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St. John's Eve: Herbs & Lore

St. John's Wort Happy Solstice! While today and tonight are the actual Solstice, on June 23 we celebrate St. John's Eve and on June 24 St. John's Day, which are hugely important for folk herbalists.

Likely a Christian adaptation of the pre-existing Summer Solstice festivals, St. John's Eve honors midsummer with bonfires and herbal customs. The phenomenally powerful herbal ally St. John's Wort (hypericum perforatum, internally taken as an anti-depressant, internally and externally applied as a potent anti-bacterial/anti-viral) blooms right around this time each year, turning beautiful yellow flower-faces to the Sun.

On St. John's Eve, venture into the garden at midnight and gather your St. John's Wort flowers. Allow them to dry, flat on cookie racks or a baking sheet lined with a linen towel, for a day or so. Then, loosely chop and place the flowers, leaves, and stems in a jar. Cover with olive oil, jojoba oil, or your favorite other skin-friendly oil. Place the jar in a sunny window or on an outdoor altar for a few weeks, shaking gently on a daily basis. The oil will deepen into a wonderful shade of red. The depth of the red color, in Polish folklore, is indicative of how much love surrounds the maker of the oil. After a few weeks, strain this oil and use it topically as a moisturizing and cleansing oil for topical skin conditions. I typically mix in some comfrey root, peppermint leaf, calendula flower, and lavender flower as well, and the resulting oil is my all-purpose treatment for itchy skin, healing wounds, scars, eczema, and for softening rough spots.

Some other fun Midsummer/St. John's Eve activities:

-Use St. John's Wort, fresh fennel, and/or birch withes as a decoration on your front door, to bless the home with luck, health, and protection.

-It's not likely to be safe or possible where most of us live to set a great wheel on fire and roll it down a hill, but go ahead and have a bonfire if you can! Grab a pebble and walk deosil (clockwise/sunwise) around the fire while making a wish, then cast the stone into the fire. Heap mugwort, vervain and motherwort onto the fire for prophecy, luck and abundance (respectively). Save and spread the ashes of your Midsummer fire about your garden for favorable crop yield.

-While in your garden at midnight on St. John's Eve, gather some maidenhair fern. Either a) squeeze the juice onto your eye lids for visions of the fae, or else place the maidenhair fern in a vial or pouch for creating invisibility magic. I have tried both of these things, and they both worked for me! My invisibility vial is very effective- in fact, it disappears for months at a time. When I finally go crazy looking for it, it turns up...having been somewhere obvious all along. I once lost it for nearly a year, only to find that it had been sitting on my bookshelf the whole time. I had to actually move it to get to a book, otherwise I would not have been able to find it. 

-Make an oil to help increase visions of the fae realm. Mix maidenhair fern, celandine leaves, and rose or rose geranium flowers in a clean glass jar, and cover with a light, not-too-greasy oil. (I like grapeseed oil with a little bit of vitamin E oil to preserve it). Allow it to saturate in the sun for at least a moon cycle, then apply to eyelids while drinking mugwort tea (DO NOT DRINK IF PREGNANT) to increase your connection to the world of the little people. Make sure to keep a small pinch of rue in your pocket for your journeys, however! That will keep the fae from being able to tempt you to stay in their realm for eternity.

Happy herbing!

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Yeshe Rabbit is a practicing herbalist, collector of folk medicine wisdom, and herbal alchemist. Her recipes and remedies are based on everything from scientific studies to intuitive revelations and “old wives tales” that work. She teaches The Witch’s Garden herbalism classes in Oakland, California, and at her store, The Sacred Well, offers consultations in person and via telephone, and gardens by moonlight.

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