Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Today at 1716 UTC (1016 here in the mountain time-zone) the tilt of the earth will reach one of its two annual maximums. The sun will appear to have traveled to its most northerly position in the sky. The time has come to celebrate another summer solstice! I wish you a most joyous Alban Hefin! Happy Litha!

As we approach this most awesome of days it becomes obvious that the progression of the sun (or more correctly the wobble of the earth) appears to slow. The movement of the sun has become more than an order of magnitude less than the size of the sun itself. Without careful measurement the sun has moved as far north as it intends to, and now hangs out in its summer parking space.

Because of the protracted nature of the apparent solstice the exact dates of celebrations recognizing it are all over the next few days. St John’s day is typically on the 24th, and may actually recognize the date when more obvious progression of the sun re-commences.

To the casually interested observer the solstice lasts for a week, and what days and nights that week can enjoy!

Midsummer’s nights! The day’s girth compresses the nights into their pure essence. The added humidity of summer defines twinkle in the winking gaze of stars. Bonfires throw a rich new orange glow that reflects the day’s revelry off glistening skin. I am tempted deeper into the night till the warning reds of dawn send me home.

Why not escape into the night? What else is there to find? How many hours can you turn your pillow searching for its last cool spot?

The solstice is the night of magic herbs. Herbs gathered on this night are supposed to be especially potent.

Fennel (an invasive weed in much of the US) is traditionally gathered and hung around the house to repel evil spirits. Fennel is supposed to be able to repel fleas which can be especially evil this time of year if one’s roommate has infested pets. The long days concentrate the fennel’s para-methoxyphenylpropene, when bruised the leaves exude its pleasant licorice-like scent. Though the notes of anise can become a bit much for prolonged use there are a few days after midsummer’s eve when the scent effectively repels (or at least covers) the less pleasant spirits of summer.

St John’s wort shares it’s name with a popular midsummer’s celebration. Tradition has this herb hung, burned and ingested for the celebration of Litha. This plant may be effective at repelling the most elusive of evil spirits; those caged in the human mind. Clinical tests have shown that extracts of this plant are more effective than placebo (and as effective as many pharmaceutical substances) at treating major depression.

My favorite midsummer’s herb is the common clover. There is a synergistic relationship between bacteria of the genus Rhizobium and clover which fixes gaseous nitrogen from the air. It is traditionally woven into a loosely braided crown meant to be placed lovingly on a woman’s head. Alban Hefin is one of those delicious times when a woman can be fully clothed wearing only a crown of clover, a smile, and the night air.

Wish you were here.


Toothy Man said...

Thanks for your post. Nice info!
Big proponent of herbal medicine here - and especially St. Johns wort. After years of buying the herb already prepared at health food stores, I have been collecting and preparing my own (in the wild) in the summer. The wild stuff is whole different ball of wax - after taking it in a tincture form I can really feel a difference, where as the store bought was…”is this all in my head.” The book that helped me the most with figuring out what to do with the wild plant is Charles Kane's Herbal Medicine: Trends and Traditions. It really helped me to understand just how to use and prepare (the tincturing worksheets are a big help) these plant medicines. Anyway, I found his approach refreshing (non-new age) - kind of science meets common sense.

adult onset atheist said...

Though I might reasonably be counted as a proponent of herbal medicine there are two issues that cling to the moniker “herbal medicine” that I’m not comfortable with. The first, and I think I find agreement with you on this, is that I don’t think there are magical ways that herbal remedies work. A working herbal remedy can be shown to work or not work in the same way as any other pharmaceutical. The second point is that, especially for psychopharmaceuticals like St. John’s Wort (and of course others..many of which are so strong they are illegal), the use of herbal remedies implies self diagnosis and individual dispensaries. You hit on an aditional point, that there is little control over potency.