I won’t go into too much detail about the uses of St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) here as there is plenty of information about the place and I may publish a monograph sometime.
Experiment goal: Is there a different between a solar maceration or shade maceration for St. John’s Wort oil?
Credit: Luke Heron – Gathering St John’s Wort Flowers
Credit: Luke Heron – Jarring Hypericum perforatum flowers
St John’s Wort uses
You may know of St John’s Wort as a powerful anti-depressant. It has the ability improving liver metabolism and therefore can interfere with how well medication works. This is why many countries, such as Ireland, have opted to policy of regulating its prescription and taking it off the shelves of health shops.
While the UK took the gentler approach of allowing an informed choice on the matter, the actual original use of St John’s Wort has been mostly external throughout history, for tumors, nerve & joint pains and rheumatism.
I have heard or seen throughout the herbal community and literature conjecture when it comes to the best crude methods of extracting the best St Johns Wort oil. The debate surrounds its maceration method.
Unlike most oil macerations, it has been established that the flowers of St John’s Wort must be fresh instead of dry. In most cases, the moisture in plant matter can make the oil turn rancid. Traditionally, St John’s Wort must be macerated fresh in an oil in a sunny location to help the infusion, such instructions were given by the likes of the American Eclectics.
However, it is known that the sunlight can denature certain plant materials, in particular when drying them outside. This is usually attributed to a combination of heat and UV light. Due to this, many herbalists have formed the opinion that it’s best to revert from the original preparation and to do a cold / shaded maceration.
My aim here is to check the quality of the oil trying the two difference methods. Since I don’t have equipment or money to check the phytochemistry of the plant, I’ve resorted to good old Organoleptics. That is the colour, smell, taste and quality of the final product.
An orange to red colour is a sign of St John’s Worts active ingredients being present: hypericin & hyperforin. Many commercial brands will have standardised amounts of these principles in their oils which will look a vibrant red colour. This can be achieved in crude macerations but is dependent on several factors such as the amount of sun the plants have received. We had a very wet summer in 2019 so it will be interesting to see what the colour looks like.
Two jars were filled with fresh plants gathered from my organic patch at Helen’s Bay Organic farm.
Both jars were gently packed with the flowers & buds to the top with as little stems as possible.
Grapeseed oil (but any carrier oil) was poured to fill the jars up to the top.
Credit: Luke Heron – Jars of Hypericum perforatum flowers
Duration of Maceration:
Both jars were left to macerate for 3 weeks in August 2019:
Jar 1 was positioned in a sunny position of the garden.
Jar 2 was positioned in my herb lab in a dark corner under a brown paper bag.
After the maceration period, I filtered the oil out of both jars into separate clean.
At first glance, colour of the Sun infusion was significantly more vibrant than the shade maceration. When angling Jar 1 sun maceration to the light I could nearly see a glowing blood orange hue to the substance. Jar 2 shade maceration did not have the same vibrance and kept a duller browny-orange colour.
I didn’t quite achieve the deep blood red colour seen in some extracts. I am assuming that this has to do with the sun & perhaps the amount of flowers I had in the maceration.
Credit: Luke Heron – Processing Flowers.
From left to right: Fresh maceration, 3-week old maceration & filtered oil
Jar 1 – Sun Maceration:
Colour: Orange-red with vibrant glow when exposed to light
Smell: Floral fragrant, sweet honey, slight TCP-like medicinal smell
Taste: Sweet, mineral saltiness, floral, honey-like aftertaste
Quality: The glow under the light is substantial and impressive. The colour is general more vibrant than the Jar 2
Jar 2 – Shade Maceration:
Colour: Orange-brown with hints of redness. Keeps the same colour when exposed to light
Smell: Floral fragrant, sweetness, slight bacon-with-maple-syrup type of smell
Taste: Similar to smell, mineral saltiness, floral, slightly sweet
Quality: The colour is generally duller, the smell difference was surprising, if not even a little unpleasant compared to Jar 1. No similar “glow”.
Credit: Luke Heron – Filtered Oil.
From left to right: Jar 1 sun Extract & Jar 2 Shade extract
Credit: Luke Heron – Sun maceration vibrant “Glow”
I was quite surprised by the major differences found between both macerations. The Sun maceration appears much more vibrant, as if there’s a little more “life” to it. The colour alone hints towards a far superior extract than the sadder looking shade maceration.
I will have to side with tradition and the American Eclectics observations based on the strong organoleptic results: a St John’s Wort sun maceration is the best way for a crude extraction of the oil.
This article is intended for educational purposes and contains general information so that readers may learn new things, and with the information to empower and allow room for informed choices. However, if you think you may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention from your doctor or qualified naturopathic practitioner (such as a registered herbalist). You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.