st john’s wort tincture and chaga tea

It’s been warming up a bit here in Maine, and yesterday, I partook in two important activities. One, I stared suspiciously at a spot of ceiling in my kitchen that was blooming water similar to the way a wound would fester. Two, I shoveled and broomed at a steady stream of melty slush and water for a good forty minutes, in a feeble attempt to keep it from pooling up near the house, and hence flooding the basement (again).

Because although it has been warming up, there’s still enough snow in the yard for me to sink my knees into – – and I have long legs.

So while I love snow more than just about anyone, I’ve lately found myself dreaming of all the cavortable canoeing and camping that I’ll be able to enjoy once the snow and water puddles are gone.

I like to horde nature’s bounteous gifts whenever possible, be it wild blueberries and spring water, or edible flowers and fungi. The latter two are of especial interest to me, as I have much to learn regarding herbalism and folk medicine. There is so much health (for lack of a better word) abounding in the forest, and I know that it is my privilege and duty to take advantage of it.

While a bit off the beaten track I find myself shuffling along on this blog (chocolate, baking, travel, repeat), I would like to shed some light on two homemade herbal remedies that I enjoyed creating last summer. These ‘treatments,’ if you will, are simple and cost-effective ways to do your body some good. And if anything, this is an excuse to look at sunny pictures of flowers, lakes and insects.

Chaga [Inonotus obliquus] is a malformed black hardened fungus found on birch trees across the globe, general in more northern climates. It has long been recognized as a cure-all, seeming to remedy everything from ulcers and hypertension to diabetes and psoriasis. And perhaps most importantly, it is thought to be a remedy for cancer.

While chaga is sold as an expensive tincture at hippie gatherings across the land, there is an easier and cheaper way to get your cure-all fix.


Chaga Tea

First, find yourself some chaga. You will find it growing on a birch tree, and you will know it when you see it. See this site for more information on its appearance. Hack off the chaga. Note: Since chaga is a fungus, its appearance indicates that the birch tree is already getting old and beginning to decay. Don’t feel bad about chopping of the fungus, and opening the tree up for infection. The chaga will just grow back.

There are two schools of thought on how to make chaga tea. Either way, cut up the interior of the conk (where there appears to be more color and life) into smallish pieces. This is a bit tough to do and will require brute force and a sharp stabbing object such as a hatchet. I also like to cut up chaga inside of a box, to keep pieces from flying every which way.

At this point, either steep the pieces in water for a few hours, or let sit until dried out – this can be dictated by whether you want chaga now or later. You can even let larger chunks dry, and then grate or chop off small pieces bit by bit.

Boil the finely chopped/ground chaga in water for up to several hours, with additional time helping the tea’s flavor to build. Drink warm or chilled – both are excellent. I find chaga tea to taste more nutty than mushroomy, and it is really a pleasant taste; good enough on its own, it can be ameliorated by black tea, if desired. Chaga tea (without the black tea inclusion, which causes it to ferment) keeps well in the fridge.

St. John’s Wort Tincture

St. John’s wort [Hypericum perforatum] is a lovely yellow-flowered plant that, while often found in cultivated gardens, is commonly found growing wild as well. I don’t have a picture of the whole plant here (the above un-bottled plants are fireweed and pearly everlasting), but see examples here and here. Like chaga, it’s hard to mistake St. John’s wort for any other plant.

In the medicinal world, St. John’s wort is an herbal remedy for depression. At this time of year, when dreams of summer have become so cruelly near-tangible, a little depressive anti-dote is nothing but welcome.

Native to Europe, this plant is found growing in open areas, often near roadsides. It is considered a noxious weed in many western U.S. states and in nineteen other countries, so picking it before it can spread its seed is beneficial to both you and the environment. Depending on location, St. John’s wort will bloom between June and September – last year, it bloomed in late July in northern Maine.

Pick flowers that are in full bloom – pick as many as you can, since it takes many to fill one jar when compacted. Stuff flowers into a sterilized pint glass jar. Fill jar with high-quality 80 to 100 proof vodka – I used Maine-made Twenty 2 vodka. Cover tightly. Shake the mixture – you will notice that the active ingredient, hypericin, will begin to turn the mixture red.

