Traditionally gathered at dawn on Midsummer Day (or, perhaps, at twilight on Midsummer Eve, when the Fair Folk and Lordly Ones were said to gather on the hilltops and high places), St John’s Wort is sometimes known as St Joan’s Wort. In Germany it is called the Devil-chaser, an echo of the old learned name, Fuga Daemonum. It has also been called Goatweed, Devil’s Scourge, Witch’s Herb, and Balm of the Warrior’s Wound. The latter relates to the fact that in mediaeval times, dried St Johns Wort petals were scattered into battlefield wounds, the plant being regarded as a strong disinfectant; this practice seems to go back to antiquity. The flowers are said to attract bees, whose magic is at its most potent at this holy tide, as we have discussed in previous notes here. The blood-red color of the oil produced by the flowers is associated with Women’s Mysteries, which is perhaps unexpected in a plant so strongly associated with the height of the Solar zenith. In the teachings of the Old Religion however, such things were taken as a matter of course.
Malcolm Brown, on the site Wight Druids, gives the following rhyme, which he attributes to a 16th century manuscript source:
St. John’s wort doth charm all witches away
If gathered at midnight on the saint’s holy day.
Any devils and witches have no power to harm
Those that gather the plant for a charm:
Rub the lintels and post with that red juicy flower
No thunder nor tempest will then have the power
To hurt or hinder your houses: and bind
Round your neck a charm of similar kind.
He gives further interesting lore, such as the kenning Witches Blood for the juice or oil secreted by the leaves, and the old saying that if a formerly barren woman walked out naked to gather St John’s Wort (presumably on Midsummer Day), she would conceive within the year. Perhaps curious is the lore that while some said the plant would drive hex-hags away because of its strong power of purity, others held that the flowers were used by witches to aid them in hearing spirits. In a similar contrast, on the Isle of Man the belief remained that this was a sacred Faery plant; on the Isle of Wight there were similar links to the realm and presence of the Shining Ones. But elsewhere, it was regarded as a bane and a protection against the Fair Folk. These apparently conflicting traditions reflect the process historically by which lore was fragmented due to church teachings about magic, the Otherworld and the old ways. Though the church sought to link all of it to the province of the Devil, in various pockets undiluted streams of lore survived, no doubt because it was connected to practices, such as the use of herbs in healing and charms, that were of real practical value in people’s daily lives.