What exactly is the summer solstice? It’s a phenomenological event that happens each year, around midsummer, when the rotational axis of the Earth is most inclined to the Sun. Consequently, it is the longest day of the year. It is certainly an auspicious time, and cultures the world over since time immemorial have marked this day with festivals, feasts, ceremony or ritual. We don’t have to be aligned with any particular spiritual or religious path to recognize the importance of marking time throughout our lives, and the older I get, the more poignant that marking time throughout the year becomes to me. A large part of my personal healing path has been to learn to embody the marking of time through the year, both with my herbalism and also with my life and spirituality. That is a continually evolving process, but one that I would like to begin to share more about.
To me, the primary energy around the Summer Solstice is FIRE. Working with the elements in this way gives us a paradigm of wellness and balance in an experiential way. There are many ways that fire can manifest in our life: digestive fire, personal fire and passion for our life and livelihood, our creativity, our ability to bring forth the physical manifestation of will. We might find places where this fire is deficient, and discover ways of igniting it and keeping it stoked sustainably over the course of our lives. We might find areas where it is in excess (easy to do in the summer- too much Pitta from an Ayurvedic perspective) and turn to herbs and practices that balance excess heat.
You could question your relationship to Fire in your life:
What are you fired up about?
Is there a good balance between activity and rest in your life- is your fire burning too hot in some areas?
What is growing and working in your life, nurtured by the long days and heat of summer? What is not working and needs to take a break?
Herbs for the Summer Solstice:
St. John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum
St. John’s Wort is not an herb that grows wild in my bio-region, and I haven’t experimented with cultivation yet. I have however, found other Hypericum species wild, which was incredibly interesting. During our time in Spain, St. John’s Wort was one of the first plants that we ever harvested for medicine making. It grows so abundantly there in some areas, and I will always equate this plant with the Summer Solstice. I like to make medicine (or acquire it) this time of year to use specifically in the middle of winter as part of a SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder protocol.
St. John’s Wort has been popularized for it’s use in treating depression, but it goes far beyond that. It has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. An infused oil of the plant, which should come out bright red, is vulnerary and analgesic, which means it is healing and pain relieving. This makes it particularly effective for painful skin conditions and burns.
I don’t use St. John’s Wort much these days, but I felt like it is worth mentioning due to it’s long history of use and reverence this time of year. One of my teachers, Darcey Blue, has written a lot about this herb. She recommended making kombucha with freshly made St. John’s Wort tea, which I did last year. It was a potent and medicinal brew for sure. If you happen to have dried St. John’s Wort on hand, you could try it- simply add your scoby to the sweetened St. John’s Wort infusion instead of traditional black tea. You may want to use an extra scoby, as the powerful antimicrobial actions of the herb could degrade your scoby over time.
Mexican Mint Marigold Tagetes lucidaMexican Mint Marigold, sometimes called Mexican Tarragon, definitely has a tarragon like flavor. Tarragon is an Artemesia species plant, whereas Tagetes are all Asteraceae or Sunflower family plants.
This beautiful and hardy plant can is perennial as far north as zone 9, and I think that it could be protected as far as North Louisiana. It makes an incredibly delicious tea- I am loving it as a cold tea as it gets hotter and hotter here. Medicinally, it has an incredibly long history of use in Mexico down into Central America. It is thought to be native to Guatemala. There, it is used as a carminative for digestive upsets and excess gas. Again, tending to our digestion this time of year can free up excess energy that can be used to fuel other areas in our life.
Last year, during my time as an apprentice at the Wildflower School gardens and apothecary, there was an abundance of this beautiful plant. I had the opportunity to work with this Tagetes a lot by harvesting and drying a large quantity, and Nicole Telkes, my teacher, blended it into an amazingly delicious blend cooling tea with hibiscus and other herbs.
Calendula Calendula officinalis
Calendula is yet another wonderful plant to grow in a garden. Although calendula is most known for it’s notable vulnerary actions (wound healing), it is also useful in that capacity for it’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. In addition to that, calendula is extremely helpful as a lymphatic herb. The health of our lymph is related to the health of our immune system, and sluggish lymph can be easily moved with movement and herbs. Calendula has many other actions beyond these, but for the sake of brevity, I will focus on the digestive tract. I have had success using calendula internally for many types of gut issues- the lining of our digestive tract is skin! Since we are working with the fire element this time of year, and our digestive fire is definitely implied, calendula could be a wonderful plant ally to focus on healing the digestive tract.
