Root Herbs and Childhood Memories
Finally we’re having a cool fall day, dry and sunny. I’m loving the breezes wafting through the open windows. They make me feel alive again, a part of the natural world even while sitting at my desk. As much as I’m grateful for air conditioning on a hot, muggy day, fall weather is a long-awaited and invigorating taste of freedom.
I always feel nostalgic in the fall. Without warning I’m a child again walking home from school in my red wool sweater. Dry leaves crunch underfoot and swirl down the sidewalk in a gust of wind. Wednesdays we have Junior Choir practice. We’re getting ready for the Thanksgiving program and sing Come Ye Thankful People Come over and over until my throat aches. Pumpkins and candy corn and what shall we be for Halloween this year? It’s dark by suppertime and the air holds magic; life is new with a mystery you can’t quite understand but can feel in every cell.
Actually, today it’s still seventy-five degrees, but it won’t be long ‘til the magic returns. Although I’ll be switching out the candy corn for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
In the mean time, I’m gathering the last of the summer kitchen herbs – basil, oregano, and chives. The first frost is a ways off, but plants get to be a bit lifeless and dreary at a certain point, so I’m getting them now while they’re still fragrant and usable. They dry well in the dehydrator for use all winter (see my latest article on drying herbs.) I tie the stems that aren’t fresh enough for using in a recipe in little bunches, and hang them from my old wooden rack in the kitchen. They’re purely decorative, reminiscent of days gone by, a fitting ambiance for the fall season. When they eventually collect enough noticeable dust, I’ll toss them into the compost bin.
It’s also time to start gathering root herbs. These are best dug up when the energy in the upper part of the plant has withdrawn back into the roots, making them more medicinally potent. But you don’t want to wait until the plants are completely dry and wilted before you go looking for them. Many will lose their unique features, making it hard to tell what’s what. I‘ll be making a dry run to the field down the road in a week or two to be sure I can find some burdock root, which goes in my liver tonic, and poke root, for my immune tonic.
I do love the cycles of nature. They mark the seasons throughout the year, and connect me with life beyond myself. I come to know nature’s calendar by being mindful. Every March I gather Star Chickweed, marveling at the perfect shape of the tiny star-like flowers. I say a prayer of gratitude as I add it to my salad. In May, I feel a familiar rush when I happen upon the first stalk of cleavers, knowing it will be a part of the spring detox tea my clients and I always enjoy. June twenty-fourth is St. John’s Day on the church calendar, and the very day St. John’s Wort is ready to pick. Coincidence? Hmm, I wonder…