St. Andrew’s Cross St. John’s Wort
Every time I (G. Rogers) think about St. John’s Wort my mind jumps to a business wonder. Near my parent’s home in Brevard NC is Gaia Farms CLICK where roadside weeds are spun into gold, or at least ground up and bottled. Lots of weeds, apparently lots of gold, and yes, Gaia carries one of the mainstays of herbal remedies, St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum, a different species of Hypericum than today’s species).
Species of Hypericum as folk remedies date back into antiquity. Once upon a time back when spells and curses were pesky, Hypericum served as witch-repellent. In modern times we are more troubled by depression than hexes, and the herb sells as depression-repellent. Also there is interest in it as a potential antiviral drug. We do not have the expertise to pronounce on the efficacy or safety of Hypericum products, but we do have a strongly developed general skepticism of witch-cures.
Like many plants with a medicinal history, there is toxicity. These plants when ingested photosensitize the skin, making it susceptible to sun damage, potentially fatally so. There’s a nod to this in the Gaia instructions: “Avoid excessive exposure to UV radiation (e.g. sunlight, tanning) when using this product.” Hypericum species poison livestock, especially cattle.
All this medical schooling is a prelude to John’s and George’s opening-day-for-archery-hunting exploration of the Corbett Wildlife Management Area Hungryland Slough. We kept our heads down on the swamp boardwalk. Prominently in bloom was St. Andrew’s Cross, Hypericum hypericoides.
Hypericum is a big genus of over 400 species, with a few dozen growing wild in Florida. Identification hints for St. John’s Worts generically are yellow flowers having 4 or 5 free petals and stamens that you can count. The opposite leaves are freckled underneath with tiny black or translucent spots as seen with a hand lens. One the more abundant species, dominating local “Hypericum marshes,” is Peelbark St. John’s Wort (H. fasciculatum), which has shredded reddish bark and five petals. Our own Hypericum hypericoides distinctively combines four petals with two styles in the flowers on a shrubby frame bearing sessile more or less elliptic leaves. (Our other locally present four-petal species have three styles.)
How did the common name for Hypericum hypericoides become “St. Andrew’s Cross,” while a separate species Hypericum crux-andreae (St. Peter’s Wort) seems to have a natural claim on the former name? Even with references to three different saints, you can’t fix the world in one blog. (This account comes from a collaborative effort by John Bradford and George Rogers. Saint John took the photo.)