Taking in the Midsummer Harvest

Midsummer is really the beginning of summer here in central Massachusetts.  We are about six weeks off from the traditional British harvest holidays, with the cross quarter fire festivals marking the height of each season rather than its beginning. At least that’s been my experience.

There are a number of sacred herbs that can be harvested from my land. Midsummer seemed like a good time to accomplish this, but I also wanted to incorporate some lunar correspondences. The Full Moon was in Capricorn just after Midsummer, which traditionally is a time where  pruning, or harvesting, is done to promote more vigorous growth in the plant. (Although why I would want this for the Mugwort is beyond me.)

And then it rained on the day of the full moon. All my lovely plans were foiled.

So, I went out the next morning, which was still within 12 hours of the moment of the Full Moon. It was the hour of Venus on a Thursday, the day of Jupiter, both of which should be auspicious for harvesting healing herbs. I managed to bring in the Motherwort, Agrimony, and Mugwort then. For future reference, I will be harvesting Motherwort much sooner next year, as it’s seedpods are very sharp and spiky.

Unfortunately I had to complete my harvest in the afternoon, which is when the essential oil concentrations are the lowest. On the “bright” side (ha!) this was now during the hour of the Sun and I brought in Sweetfern, Lavender, and Feverfew.

I had spied a glorious Yarrow by the side of the road earlier that morning. Sadly, someone mowed it down between that time and when I went out in the afternoon to harvested. I was really cheesed off. I did find a couple of other smaller sprigs though, and I’ll see what wild crafting I can do down in the conservation land for this little herb.

I’ll likely be doing another round of harvesting during the Dark Moon, especially for Mugwort (and probably the Agrimony as well, just because I don’t want it going to seed). I’ll probably wait until the next Full Moon for the rest of my culinary herbs like Sage and Oregano.  But for now, it looks like a goodly supply drying on the walls of my kitchen!

Lavender

Week 25 of PBP.

The other “L” entry is also beloved for its perfume: lavandula angustifolia. The first real memories I have of this beauty are of the endless fields of lavender in Provence. Every medieval garden my family visited in the south of France had glorious lavender plants. I loved how the sticky, spicy scent would cling to my fingers after rubbing the leaves. I stared in wonder at the bees and hoverflies and humming birds as they completely ignored my presence to flock to the sprays of purple flowers.

Sadly, as I’ve moved further and further north, my lavender plants have fair less and less well. But there are still a few hardy varieties that manage to winter over and bless my cosmetics and my cooking with their wonderful oils.

Lilac

Week 24 of PBP.

There is nothing like driving past a hedge of lilacs in bloom with the windows rolled down. It’s incomparable. The only thing more fun is standing amidst them in the rain, letting the water roll down over glossy leaves and splash on your face.

These are the flowers of my maternal line. My mother brought the white lilacs from her family home in Pennsylvania. It’s a stubborn plant, growing in a place that should be too shady, and blooming anyway. It’s always been smaller than its purple neighbors, but I’ve always been very fond of it because of its history.

Joe-Pye Weed

I first learned about Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum or Eupatorium purpureum if you’re going by Linnaeus’s classification) on a weed walk in western Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburg. The guide told a fascinating story of how a healer named Joe Pye helped the native tribes learn how to break fevers and treat typhus with the plant, and it became named in his honor. The plant cuts a striking silhouette, and quickly became my touchstone on the site because it was so easily recognizable.

Joe-Pye weed has a multitude of names: Trumpet-weed, Gravelweed, Joe-pye Weed, Jopi Weed, Queen-of-the-Meadow Root (interesting since Meadowsweet is often called Queen of the Meadow), Purple Boneset, and Hempweed. Grieve cites it as being named after a king of Pontus, Mithridates Eupator, who first used the plant as a remedy (1931).