Let sit for a few weeks, occasionally shaking it. Or, if you’re a lazybones like me, let it sit for nearly six months. Strain the liquid, and put into a fresh glass jar. Store in fridge.

I like to add a spoonful or two of this tincture to my morning tea. The vodka flavor is mostly unnoticed in a cup of strong black tea, with the St. John’s wort contributing a nutty floral taste.

St. John’s wort relaxes the nervous system, helps alleviate premenstrual syndrome symptoms, and may even aid in the treatment of alcoholism. I needn’t mention, but I will, that if alcoholism treatment is your target, making a large jar of flowery vodka may not be your route to success.


I hope to provide more simple homemade tinctures and remedies, as soon as the growing season resumes and I can again forage in the woods. In the meantime, à votre santé – here’s to your health!


30 thoughts on “st john’s wort tincture and chaga tea

  1. The St John’s Wort tincture looks so beautiful! Not sure if I’ll be able to locate chaga, but this was a really cool post – made me want to get more hands-on, especially now that Winter’s coming to New Zealand…which must mean Spring can’t be too far away for you :) hope that slush clears soon!

    1. Laura, If you can’t find chaga in your area, you can always purchase the tincture. Or, perhaps you could find someone selling the actual fungus – – I’ve seen it for sale online, not sure about cross-continent mushroom legalities and all that though.

      Spring is just around the corner, and I’m oh so very excited:)

  2. Emma, you’re a forager, too?! How fun. Foraging terrifies me–Kevin is definitely into it, but I get real nervous when he picks something up in the woods and says “You know, you can eat this…”. As trendy as foraging is in the restaurant world, I think you might have a back up career opportunity here. You know, if the silvicultural superstar thing doesn’t work out.

    1. Brianne, heck yes I’m a forager! I still have a lot more to learn about mushrooms – I took a one day class at UMD once but sadly remember very little from it – but I’ve been doing my part to become familiar with as many edible plants as possible.

      You just have to memorize appearances, and then it becomes very un-scary:) Start with easy to identify plants like wintergreen, and go from there!

      Ooh, trendy foraging. Could I combine trends and forage for micro greens? :P

  3. That’s lovely– that chaga tea looks a bit like a Korean pickle jar! Haha! But man, Maine is simply breath-taking.

    There are foraging trips you can pay and attend here in L.A., but I have yet to join. My mom forages mugwort sometimes for stews and rice cakes.

    1. sophia, chaga is definitely a little easier on the nose than Korean pickles! Ha:)

      I’m sure they charge more than I’d be willing to pay for a foraging trip. Still, given that I learned a lot of my knowledge through college courses, I guess a one or two day fee would be cheaper in the long run!

      Wikipedia tells me mugwort is one of the main pollen sources for hay fever – – perhaps you’re doing your body good by consuming it occasionally (homeopathy)?

  4. It’s been so dry here for the past year and a half that I was really excited to see some mushrooms in the front yard after some recent rains! I did not make tea with them, though… Regardless of precipitation, I’m not sure if chaga or St. John’s Wort even grow down here, but would be interested in trying a cuppa of each!

    1. Jessica, I always love watching mushrooms pop up in the yard. Sometimes they’re regular edible button mushrooms, at least up here. I probably wouldn’t eat them either, though, as mushroom ID isn’t my strongest suit.

      Looks like St. John’s Wort does grow in Texas. Look for it blooming along the side of the road; it gets quite tall. Cuppa!

        1. I didn’t even realize it was around near where I was doing field work a few summers back until my (smart) field tech taught me about collecting and tincturing it!

          And I consider plant ID one of my specialties, hah:) I think plants along the roadside often go unnoticed.

  5. How cool. I wanted to go the South West College for naturopathic medicine. It was VERY expensive. I still love reading and learning about this form of medicine, but have gone away from it lately.

    It would be very exciting to forage these products on my own. Wow. I love the pictures of your tea and am very impressed that you do this!

    1. sarah, how interesting would it be to study naturopathic medicine? There’s so much knowledge out there, I feel such a desire to learn about it. I’ve barely scratched the surface. It seems like it shouldn’t be so expensive to learn to utilize nature though, hmm?

