Wild St. John’s Wort

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These plants grow wild in the unmowed areas of our farm.  I decided to identify them because the little red berries they produce are intriguing.  I wondered if they were edible.  Turns out this plant is St. John’s Wort. There are two native species in my bouquet:  Hypericum boreale or Northern St. John’s Wort, a wetland variety, and Hypericum punctatum or Spotted St. John’s Wort that grows in drier locations.

The boreale is smaller and near the center of the photo with the red berries.  Its flowers are bright yellow and it is common in cranberry bogs.  At first I mistook this plant for some sort of odd cranberry.  The spotted variety has golden-yellow flowers. The leaves of both plants have tiny transparent pores.  The pores are visible on some of the leaves in the foreground of my photo.

I had difficulty telling the Spotted St. John’s Wort from Hypericum perforatum, Common St. John’s Wort, that thrives as an introduced plant in Maine.  The spotted has more black dots and lines on the petals than the common.

The plant is recognized for its medicinal qualities and is used as a remedy skin injuries and muscle aches, even depression.  It is actually labeled as a poisonous plant because it contains strong compounds including an anti-inflammatory.  Some are sensitive to the plant’s oil so care should be taken when handling.

Crushing the flower leaves a reddish resinous stain on the fingers.  The red juices contain the medicinal elements.  The plant is recommended by herbalists to treat such a wide range of ailments that it sounds like a panacea.  The flowers and tender leaves are infused in olive or other fine oils to create a red-colored medicinal oil.  I will not be eating the little red berries the plant produces!

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2 thoughts on “Wild St. John’s Wort

  1. Did you find very many of these? I do not remember seeing anything like these in my walks in the woods over the years.

  2. Yes, there are always several of these plants in the fields. I remember them growing up but called them Star of Bethlehem for some odd reason. They get fairly large, spread out in the grass as much as 2 feet around. The flowers are a pretty golden yellow. The ones in the picture were growing near the barn. The wetland ones I have only found in a boggy area of the pasture and there are a lot there. So many I thought they were some sort of cranberry when I saw them. Those are newer. In the past I have seen a few there but nothing like this year.
    The plants are aromatic and seem to bother my asthma some so I will not be spending much time touching them in the future.

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