Because of its fever-reducing qualities, and its love of swampy places, I tend to associate Joe-Pye Weed with Water, and by extension the Moon and/or Venus. Cunningham does not give any elemental or planetary designations, but does say that it can be used in matters of love and respect (2003, 148). Since Eutrochium purpureum is native to North America, it’s not surprising that Hopman make no mention of it, through truthfully I raised an eyebrow that Beyerl does not include it in his herbal either.

Even though many plants connected with Venus, the Moon, and Water end up being feminine by default, there’s something about Joe-Pye Weed that just comes across as male. Working with Joe-Pye Weed straightens the spine and opens the heart. A leaf marked with a sigil for Mars or Jupiter will help one command respect, but still be aware of the needs of others. By the same token, mark the leaf with a sigil for Venus for a confidence boost on a date.

The Planets: The Moon

The Moon

The Moon was really tough to design. I think I tore up five or six different ideas before this one finally sat well with me. I kept running into the problem of it being too geometric. The Moon is supposed to represent the unconscious, the soul—these are not neat and tidy things, but wild, fluid, and organic. Perhaps the final design is still a bit too balanced, but I’m pleased enough with it.

On to Mars…

Artemesia vulgaris (Mugwort)


Remember, Mugwort, what you revealed,

what you established at the mighty proclamation
“Una” you are called, oldest of herbs.
you may avail against 3 and against 30,
you may avail against poison and against contagion,
you may avail against the loathsome one who travels through the land.
(Woden’s Nine Herbs Charm from Lacnunga LXXIX-LXXXII, trans. B. Slade 2002, ll. 1–6)

In the Middle Ages, the plant was known as Cingulum Sancti Johannis, it being believed that John the Baptist wore a girdle of it in the wilderness. There were many superstitions connected with it: it was believed to preserve the wayfarer from fatigue, sunstroke, wild beasts and evil spirits generally: a crown made from its sprays was worn on St. John’s Eve to gain security from evil possession, and in Holland and Germany one of its names is St. John’s Plant, because of the belief, that if gathered on St. John’s Eve it gave protection against diseases and misfortunes. (Grieve 1931)

I have a soft spot in my heart for mugwort. As a kid, a friend and I would gather armfuls of it by the roadside, in the shade of the hemlocks that loomed at the edge of her property. We’d strip the leaves off of the stalks that were almost as tall as we were, then crush them between rocks and cover them in water, leaving them in the sun to make “tea” or “stew” or a “potion.” We called that plant sagebrush, because well, it smelled a little like sage and grew in the brush. Oddly enough, we weren’t that far off.

So, the scent of mugwort has always brought my back to a happy childhood place. More recently, I’ve found it to be a good herb to aid in journeying—I’m some what sensitive to it, as just weeding the stuff from under my deck will put me into a light trance if I don’t have gloves. In my personal experience, Grandmother Mugwort is a little too random to be used alone for dream work, but produces very interesting results when combined with either agrimony or lavender. Though Cunningham associates her with Earth (2003, 178) she has always felt much more watery to me; additionally, he associates her with Venus, while I find her better matched with the Moon. Hopman agrees that the little Grandmother aids in visions and prophecy, adding that a wash of mugwort tea applied to crystal balls or mirrors aids their clarity (1995, 72). She will protect homes, friends, and possessions, and can consecrate and purify tools (Beyerl 1984, 135).

But lately I’ve found myself in a somewhat awkward situation with this tenacious little plant, as it’s become an invasive pest on our property. Many folks find her to be a noxious respiratory irritant (since she’s also related to ragweed), and one of my neighbors as been on a holy crusade to get her “under control.”

Good luck with that.

The more likely story is that we continue to give the little Grandmother the perfect growing conditions. The neighborhood here is quite new, the soil poor, and the fields broad and sunny. Moreover, we have conscientious folk who keep said fields nicely trimmed. My guess, and it’s only a guess mind you, is that mugwort is one of those pioneer plants, much like the birch, growing at the edge of things and making the way for others. So by cutting her down again and again, we are actually giving her exactly what she needs to thrive.

And more than a little part of me rejoices at seeing her thwart our attempts to control her wildness.