Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

St John’s wort

1. Here is a Swedish use of St John’s wort from my friend.  It’s just a simple Nordic snaps  (similar to schnapps in Germany), which is where you add plants or fruits to vodka with no added sugar. You fill an ordinary bottle about half full with St John’s wort buds.  These are the unopened flower buds that exude a dark purplish-red dye when you squeeze them between forefinger and thumb.  It has to be Hypericum perforatum, not any other variety.  Then you just add vodka to cover the buds for a few days, giving a gentle shake, before adding the rest of the vodka into the bottle.  The buds turn the vodka a beautiful deep red.  I think my dad said you have to leave the buds for 3-4 weeks before you strain it and it’s drinkable, and they normally store it for the winter anyway – precisely because it’s meant as a sunshine ‘tonic’ …. we drink as part of the Christmas julbord (Christmas table).  We also make a variety with wormwood [Artemisia absinthium] in Sweden.  The Swedes call St John’s wort snaps Herkum Perkum as a bit of a joke! [Prestwood Nature Reserve, Buckinghamshire, August 2023].

2. In Slovenia people tend to be closer to nature and St John’s wort is widely known and used. I remember going with friends to the riverbanks in the mountains near Kranjska Gora collecting armfuls of the bushes with the golden flowers in late summer for drying to use in teas in winter to stave off the blues. I drank some tea once without knowing, and in the evening I felt quite euphoric [South Norwood, London, October 2011].

3. [According to my grandparents, b.1856 and 1858] St John’s wort was brought into the house into the house and tied into bunches, hung in the windows – I believe it was supposed to prevent lightning striking the house [Cinderford, Gloucestershire, November 1993].

Image: Chatham station, Kent; July 2015.