      Looks like yours may be one of the only states in the country where St. John’s wort isn’t reported to grow. Shucks!

      Gathering non-timber forest products is my favorite way to spend time in the woods:)

    1. No no, have heart! I am here to encourage you to take advantage of what’s out there in nature: it’s growing there for you to enjoy, and it’s free!

      If you’re worried about poisoning, perhaps begin with wild edibles that have been cultivated and are commonly found in a home garden, such as berries. These will be easier for you to associate with and identify.

      Then move on from there:)

  6. Emma, I am so into this!!! Foraging, scavenging, wandering… whatever you call it. I feel like there are endless plants to enjoy for both taste and health. I have never heard of Chaga and I’m wondering if we have it here. Must seek it out.
    Your camping pictures make we want to get out and pitch a tent in the woods:)

    1. Erin, I thought you might enjoy this! I agree totally, there is so much out there that is beneficial, and I feel I’ve only begun to scrape the surface. I am betting that chaga unfortunately does not grow in California, especially as far south as you are. However, you could probably find ground chaga online somewhere?

      Ahh, how I want to get out and camp! The pictures here are from last summer when we canoed across the ever-beautiful Grand Lake Matagamon to get to a campsite. It was lovely:)

  7. Squeeeeee! You’ve found your own Walden!! :D Hurrah for awesomeness in your new place of residingbubble!

    However, wild fungi scare me as two people died in Canberra recently after eating poisonous mushrooms they’d found in the forest :(

    But so that we don’t end this on a sad note… Chaga makes me think of the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

    Pardon me boys, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?

    1. Hannah, you know, I’ve never actually read Walden, or anything by Thoreau for that matter. And while these pictures are from an area 90 minutes southwest of here, it’s indeed close enough to my new place of residingbubble:)

      At the one-day mushroom course I took seven years ago, I learned that many ‘poisonous’ mushrooms won’t actually kill you, they’ll just make you ill (and some people may not get sick at all). So I’m guessing the folks in your town either got quite unlucky in their choice, ate a lot of what they found, or perhaps mushrooms are just more deadly there.

      You’re welcome to cheer things up with a lively fox trot! :)

      1. Considering our spiders and snakes… I’m going to go with mushrooms are more poisonous here ;)

        Also, Walden? Don’t do it. Insufferable endless pages about how much things like nails cost.

        1. Haha. Such amazing cultural insight! I was reading about Walden after seeing your comment, and reviews sure made it look like an insufferably long read…. kind of makes me want to give it a go, though:)

          I suppose if it had been Canberra rather than Walden he may not have made it to two years!

            1. No no, just that despite his best attempts at successful foraging, he may have eaten something poisonous! If it was modern times I’m sure he’d be well off – funny statues to look at, berry picking maidens to keep him company, etc. :)

              1. Oh, I feel better now. In truth, I don’t believe in non-Canberran people’s negative perceptions of Canberra, but it’s 11:30pm and I didn’t have the energy to launch a defense. So I’m glad that’s not what you were hinting at :D

                1. I have no negative perceptions, only positive, since it is the Town of You!

                  I would truly madly deeply love to visit:)

                  1. :) :) :)

                    Particularly as my brain is interpreting that as a Savage Garden reference and therefore even more Australia love!

                    I’m to bed now, my dear. But I have indeed missed these chats of ours! xo

                    P.S. Say hi to your mum for me!

                    1. Savage Garden reference, indeed:)

                      I’ll say hi to her if she doesn’t read this for herself first!

                      I’ve missed chatting with you too, xo :)

  8. Haha, a vodka-spiked alcoholism aid. Now THAT would sell like…well like vodka, I guess. *head scratch* Your pics are beautiful and I learned a new word. Foraging! I want to forage like a pro forager. You must teach me more of your foraging ways.

    1. kale, it would be my pleasure to teach you more of my foraging ways! It will have to wait though, as all I could currently share is how to gather dirty snow or muddy twigs:P

And now I'd like to pass the mic / So you c'mon and do anything you like ...aka, Leave your reply.

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