Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harvesting & Making Your Own Medicine & Tea

Happy Summertime!  In the Pacific NW, right about mid-July, 2 of my favorite herbs are in full bloom.  This would be St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium).  I've been making more and more medicine and tea from these beautiful plants over the past few years.  In fact, I've been cultivating a section of St. John's Wort in a raised garden bed and encouraging a small patch of Fireweed in my garden to become more abundant.  While these herbs are still in bloom, let's look at how to harvest and use them:

ST. JOHN'S WORT / Hypericum perforatum 
for medicinal oil, tea and tincture

CULTIVATED St. John's Wort
with companions California Poppy, Strawberry, Onion, and Wild Lettuce (medicinal).

I have found that cultivation/concentration of the St. John's Wort makes it grow taller and more vigorously than the wild clumps.  This bed is in its first year of cultivated production after transplanting wild clumps to this one spot.  It has produced plant material so far this summer for more than 8 quarts of prized St. John's Wort Oil - see below!  St. John's in the garden has another function as a useful insectary, attracting beneficial predators and pollinators.  Medicinal parts are the flowers and leaves - which will leave a reddish-purplish stain on your fingers as you collect.  You will see it in bloom on any walk in your neighborhood, organic gardens or in Pacific NW forests during July and August.

Flowers July - August

Left:  blood red oil is ready  /  Right:  just picked

HINT:  The chemical reaction between the oil and the plant which turns it red will take place ONLY when the plant is picked in FULL SUN.  I have tried to pick on cloudy days, and the it just wasn't the same oil.  How does the plant know?
St. John's Wort / Hypericum perforatum

TEA:  when the flowers and leaves are taken internally as a tea or tincture, St. John's has the effect of lifting the spirits and lightening the mood.  I have found this to be more so the case with fresh tea.  So, right now, in July and August, you can pick leaves and flowers and just brew up a really lovely tea that just makes ya feel good!  Also, if you come upon a lot of it in one spot, consider drying it for use as a tea in the dark winter months. 

INFUSED OIL:  The most prized application of St. John's is to make an external healing oil with it.  Simply pick the aerial parts (leaves and flowers) - careful not to disturb the plant roots - and fill up about 3/4 of a quart jar.  Then cover the plant material with olive oil, seal the jar, and place in a sunny spot.  The plant constituents will infuse into the oil and within days start to turn it blood red.  In about 2 to 3 weeks, when it is nearly opaque red, the oil is ready.  
Strain out the plant material and compost.
Then you have one of the most magical healing topical oils I have ever witnessed.  No kidding, it's good for wounds, cuts, bruises, burns, aches and pains, muscle and joint inflammations, neuralgia, sciatica...
I had a friend who once got her arm slammed in a car door and it looked awful, swollen, black and blue, painful...  We treated it with St. John's Wort Oil for 4 days straight.  On the 5th day, the injury was pretty much gone and she felt fine.  This external medicine never ceases to amaze and is probably the most valuable yearly product of my garden.

FIREWEED / Epilobium Angustifolium
for medicinal or simple digestive tea
I was very pleased to identify Fireweed growing right outside my back door a few years ago.  Not only is it a gorgeous, tall summer plant with pink flowers that spire upward, it makes a delicious, earthy and useful tea.  You can harvest it fresh for tea or you can pick the leaves and flowers in larger quantities for drying and preserving the tea for use throughout the year until the next fireweed harvest.

Above:  you can see Fireweed in full bloom.  Next to it is a stalk that has just been harvested.  The flowers you can zip upward off the stalk, while the leaves you can zip downward with one hand.

Then, it is time to dry the leaves and flowers for storage.  You can do it in direct sun, as below, in a food dryer or even in an oven at its lowest setting.

Fireweed gets its name because it is often one of the first species to thrive after a forest fire in climate zones from California to Alaska.  In the 1700 and 1800s, Fireweed was harvested commercially as a tea in Russia for export to Europe.  Try it with a little bit of honey and milk!  This tea will treat you right!
MEDICINAL USES:  The tea is good for general digestion or as a gentle laxative.  It has also been used traditionally as a treatment for asthma and whooping cough.


  1. If I have a green thumb and a space to plant, I would choose to have a garden like where I could grow my own food, tea and medicine! I could even earn if I opt to sell the fresh crops like fruits, veggies and jars or bottles of herbals; these would still be cool consumables even if they don't kick in the market. Ora @

  2. I have a huge St John's Wort bush in my garden in NZ. Is it ok to brew tea from just the leaves when the flowers are gone or have I missed the opportunity?