"And the running blackberry, would adorn the parlor of heaven."
Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
Summer; sipping iced lemonade, while lolling on the afternoon porch dreaming our dreams of 'blackberry summer'. Blackberry summer will come soon enough, those days of fine weather in late September and early October. Right now let's accept the zest and zeal the lemon in our lemonade gives us and fill ourselves with summer when the herbs and flowers speak to us.
People have developed herbal calendars and found symbolism in plants and nature since ancient times. What better way to express summer than through herbs and flowers? Many herbs are associated with summer. Helen Keller said "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. Its what sunflowers do!" What more appropriate, sunflowers symbolize adoration and a sun worshiper in the language of herbs. The calendula or pot marigold is a symbol of sunny days with good health, joy, and affection. The calendula cares.
The Chinese, Japanese, Romans, Egyptians, American Hopi and Navajo Indians, among countless others, developed herbal calendars. Because calendars were so closely tied with nature, it follows that different months should be associated with particular herbs. Primarily the Japanese and English adopted the custom of using floral calendars. In addition to formal calendars using certain flowers, superstitions and old wives' tales about plants and flowers abound for each month of the year. These are generally connected with the changes in weather and how they affect the gardener.
Chinese Herbal Calendars specify the pomegranate as the symbol of progeny and prosperity and the month of June. When I was a child, I lived in northern climes, where pomegranates were rare and expensive. My Mom gave us the experience of this rarity and I remember experiencing the ice cold, juicy, red pulp and the crunchy seeds as a little bit of summer paradise we shared.
Japanese celebrate the peony in June, symbolizing 'hands full of cash'. The Chinese call the peony Sho-yo, which means 'the beautiful' and it is considered the flower of prosperity. It reminds me of my Mother's summer peonies and the long lasting beauty of those huge, brilliant, pink bouquets brightening our simple, farmhouse home. At the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 the peony was used to symbolize the American Spirit, ambition and determination to adapt and thrive.
The rose is the English Floral Calendar symbol for the month of June, and means success, love, beauty, congratulations, reward for virtue, grace, joy, "You are gentle.", friendship, silence and unity. Celebrate roses by making Rose Wine to enjoy during those long 'blackberry summer' days. Pour one gallon of boiling water over 3 or 4 quarts of lightly packed rose petals, add the cut-up rind of 2 oranges and 3 pounds of sugar. Boil for 20 minutes; cool, strain, and add a package of yeast dissolved in warm water and the juice of from the oranges and 4 or 5 peppercorns (white). Let all ferment in a covered crock for about 2 weeks. Strain, discard petals, and bottle in sterilized bottles, corking lightly for about 3 months or until the wine has finished working. Seal each bottle with paraffin. "A rose by any other name would smell so sweet." From Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare.
The Summer Solstice occurs around June 21st and is a celebration when nature is heavy with the bounty of the coming harvest. This is a time when energies abound, and a good time for magic and purification rites. Some, who practice the arcane arts, choose to bury protective amulets each Midsummer Eve and construct new ones. Rue, rowan, and basil, tied in a gold or white cloth, are a good protective trio that can be carried in your pocket year round. A few cinnamon sticks tied over the door of your home are another good protective charm.
Larkspur with its ardent attachment and levity brings swiftness to the long balmy days of July in the language of herbs. The Chinese celebrate the lotus flower in July, the symbol of perfection and purity. Japanese calendars specify mountain clover as their July herb. For the English it is water lily with its great beauty that brings to mind July. In the United States what better way to celebrate than 4th of July when thyme symbolizes the courage and bravery of our fight for independence. We place rosemary on the graves of soldiers' honoring their brave deeds with remembrance, fidelity, and devotion. With nasturtiums we celebrate our patriotism and white carnations our democracy.
"To smell wild thyme will renew spirits and energy in long walks
through the August Sun."
Gladiolus pierce our hearts with generosity and strength of character in August.
August 1 is Lammas, which is a celebration of the first harvest, particularly of grain products. The word Lammas is Old English for "loaf mass" and even today breads play a central role in the Lammas feast. Though the Celts saw this sabbat as the beginning of their autumn to day we enjoy this festival as the waning summer in which the first fruits of the harvest are readily available.
If your summer herb garden has spoiled you for anything other than fresh herbs, devote your sunniest window into an indoor herb garden to carry you into 'blackberry summer and winter'. When summer has long passed, a gift of an herbal jelly or rose wine, labeled and tied with a ribbon, is a much appreciated way to share the memories of summer.