Foraging & Making St. John’s Wort Oil & Salve

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a pretty yellow flowering plant that’s considered a noxious weed in several states, but is well-loved by herbalists!

Besides using it for tinctures and liniments (like this herbal liniment for varicose veins & muscle pains), it’s also wonderful to infuse into oil for salves and lotions.

If you don’t have any to forage where you live, you can grow it in your garden – check Strictly Medicinal for plants and seeds.

hand holding a jar of freshly gathered St. John's Wort flowers

Today, I’m going to share an herbal salve recipe that’s great for tired legs and back muscles, and general aches & pains – if you’re on your feet a lot, or if you have to spend a lot of time sitting in a chair, I think you’ll love this salve!

Here’s a quick video story of me gathering St. John’s Wort and turning it into infused oil:


Tips to Identify St. John’s Wort

Depending on where you live, St. John’s Wort blooms around June to August, often peaking around the summer equinox (June 21-ish).

It’s usually growing along roadsides or the edges of fields, or places where the soil has been disturbed. It likes full sun, but I’ve found a few clumps in partial shade too.

It grows between 1 to 3 feet and tends to spread over a place – if you see one patch of St. John’s Wort, you’re likely to see another clump growing nearby.

The bright yellow flowers have five petals and lots of little yellow stamens, and if you look closely, you’ll see little black spots on the edges of the petals.

One notable characteristic about the flowers is that if you crush a flower bud between your fingers, a dark red pigment will release, staining your fingers. This pigment means that the plant has active medicinal constituents.

Another characteristic is the oblong leaves, which grow opposite each other, over branching stems. If you hold one to the light, it will look like it has little pin dots all over it.

Usual foraging rules apply to St. John’s Wort – don’t harvest from roadsides or other sprayed/toxic areas and don’t overpick any one spot. For every flower, bud, or flowering top you pick, be sure to leave behind at least 3 or 4 times as much undisturbed for pollinators and other friendly little critters to enjoy.

St John's Wort Oil on left is freshly made; oil on right is older and has turned red

How to Make St. John’s Wort Oil

Before making this salve, you’ll need to make a St. John’s wort infused oil.

(Or, if you don’t have the fresh flower available, you can buy some ready made St. John’s Wort Oil from Mountain Rose Herbs.)

Normally, I completely dry herbs before infusing in oil, but St. John’s Wort is one exception to the rule. You won’t get an effective oil using dried herb. 

Instead, pick the flower buds and flowering tops (top 6 to 8(ish) inches of the plant) and either use them right away, or spread them on a screen or paper towel for a few hours to slightly wilt them.

Next, place the flowers in a glass canning jar and fill about 3/4 way. Mash, chop, or bruise the flowers/flowering tops in some way to expose more surface area to the oil.

Pour your favorite oil into the jar and almost to the top. Some good choices include sunflower, rice bran, apricot kernel oil, or sweet almond oil.

Cover the top of the jar with a piece of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band (to allow evaporation) and infuse for at least two weeks. The oil will turn a pretty shade of red as the beneficial components are infused into the oil.

Some herbalists like to infuse St. John’s Wort in the sunlight, while others prefer a dark area. Both ways will work!

Strain and store the finished oil in a cool place. Some herbalists like to store the oil in the refrigerator to extend shelf life.

Tin of salve with fresh St John's Wort flowers

How to Make St. John’s Wort Salve

You can use just St. John’s Wort oil in this recipe, or you may wish to combine other herbs in the infusion – dandelion, goldenrod, mullein, or arnica would all be nice choices.

I’m using a 2% essential oil dilution rate, which is about 48 drops in this recipe (which makes about 4 ounces of salve.)

Healthy adults who plan to use this short term may wish to double the amount for a 4% usage rate for a stronger effect.

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Measurements are by weight; you’ll need a scale to make this salve.

Directions to Make

Weigh the infused oil and beeswax into a heatproof jar. Place in a small saucepan filled with a few inches of water. Place the pan over a low burner until the wax is melted.

Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes then stir in the essential oils. Pour into tins or containers. This recipe fills about 2 1/2 two-ounce tins.

Essential Oils to Use for St. John’s Wort Salve

You have several options, but I’m fond of using cypress, juniper berry, lavender, cedarwood (Himalayan), fir needle, rosemary, and/or peppermint in pain salves.

One idea is to use 30 drops peppermint essential oil, plus 10 drops juniper berry (or cedarwood or fir needle) essential oil, plus 8 drops rosemary essential oil.

Or, for a more warming salve, try 30 drops cypress, 10 drops juniper berry, fir needle, or cedarwood, plus 8 drops rosemary or lavender.

Or, you could use a ready made pain blend – my absolute favorite is Tei Fu Oil.

*If you’re concerned that St. John’s wort oil will cause sun sensitivity,  THIS ARTICLE at LearningHerbs will be helpful to read!




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  1. Hi Jan. I have St. Johns wort essential oil, but no fresh plant (to make an infused oil). Is it possible to use this, how much would one use, and would the benefits be the same? Having difficulty finding any info about this.

      1. I waded through some of this info, and found that sage might be a good addition for the salve especially now that the Massage blend is no longer available. Thanks for you help!

    1. Hi Janet, just to say that I was in this same position and read that 15 drops of St John’s Wort essential oil per 50 ml of carrier oil would make a good muscle rub, so I’ve used this ratio to make infused oil.

  2. Does anyone know if topical use of St John’s Wort can impact medications the way ingested St John’s Wort can? Thanks!

    1. Hi Anne! If you’re taking a medication that can cause sun sensitivity, topical St. John’s Wort would definitely be contraindicated. Outside of that, I’m unsure of specific medication interactions, so I would definitely check with your prescribing doctor and see what their advice is. 😊

  3. Do you have foraging books that you find helpful? I live in North Carolina too, and have family in Southwest Virginia.

    Also how do you find St Johns Wort for the first time? I have never noticed it.

    1. Hi Regina!
      For books, we like:
      – all the books by Samuel Thayer
      – and by Mark Warren
      – the Peterson field guides for our area
      – Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas
      – Common Native Trees of VA (by VA Dept of Forestry)
      – Wildflowers of the Shenandoah Valley & Blue Ridge Mountains
      – There are surely more I’m forgetting but our bookshelves are all mixed up right now – time to organize them again! 😊 We always grab what the local bookstores have for our area.
      Also, the Herbal Academy has a good foraging course, and the Learn Your Land Videos on YouTube are awesome!
      I use the Picture This Plant Identification App most often while I’m hiking/exploring, then I take what it says and look it up in our books and do a google search on it too.
      For St John’s wort, I grew it in my garden first for several years, after that I started noticing it at field edges.
      I try to grow a lot of stuff like that first in my own garden, then I get a really good feel for how it looks, smells, when it blooms, etc. (Strictly medicinal seeds is a good source for many things like this.)

  4. I have some dried st johns wort, is there anything I can use it for? If it’s only good to infuse fresh what about a tincture with the dry? Thanks !

    1. Hi Crystal! While fresh is best for the oil, Richo Cech (my favorite herbalist!) says in his book, Making Plant Medicine,
      “Contrary to general belief, making tincture with dried, rather than fresh, St. John’s Wort is an extremely effective preparation.”
      The tincture should turn a deep burgundy red. He also notes not to infuse the tincture in the sunlight. (Like some people like to do with the oil.)
      So, yes, I would make some tincture! 😊

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