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Living in Season Newsletter

Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 2, Number 10
June 20, 2004, Summer Solstice Eve


  • Welcome
  • Happy Summer Solstice!
  • Living in Season: Magical Herbs of Midsummer
  • In My Library: Books on Herbs
  • Holiday Packet: Midsummer
  • Signs of Summer
  • Summer in the School of the Seasons
  • Copyright
  • Subscribe - Unsubscribe

Welcome to my periodical newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. If you enjoy this newsletter, please forward it.

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Happy Summer Solstice!
I just returned from watching the Fremont Solstice parade, which is sponsored by the Art Council for Fremont, a small, funky Seattle neighborhood which proudly calls itself "The Center of the World." The parade is famous for its nude bicyclists, but it also featured political skits, the Sisters of Divine Indulgence, little kids wearing butterfly wings, several marching bands, huge pachyderms, stilt-walkers, belly dancers and an entire samba band. Anyone can appear in the parade but everything must be people-powered which keeps it small and charming.

Tomorrow, I'll be attending the first Summer Solstice Tango Picnic, sponsored by the Seattle tango community at Gasworks Parks, one of my favorite parks in Seattle — the site of an old gasworks. The abandoned machinery is still there, rusting away, plus the park features sloping green lawns and a view of Lake Union and the downtown skyline. I will bring along goat cheese flavored with the oregano I got in my first shipment of organic vegetables as part of my commitment to eat locally. And I hope to enjoy many delicious tango dances and conversations with friends under the summer sun.

However you celebrate the Summer Solstice, may it bring you joyand may you experience all the blessings of midsummer.

Living in Season: Magical Midsummer Herbs
I just finished writing an article for Beliefnet on the magical plants of midsummer (don't know yet when it will be posted) and I got so interested in the topic I decided to continue the theme for this newsletter.

Summer Solstice is a traditional time for gathering herbs and flowers to be used for magical purposes. I assume this is because they are at the height of their power, just like the sun.If this were so, one would think noon on Solstice Day would be the most opportune time to pick them, but actually folk custom varies on this point, so anything goes including first thing in the morning when the dew is still on them, at sunset and at midnight. If you miss your chance on Solstice, just wait for Midsummer's Eve (June 23, known as Herb Evening in Lativa) or Midsummer's Day (June 24th, the church holiday, assigned to St John the Baptist, associated with Midsummer).

Different plants are associated with Solstice in different countries, everything from carnations and camomile in Italy, to violets and vervain in Germany, to cornflowers and water lilies in Lativa. In Provence, according to Luard, five aromatic herbs-rosemary, thyme, marjoram, hyssop and sage, are gathered on the eve of Saint Jean to make an "infusion aux herbes de Saint Jean." I'm not sure what you do with this infusion--perhaps you add it to your bath water or wash your face in it, as the Italians do with the water set out on Midsummer's Eve in barrels and bowls in which they've placed yellow broom, flowers, rose petals and herbs.

St. John's Wort is one of the traditional Summer Solstice herbs, because of its bright yellow flowers and the date of its bloom. I always search it out (in Seattle it likes to grow in cracks on the side of the road, especially near freeways) and bind it in bundles to place over my doors, windows and the rear view window of my car, since it is an herb of protection. The magical plant is a skinny upright weed with small flowers (hypericum perforatum) not the low-lying ground cover (also known as Rose of Sharon) with its showy yellow flowers. You will know you've found the magical plant because it appears to bleed (releases a red oil) when you pinch the flowers. It is often prescribed by herbalists for depression, perhaps because it distills the cheery energy of the summer sun.

