Backyard Apothecary: It’s time we made an ally of the sun

At this time, and always, it is of utmost importance to have a healthy working relationship with the great ball of energy in the sky.

With the discovery of the depletion of the ozone layer, the dangers of excessive sun exposure were promoted, along with sunscreen as a measure to safely block the sun’s rays. Recently, a couple of discoveries have changed my fear-based thinking about the sun.

Firstly, something I always suspected is finally being noted by scientists: many of the sunscreens on the market contain carcinogenic ingredients. Also, evidence is showing that many of them, while blocking a burn, may not block the rays that can lead to skin cancer. Further, a lack of vitamin D, the vitamin produced when bacteria on our skin is exposed to the sun, has been indicated in numerous cases of cancers of all kinds, although it hasn’t been clearly determined whether sunscreen blocks vitamin D production.

Further still, physicists and biologist are discovering the importance of photons, the physical particles of light, to our health and well-being in a variety of ways. Not only do we absorb photons from the sun, which in moderation increases our immune functioning, but we also absorb photons in our food. This means that sun-ripened fruits and vegetables contain photons that they have absorbed from the sun, and our bodies in turn absorb them, again increasing our immune function and overall sense of well-being. While these insights into photons have been made by quantum physicists, more conventional and mainstream science is discovering that the consumption of anti-oxidants aid our bodies in processing sun exposure, reducing the instances and severity of burns.

What this means for me is that my sun exposure will be enjoyed in moderation, with excessive exposure limited by clothing and shade, rather than by commercial sunscreens. It also encourages me to eat freshly picked, sun-ripened fruits and vegetables, which, conveniently, are so plentiful at the same time of year when the sun is at its strongest.

There is another way that I help my body process exposure to sun’s radiation, and that’s with the herb known as St. John’s Wort. This yellow-flowered weed that blossoms throughout July can be found along roadsides and empty lots all over the mid-island area. An oil infused with the flowers and then applied to the skin significantly increases the length of time many people can spend in the sun without developing a sunburn. Herbalist Susun Weed calls it the best sunscreen in the world. I find its affects are cumulative, so that regularly applying it has made me less likely to burn. It won’t work if you put it on for the first time and then spend an hour in direct sunlight.

I make this oil myself, by filling a jar with the chopped, whole tops of the flowering plant, then filling it again with organic, cold pressed olive oil. I seal this up tight and let it sit in a cool, dark place for six weeks. After that, I strain the now very red coloured oil from the plant matter.

There is evidence that St. John’s Wort taken internally can increase sensitivity to sunlight in some people, although I have not personally noticed this affect. But what I am talking about is applying it externally.

All of this information has freed me from a fear of the sun, and helped me see it as an ally to my health, to be respected and treated carefully.

Rose Dickson is an artist and writer with a passion for natural health. A self-taught herbalist who specializes in local, urban wild-crafting and do-it-yourself medicine, she has most recently begun researching quantum physics as it relates to health. She can be reached at