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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

We Belong to the Land: Marya of the Wood

St. John's Wort
St. John's Wort

Happy Spring!

Winter has passed. We have returned from our descent into the darkness—the virtual unknown. Abandoning all uncertainty, we wander away from the hearth, away from the blinding white wilderness. Stripping away illusions that do not serve us, we leave the coldest nights behind while holding unclaimed grief deeply in our hearts. Now, let us rejoice as we emerge and welcome the enduring light. It is time

First, I go outside, assessing where we are in the greening. I was greeted by a handful of my favorite brave spring plants poking through random snow patches. These abiding volunteers include mullein, woodland strawberry, yarrow, chickweed, and raspberry leaf, to name a few.

It is time to prune one of my favorite all-time healing plants—St. John’s Wort—Hypericum. Although there is much ado about it in health-food stores, this magical plant is somewhat overlooked and unacknowledged in its habitat.

You may or may not be familiar with the dense, prolific plant in your garden space bearing bright yellow blooms from mid-June through autumn. In fact, this potent herb is said to first bloom on or around June 24th—the birthday of John the Baptist—a feast day, hence the name. Wort is a common term in botany and derives from Old English, meaning plant.

St. John’s Wort symbolizes the Midsummer Solstice in Europe, the UK, and more recently, in North America.

There are many traditional rituals associated with the use and honoring medicinal plants. For St. John’s Wort, one may toss the plant into a fire and leap over the flames to aid in cleansing the body of evil spirits.

St. John’s Wort represents the sun in Celtic traditions, going by the name sol terrestis, which translates to the terrestrial sun. It is known to protect those who wander in the woods from the mischief of faeries.

Another ancient custom during Midsummer celebrations is to hang St. John’s Wort over pictures—typically religious or spiritual in nature—and over door frames for protection against evil powers and for cleansing.

Some people wore a flower of St. John’s wort on their clothing during Midsummer for added protection against unwanted negative energies. It was a common belief that witches were particularly active during Midsummer. One of the intentions of this plant was to guard against the threat of witches.

Others placed St. John’s Wort in their pillow. They were convinced that St. John would appear during their slumber, offering blessings to protect them from evil, demons, and lightning.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, this herb was used as a remedy to address insanity. Modern-day herbalists and practitioners work with St. John’s Wort for its healing abundance.

Pruning St. John’s Wort

If you notice a reduction in the flowers on your St. John’s Wort, you should consider pruning it. Besides keeping up with the daily plucking of the flowers, it is not a demanding plant. I gather the flowers daily, and it thrives well into August. They wither if you do not pick them, and the plant stops flowering. Annual pruning is essential to maintain the shrub’s shape, increase the number of flowers, and keep the plant from growing out of control.

I prune them in honor of the spring equinox and for the future abundance of my St. John’s Wort plants. You can prune your plant in early spring, before new growth—middle to late March.

Always use clean pruning shears or scissors before working with any plant. If necessary, sterilize your tools in a bleach-water solution. Prune approximately one-third of the shrub. This requires trimming all branch tips and carefully removing some to thin out the plant. It’s vital to remove dead, brittle, or damaged offshoots and those crossed, crowded or tangled.

In early spring, pruning St. John’s Wort stimulates flowering because each spot trimmed will branch into two stems. Each stem tip will create a separate blossom cluster. Even if your shrub has failed to blossom for a long time, seems scraggly, or beyond repair, be patient. St. John’s Wort can and will rejuvenate after a dramatic pruning (almost to the ground).

Upon my return, I gathered many white pine boughs that the wind had blown down. This is a nice arrangement that we have with Our Mother. There is no need to take from the tree; the offerings are at our feet and preserved in the snow. The pitch content is high at this time. I freeze them for making future medicine in various forms.

We dwell in a place of good health and wellness. Healing plants are bountiful and show up for us. It’s up to us to know of these gifts and give thanks for the transformative possibilities in our midst. We belong to the land, as it belongs to us.


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