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Notes From The Field Blog

Saint John's Wort, The Solstice Flower

Posted: 12/27/2012
Posted By: Robert D. Hinkle, PhD
Original Source: Notes from the Field

Saint John's Wort

There are icons that emerge from one's life, things that add meaning to the calendar and the circular flow of time through the year. Some are simple, like spring migration and December snow, and others are individual and often deeply personal, arising from discoveries and experiences that have shaped our lives.

I have been fortunate to lead a life centered on nature. From my earliest memories I recall times in the field with my parents, hunting and fishing, finding mushrooms and puffballs to eat, watching orioles build their pendulous nests, and finding screech owls in the darkest nights. Because of these and so many more experiences through all the years and all the times, there are certain landmark events that highlight a season, a month, or even a single date. I'd venture to guess that you have them too.

While June is a busy month in nature with birds hatching young and juvenile critters of all kinds learning to eat and live, the month always leads me to one plant, one flower that speaks precisely of June, and that flower is Saint John's Wort.

How Saint John's Wort Got its Name

The common name, Saint John's Wort, refers to the traditional day of first flowering on June 24, the day of the Feast of Saint John. (In Old English, Wort refers to root or medicinal plant.) Each year I look, and each year I am rewarded by clumps of these bright butter-colored flowers of five petals surrounded with a spray of stamen looking like a burst of yellow fireworks. Rub a petal and a red resin will ooze out, symbolizing the legend that the plant sprung forth from the blood of Saint John when he was beheaded. Petals are peppered with black along their margins. A closer look reveals tiny clear pinholes in each petal, oil glands creating a supposedly astringent fluid used by Crusaders for sword and knife cuts in the Holy Land.

Other legends place its first flowering on the Summer Equinox, called "Midsummer's Eve," only a few days earlier than June 24. The plant was cut upon blooming the morning of the Solstice, then hung above a religious icon or window of the house to ward off evil spirits and displaced souls wandering the earth on Solstice eve night.

Saint John's Wort in the New World

Saint John's Wort is a naturalized plant, originating from Europe. Just as you might take your medicines when you moved, European settlers brought medicinal and religious plants and herbs with them on their journey to a new life in North America. Saint John's Wort was prominent in their lives, and like the settlers themselves, over time gradually spread across most of North America, becoming part of our landscape.

Cleveland Metroparks naturalists host many programs, hikes and tours that take you to experience wildflowers throughout the year. Join them and create life experiences of your own.


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