A history of worts and all

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Most people will have seen this flower in some form or another. It’s common and quite pretty and it’s also got a very long history.

It makes superb ground cover but can be very invasive, so never let it get out of hand – cut it back to the soil in spring and it will storm back to give loads of lovely flowers in summer.

It likes sun but will live in shade and it tolerates most soils as long as they’re not water-logged. And it’s simple to propagate.

It’s Hypericum perforatum, St John’s Wort (‘wort’ forms part of the name of many medicinal herbs) and while today it has become well known as a garden plant purely for its blooms, it was once very important for its healing properties, particularly for fighting depression.

St John’s wort has been used as a folk medicine for hundreds of years, for – unsurprisngly – healing wounds. In medieval times, it was used for ‘driving out the inner devil’.

It also has antibacterial properties and is today grown commercially for use in both herbalism and medicine.

St John’s wort is named after St John the Baptist. Its five yellow petals are said to resemble a halo (you may need to look carefully), and its red sap symbolises the blood of the martyred saint.

The name Hypericum comes from the Greek, meaning ‘greatest health’.

For a different hypericum, one without invasive tendencies, grow the shrubby ‘Hidcote’ which has masses of lovely sunny flowers and grows to a height of five feet. It makes a spectacular ornamental plant

This shrubby variety is best pruned in March or April (depending on the weather and where you live).

Pruning any later in the season will rob you of those glorious golden flowers.