This is a day full of summer related things. Although, I doubt that we here will actually see much of the sun today (it’s still overcast and rainy). But, just in case you’re not aware, today is more than just the First Day of Summer. (And aren’t we all wondering if summer starts today, what will August be like since the 90°+ temps started in May.)
Today is also the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year. The sun has reached its zenith in the sky and from now on, the days will grow shorter, the nights longer.
It’s also Litha or Midsummer
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream
In times past, nearly every agricultural society marked midsummer in some way. Bonfires were lit on tops of hills, by holy wells, and at sacred places to honor the fullness of the Sun. People danced around the fires and leapt through them. Special herbs were used to bless the animals. Coals from the Litha fire were scattered on fields to ensure a good harvest.
“The Sun God has reached the moment of his greatest strength. Seated on his greenwood throne, he is also lord of the forests, and his face is seen peering from countless leafy masks.”
Litha is a time to let go of old patterns and what does not work for you anymore.
So, what fun to do today? Well, how about making Elderflower Champagne. Do we have Elder shrubs here? Why, yes we do.
Elder plant (Sambucus), is an overlooked herb and mostly, it’s considered a weed here. However, it has medicinal and flavoring qualities that were much prized in times gone past.
Growing an Elder plant is not all that difficult. It can tolerate poor soil or soil that is stays wet. The thing it cannot tolerate is drought. So, during the dry spells, you will need to water it frequently and well. They like full sun. These shrubs get big – 6-12 feet tall and nearly that wide. They propagate via suckers that pop up in the yard, so they might be a tiny bit invasive.
And here’s something to think about, is the wood produced by your elder bush really the same that created the famed Elder Wand in the Harry Potter saga?? I think it is. So, add wand production to the other uses.
But they do produce pretty clusters of white flowers from early spring to midsummer. Then they produce small black berries.
Elderflower has been used in traditional medicine for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. The most common use was for colds and flu, sinus infections, and other respiratory disturbances. Elderflower has antibacterial and antiviral properties and was taken in a tea to boost the immune system. It has been used as a poultice the help reduce pain and swelling.
The bluish-black fruit are used in wines, juices, and jellies.
You remember ---
“For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.” Arsenic and Old Lace
The berries are quite bitter, so they are rarely eaten by themselves.
OK - Elderflower Champagne
Pick the flowers in the fullness of a sunny day, ideally on Midsummer's Day (this recipe comes from England – here you should pick them earlier because by midsummer, they are mostly done). Oh and I’ll leave all the conversions to you.
8 liters water
1.25 kg sugar
8 large elderflower heads
4 tablespoons mild white wine vinegar
Do use screw top bottles - like the large plastic soft drink bottles. This stuff will fizz and if not bottled tightly it can explode! Make sure the elderflowers are clean - no little wandering insects or bugs.
Boil the water and dissolve the sugar into it. When the water is cool, add the elderflowers, juice of two of the lemons and slices of the other two, plus the vinegar. Cover with a clean cloth and leave for a day. Strain through a fine sieve or piece of muslin, carefully squeezing the flowers to extract as much flavor as possible. Store in clean screw top bottles. Leave alone for 10 days or so. Drink within a month. Enjoy and give thanks to the Spirit of Elder.