, Chamomile, and Chickweed for oil infusions, but I’ve been trying to get some SJW for a couple of years. Every once in a while, I somehow hope that dried would be good enough, lol! Not! oh well! Thanks again! Jan

          • Hi Jan, I have a minute to make a comment I have been thinking of. I don’t use dried chickweed for oils because I think it loses too much when it dries. Though it is a sturdy herb, I think it is rather delicate to do much once it has dried. Do you find your dried chickweed oils effective? I’m curious. Let me know, Iris

  7. Hi Iris, that’s a very interesting thought. I’m afraid that I don’t have any experience with the fresh herb so I can’t make a comparison. My infusions made with the dried herb seem to work fairly well to combat itching and inflammation of the skin, but I would love to know if an infusion made with partially dried fresh herb would be better. I know that the fresh plant is recommended for poultices. It sure would make a great experiment!
    You’ve really inspired me to try to grow some of my own herbs that are unavailable to me fresh. Thank you so much. Jan

    • Yes, Jan, growing your own herbs is a great idea! Where do you live? I have found that here in the Northeast, even a flower pot can be easily colonized by chickweed without me doing a blessed thing! Inviting plants to come into your garden even if it’s a container garden can be a very effective way to get some of you allies to come live with you. Iris

  8. Hi Iris,
    I would love to be able to grow them as easily as you do! This last spring I tried to grow calendula in my garden from seeds. From about 40 starts I was able to get about half of that to become viable plants. The plants seemed pretty fragile. In the entire blooming season I probably only harvested about twenty blooms. It was fun, but certainly not enough to do much with. I’m in a coastal area of southeast Texas. I understand that chickweed does grow here, although I’ve never seen it. I would like to try to grow the herbs that are better used fresh and that I have no other access to. So, I will be buying the seeds for chickweed and SJW this next spring for another try! Is there any other herb that I should be thinking about? Thanks, Jan

    • Hi Jan, a bit slow to answer once again. I don’t know what will grow in Texas but for skin herbs I would suggest plantains, the herbal Plantago kind, and comfrey. Also yarrow. Violets. Those are some of my favorite skin herbs. Let me know how it goes.

      I also have varied success with growing calendula. It grows great for some people and in some years, and in other cases (like me!) if just sort of shrugs its shoulders and thumbs its nose at me.I buy a lot of it dried. Oh well.

      Happy planting! Iris

  9. Iris,
    Is yarrow also known as Queen Anne’s lace?
    Or are they different species ?

    I’m just starting to learn about medicinal herbs and this is one thing for which I cannot find a straight answer.

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