My suggestion is to look around and see what's growing abundantly where you live. Roses are usually blooming for Midsummer and, in fact, Varvtavar, or Flaming of the Rose, is the name for the old Summer Solstice celebration in Iran. If you gather rose petals from bushes that have not been sprayed, you can add them to tea, jellies, honey and sugar. You can also scatter them in your bath water (a dip in water is another common Summer Solstice ritual) or dry them for crumbling into love charms. In Bohemia, girls wear chaplets of mugwort while dancing around the Midsummer bonfire, and the artemisia vulgaris I planted outside my apartment is just going to seed. I love to weave the pliable branches into wreaths that I can hang in my closets to charm away the bugs or dry for adding to dream pillows (mugwort is supposed to encourage psychic dreams).

The Scandinavians have a great idea of how to incorporate magical herbs into your rituals. They add them to vodka to make schnapps which is drunk at the Midsommar festival. One of my readers, Diane Saarinen, uses a ready-mix from Ingebretsens to make a traditional Midsommar schnapps recipe which was very popular last year at her Summer Solstice party. She added star anise, juniper berries and St. John's wort to vodka, let it steep for 24 hours, then removed the herbs and let the flavor develop over six weeks. Reflecting on the inclusion of St. John's wort, Diane comments that this concoction will not only get you drunk quickly but also make you really happy. Diane also sent me a link to a Danish website where you can find instructions on making many flavors of schnapps from fruits, flowers, herbs and spices.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow
Luard, Elizabeth, Sacred Food, Chicago Review Press

Schnapps Resources
Danish website for schnapps recipes:
To order ready-mix of traditional Midsommar schnapps:

In the Library: Books on Herbs
Here are some of my favorite books on herbs, the ones I consult when I want to know the magical and healing properties of plants or figure out how to use them in recipes and medicines.

Castleman, Michael, The Healing Herbs, Rodale Press 1991
A great book offering brief summaries of the history, results of medical studies and tips for use for 100 healing herbs.

Kowalchik, Claire & William Hylton, editors, Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Rodale Press 1987
This is usually my first choice when I want quick information. Gorgeous book with quick, easy to read articles on herbs, including illustrations, descriptions, history, uses and cultivation. Also offers advice on dyeing with herbs, gardening, making lotions and teas and adding herbs to your bath.

Weed, Susun, Healing Wise, Ashtree Publishing 1989
One of my favorite books on herbs. My only complaint is that it contains information on only seven herbs: burdock, chickweed, dandelion, nettle, oatstraw, seaweed and violet. But it tells you everything you need to know about those 7, all in a unique way that you will never forget, plus there are tons of recipes and detailed explanations on making tinctures, syrups and infused oils. Susun also has books on herbs for the child-bearing years, the menopausal years and for breast health. See her website:

Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, Red Crane Books, 1993
This is a marvelous cross between a nature guide and a herbal, with full color photographs as well as detailed illustrations of the plants, plus information about identifying plants, where to find them, how to collect and store them, how to use them medicinally and how to prepare them for use, all delivered in a conversational and authoritative tone. Moore has also written books about the medicinal plants of the Mountain West, the Desert West and the Southwest and he teaches classes on botanical medicine. See his website at:

Holiday Packet: Midsummer
The Midsummer packet contains information on traditional Midsummer celebrations with fire, wreaths, dances and water, love divinations, much about roses (including recipes for baklava and directions for making rose water), how to make gardens of Adonis, magical herbs and flowers to gather on Midsummer's Night's Eve, and much more. To order go to:

To order go to our Store! http://www.schooloftheseasons.com/store.html
An email version is also available for $7. It will be sent to you as an attached Word file within 24 hours of your order. The snail mail version is $9.00 + $3 shipping/handling and will be shipped within a week of your order.

Signs of Summer
IMargaret in San Antonio, Texas knows summer has arrived when she hears the first cicada. She writes "something about that moment when the first one calls out that stirs childhood memories of hot summer afternoons in the cool grass under the shade of trees."

Send me the signs of summer where you live, and I will post them on my website.

Summer is A-Coming In
If it feels like Summer where you live, the Summer correspondence course is now available. (Of course, you can also order any season out of season, if you like). For a list of topics and the subjects covered, go

Copyright ©Waverly Fitzgerald 2004.
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