Winter can be a trying time, especially for those who live in a temperate climate and are far enough away from the equator to feel the cold and four distinct seasons. Lack of sunlight starts to take its toll on mood as vitamin D and serotonin production are lowered. People with a tendency towards melancholy and depression will have a harder time getting through winter, especially those who live in a temperate climate.
While migrating to a warmer climate is one option to cope with the darker season, humans are excellent at adapting to their environments, and calling on plant friends is one of the best ways of surviving and thriving.
One of the best plants for dealing with the winter blues is St. John's Wort. St. John's Wort is an annual plant which originated from Europe and has now naturalised in Australia. You will see it start to flower at the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Usually, it grows for one to two months as a yellow sea of flowers along the roadsides and in paddocks, this little beauty is known as a "weed" by farmers, but herbalists know better.
Every summer I get excited by the arrival of my sunny friend and do a very large St. John’s Wort harvest. Some, I dry for tea, some I make into tinctures for my winter mixes, and the rest I infuse fresh into oil.
Many studies have been done on St. John's Wort's abilities to inhibit the uptake of serotonin and dopamine, which means that there is a larger supply of these happy hormones circulating in the bloodstream. This is why St. John's Wort is contraindicated when on anti-depressant medication, which also increases serotonin levels. St. John's Wort is frequently prescribed as a natural antidepressant, as well as for treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder. With a natural affinity for the nervous system, St John's Wort is a deeply relaxing, anti-inflammatory herb and can help to regulate anxiety and reduce pain.
St. John's Wort contains constituents called Hypericins. Hypericins are wonderful red pigmentations which are what produces many of the medicinal actions in the body. When infused in alcohol, or fresh in oil, the bright yellow flowers turn the liquid into a deep red colour. I think of this as red pigmentation as sun blood. The flowers soak up all of the beautiful energy of the sun during summer, and then when we consume the plant during winter, we receive the benefits. This is not all that St. John's Wort does, it has also been shown to increase photosensitivity to the sun's rays. So, if you apply the infused oil to your skin in winter, it will help you to absorb any rays that are available to increase your vitamin D production, and it will also help to reduce muscular and joint pain.
The number one way of boosting your serotonin, Vitamin D and relaxation during winter is a daily St. John’s Wort body oiling practice. Known as abhyanga in Ayurvedic medicine, abhyanga is the process of self massage, applying oil to each limb and section of the body, including the face and scalp.
Here are the steps to a daily St. John's Wort body oiling practice:
Find a warm spot by a heater or fireplace. Remove your clothes and sit on a towel.
Start to apply the oil to the body, working from the hands and feet, along the arms and legs. Work clockwise (right to left), in circles around the belly button. Circles around the breasts and chest. It is nice to include the entire face, really spending time giving your neck, shoulders and jaw some love.
Allow the oil to sink in for 10-15 minutes. You can then leave the oil on and pat dry with a towel, or you can wash off in the shower. Some schools of thought believe that toxins and impurities are brought up by the oil, so it is best to be washed off, but this is up to you.
Practice daily or at least 4 times per week during winter to feel the full benefit, and be sure to follow the instructions carefully.
Added benefits of body oiling:
Dedicated time for self-love, this the perfect time to get in touch with your body. You will feel more embodied and connected.
A reduction in muscular and joint pain. St. John’s Wort has a warming quality, which helps to reduce arthritic and muscular pain which is aggravated in colder weather.
Boosted immunity. Self-massage helps to move our lymphatic system, when our lymph is moving freely, we eradicate toxins quickly and can fight off infection more easily.
Vibrant healthily skin. Regular body oiling helps to improve the tone elasticity of skin. If you suffer from dry or wrinkly skin, this practice will bring youth and vigor to the largest organ of the body.
When self-massage with St. John’s Wort oil is contraindicated:
During pregnancy. St. John’s Wort is known to be contraindicated in pregnancy.
While taking SSRIs or anti-depressants as this interaction may cause serotonin syndrome.
Some people are sensitive to the sun’s rays or have very low melanin. If this is the case, be cautious if applying St. John’s Wort oil in summer and then spending large amounts of time in the sun.
Finally, how to get your hands on this precious oil. You can make it yourself by infusing the fresh flowers in oil during summer, or you can buy it. Make sure you buy from someone who uses high quality organic oil and has harvested in a pristine environment. Hope you enjoy!