As an infused oil, a salve, a tincture or a tea, calendula is easy to grow, easy to use and easy to love.
Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis
Lemon Balm is a wonderful plant to have in the garden here in Louisiana. It grows quickly, and is perennial, so it should come back each year. If you have grown or used lemon balm, you would have noticed it’s distinctive citrus scent and flavor- hence the name! Lemon balm has a high concentration of volatile oils, including citral and citronellal. It is calming and antispasmodic to both the nervous and digestive systems. Lemon balm also has strong antiviral properties, and is used specifically for the herpes virus. Lemon balm can make a delicious tea or tincture and combines well with many other calming herbs <nervines>.
I love how lemon balm really gets going this time of year. It is right before the plant goes to flower, so the concentration of volatile oils and other constituents is highest- hence it is the optimal time for medicine making.
This time of year, around the Summer Solstice, it is perfect time for a few specific and nourishing practices:
- Medicine Making
With all of the plant in bloom and growing vigorously, harvesting is necessary! It doesn’t have to be a selfish act in the energy of taking. Harvesting can be what a plant needs to thrive- pruning to provide air flow, allowing energy to flow back into the roots for an ultimately stronger plant, to encourage vigorous growth, etc. For me, medicine making simply means finding ways of getting plants into my body. That is what herbalism really is- ingesting plants, taking them into your body, as often as possible! Done with care and attention, making a batch of sun tea is most definitely medicine making. Do you have lemon balm or lavender growing in your garden? Drink it! As an herbalist, I am making tinctures, infused oils, cordials and syrups, infused honey, and drying plants for later use a lot these days. You can do that too! Get a few plant starts from a local garden center and plant them in pots if you need to. This part does not have to be complicated. You can also have me come out to your property and tell you what edible and medicinal plants you have growing on your property.
- Tending the Digestive Fire
One sad truth about summer time is that cold drinks are not wonderful for the digestive fire. That said, I’m truly not willing to forgo ice cubes and refrigerated quarts of tea all summer long! We can make sure we keep our digestion running smoothly this time of year by eating more simply. This is easy with all the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables in perfect season right now- tomatoes, yellow squash and zucchini, peppers, lots of garden herbs, okra, eggplant…Most people are drawn to salads and lighter fare beginning around now. We can make a point to give our digestive system a break by eating lighter and also with some of the herbs I talked about above. Aromatic and carminative herbs and spices can be appropriate and help stimulate adequate digestion. Bitters may also be appropriate if the digestion is stifled or sluggish. Dandelion root, burdock root, there are a lot of herbs that could help here. You can always have an consultation with an herbalist if digestion is a concern you have. These are very general suggestions, because what it means to tend your digestion will ultimately be different for you, because our needs are different.
Movement is also critical for optimal digestion, and for igniting the metabolic fire. The details of the type of movement isn’t really that important- but what is important is that we move every day.
Another piece for digestive fire, and the Fire element in general is a yogic practice called Breath of Fire. It is not difficult to learn but a little tricky to explain, so here is a video to help you get started:
- Simple Fire Ritual
This can mean so many things! I really just mean finding a way to consciously bring the Fire element into your day. It can be building a bonfire, or simply lighting a candle. Smudging can also be a way to bring in this fire element and burn away negative though patterns and energy.I really like to burn smudge sticks with intention, thinking about the parts of myself and my life that are no longer serving me, and cleansing them away with the smoke. You can also write out a few things you would like to prune from your life on small pieces of paper and then carefully burning the bits of paper in the flame of a candle. Make sure you have a plate or a large shell to catch any ashes.
A nugget from the 2017 We’Moon :
“Often, this time of year, we feel as if there is too much of everything, including good things. There is so much to do and be! It’s not easy to handle this overload with grace, and we can experience confusion, frustration, shame and fatigue. It’s comforting to recognize that we are in the grip of nature’s fecundity. This is a time of assessments- am I creating consciously? Am I nurturing something that no longer serves me? Is my own Desire guiding me? Should I stay the course? Feeling out of control may be a sign that something is out of balance. Personal ritual around overwhelm can help us tip the balance from chaos to feeling the sweet fullness of life.”