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HERBS FOR SUMMER SOLSTICE: PART I

According to the Herbal Academy, “Of all the times of the year we celebrate plants, no other day is quite as magical as the summer solstice.” The solstice occurs annually between June 20th and June 22nd in the Northern Hemisphere, and it marks the first official day of summer, the longest day, and the shortest night of the year. The warm weather, singing birds, and blooming flowers bring hope and joy. Many ancient cultures have traditionally harvested herbs on this day, believing them to be at their greatest medicinal value.”

“The summer solstice occurs when the sun is at its peak in the noontime sky and when it sets at the northernmost point on the horizon. When the sun is positioned at this angle, its rays hit the planet more directly than any other time of year, kicking off a three-month period with enough heat and light to fuel the earth for the growing season. This light creates a more efficient system of photosynthesis in plants, and the full days also allow animals and humans to eat uninhibited, fattening their bodies to prepare for the colder seasons.”

"Herbs have always played a role in celebrating the change of seasons, and they take center stage at the summer solstice. In ancient European pagan cultures, priests and healers believed herbs attained the peak of their medicinal value on this day, and would harvest them to dry and have available for the rest of the year. Bee balm, calendula, chamomile, chicory, elder, fennel, jewelweed, lavender, meadowsweet, mugwort, mullein, peach leaves, peppermint, red clover, red raspberry, roses, rosehips, rosemary, pineapple sage, St. John’s Wort, thyme, and yarrow are linked to this time of year. Medicine people took advantage of this day to capture the maximum potential of lavender and vervain for banishing worries and St. John’s Wort for bringing sunshine to sorrow.”


Bee Balm (Monarda spp.): a member of the mint family that grows from 3-5 feet tall on a square, hairy stem. Flowers are made up of 20-50 narrow tubular flowers that vary in color depending on the species. Bee balm can be planted in the spring or in the fall in full sunshine. Space plants 18-24 inches apart in rich, well-draining soil. Bee balm needs good air circulation, otherwise it can develop mildew on its leaves. Water thoroughly at the time of planting.

Bee balm can be used fresh or dried in all types of herbal preparations. Brew the leaves into an aromatic, medicinal tea that tastes similar to mint but milder. Bee Balm combats colds and flu, and soothes a sore throat. Herbalist Rosalee de la Floret suggests using bee balm for oral infections of the mouth and digestive tract, to discourage fungal growth in and on the body, to diffuse the heat of fevers from viral infections, to bring on delayed menses, and is great for people who are uptight, nervous, or anxious.


Calendula (Calendula officinalis): also called “Pot Marigold”, there are many varieties and shades of calendula, including orange, yellow, and russet. There are also varieties with increased resin that are more medicinally active, and the yellow and orange varieties are more common in medicinal preparations. Plant Calendula just after the last frost of the season, about ¼” deep, and 8” apart. Calendula likes lots of sunlight and can become leggy if they do not get enough, so plant them somewhere bright but not extremely hot. Calendula can survive in dry conditions, but during the hottest time of year, water them once a week to keep them perky and encourage blooming. Deadhead old flowers regularly to promote new growth.

Calendula’s natural anti-inflammatory properties make it wonderful for soothing a sore throat and healing urinary tract infections.


Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): can be planted in the spring, and grows best in cool conditions and part shade. The soil should be dry. Once chamomile is established, it needs very little care. Too much fertilizer will result in lots of weakly flavored foliage and few flowers. Chamomile is drought tolerant and only needs to be watered in times of prolonged drought.

With beautiful daisy like flowers that smell mildly fruity like an apple, chamomile is a useful medicinal tea herb. It’s traditionally used to induce calm and sleep, and improve symptoms of insomnia. Chamomile flowers are bitter, neutral to cooling, moistening, and have an affinity for the liver, stomach, and lungs.


Chicory Flowers & Root (Cichorium intybus): sow chicory seeds 6 to 10 inches apart in rows that are 2 to 3 feet apart. Thin the plants if they crowd each other but close planting discourages weeds. The seeds are planted ¼ inch deep and thinning is done when the plants have three to four true leaves. Chicory requires well drained soil with plenty of organic matter. It performs best when temperatures are below 75 degrees.

Chicory can be used in fresh or dried form as a tea or tincture. Matthew Wood says that traditional herbalists and physicians used chicory to improve digestive and metabolic process, stating that chicory not only enhances these functions, but then helps the body absorb the material into the blood. This is due to its bitter properties and effects on the liver.


Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): elderberries prefer partial shade and would rather be cool and moist than hot and dry. Proper drainage is key to preventing root rot, so avoid any place prone to standing water. It is recommended that elderberry be planted in pairs, no more than 60 feet apart, for the full benefit of cross pollination, which yields more fruit to enjoy! Allow plenty of space between plants. The more air that can circulate between the shrubs, the better they will fare against diseases of the leaf structure. Since they can grow up to 12 feet tall and six feet across, mature bushes will need lots of room to thrive. Elderberries should be planted in the spring, once the danger of frost has passed.

Elderberries have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, and immune stimulant actions. Elderberry is commonly used to address colds and flu with a specific indication for inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, including hay fever, sinusitis, and tonsillitis. Elderberry is an ideal herb to use at the onset of a cold or the flu or after a virus has already taken root.


Elderflower (Sambucus nigra): are at their peak in late spring to early summer. In most regions, mid-June seems to be the best time for harvesting. Elderflower blooms closely resemble hogweed and hemlock, so be sure of the proper identification. During elderflower harvest time, the umbels are covered in tiny creamy white flowers. Each ripens at a different time with the center opening first.

Elderflowers have alterative, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, and nervine actions. Elderflower helps clear signs of heat in the respiratory system and promotes sweating. Heat signs include coughing, wheezing, nasal discharge, sinus congestion, sore throat, chills, and fever. It helps reduce excessive amounts of mucus and restore the mucosa to moderate levels. This is one of the reasons elderflowers are used for both acute and chronic forms of bronchitis.


Blondies with Bee Balm & Apricots Recipe: Makes 32 bars: By Susan Belsinger: Ingredients: 1 cup unsalted butter, 1 1/3 cups brown sugar, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup dried apricots, 1/2 cup Monarda leaves and/or flowers, loosely packed, 1 1/4 cups unbleached flour, 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 4 extra-large eggs, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract.

Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When melted, add the brown sugar and stir. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the brown sugar is thick and syrupy, for about 4 minutes. Stir in the granulated sugar until it is dissolved and remove the pan from the heat to cool; the fat will separate from the sugar. Thinly slice the apricots crosswise. Wash, dry, and coarsely chop the Monarda leaves and flowers; there should be about 1/4 cup of chopped herb. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and stir to blend. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture over the apricots and toss to coat them lightly. Whisk the eggs, one at a time, into the warm brown sugar and butter mixture to blend thoroughly. Add the vanilla and stir well. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour and stir until it is just blended. Add the apricots and Monarda and stir until they are just mixed in. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a preheated oven for 35 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown. Allow to cool completely on a baking rack before cutting into bars.


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