28 July 2012
Pictured above is shrubby St John’s wort (Hypericum prolificum), one of the many plants that share my last name.
Most St John’s worts are in the Hypericum genus including common St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) which was named “St. John” in Europe because its root was harvested for medicinal and folklore purposes on St. John the Baptist Day, June 24.
“Wort” is an Old English word meaning “root” that appears in the names of many plants including bellwort, bladderwort, golden ragwort, hogwort, toothwort and miterwort. Sometimes it means “plant” instead of root, as in the name of liverwort that was incorrectly thought to cure liver ailments.
As time passed the “St John’s wort” name spread to plants outside the Hypericum genus. In North America, Marsh St Johns wort (Triadenum virginicum), pictured below, is not a Hypericum and is not even yellow.
Naming is a fluid thing.
(photos by Dianne Machesney)