As the light shifts from the brilliance of high Summer to the shadow-touched gold of Autumn, and the last flood of color bursts from the wildflowers, I find myself rearranging my herb shelves. Nutmeg, Ginger, and Cinnamon get pulled to the forefront, along with the rooty earthiness of Burdock, Elecampane, roasted Chicory, Astragalus, and Codonopsis. I sort through the clay and glass containers filled with dried mushrooms for medicine and food (often at the same time), stopping to sniff their wild musk in between other tasks. Dandelion-leek miso and jars of seaweed are pulled out for easy access, and the tea kettles and soup pots are all brought out and reintroduced to the woodstove.
In the kitchen, Loba’s been turning mountains of fresh Peaches into jam, sauce, and chutney, with jars of home cured green Olives and mounds of caramelized Onions adding to the already enticing flavor of the chutney. Amaranth seeds are being shook free of their colorful husks, while I harvest the last of the aromatic herbs from the garden. Chile relish adorns the pantry shelves, and jewel tinted Stinging Nettle leaves have been packed into bags to be stored in a friend’s freezer. Soon enough, bone broth spiced with crushed Ancho Chiles and infused with the healing properties of wild mushrooms and herbs will be bubbling all day and evening on the woodstove in our tiny cabin kitchen, nourishing the bellies and immune systems of family and friends.
The last of Summer’s wild greens, the Watercress and Wild Mustards and Amaranth are being relished at nearly every meal, chopped up and added to bowls of Elk stew or handfuls tossed onto salads. Preserved berries seem to find their into every meal, from Elderberry chutney with venison to spiced Raspberry jam to the Russian Cranberry kissel. The Epazote is starting to turn from lime green to red and we hurry to gather it up to dry with the other wild seasonings, so that we have plenty of spice blends for the Winter.
I especially enjoy the transition from the flower and leaf teas of the warm season to the spicier, rootier brews of the cold moons. From my Smoky Chai blend to Russian Caravan tea to my favorite Spiced Root Brew I am annually delighted by the reintroduction of steaming mugs of my favorite beverages into my daily routine. And of course, these warming herbs do more than taste good, they also promote greater immune function and prepare us for the viral onslaught that often accompanies seasonal changes.
As my friend and student, Ananda Wilson, puts it in her Plant Journeys blog:
“I think one of the best preventative medicines for the immune system is connecting to the rhythms of the seasons. I felt fall the morning of August 1. There is a deeper calendar in our bodies that lets us know what we need to do to keep ourselves strong and resilient. This is the learning we do as a tribe of re-connectors; plant medicine people, real food makers, and self-employed artists. We give ourselves the room to be gut-led, weather-led, cycle led.“
And indeed, the land we live with tells us, speaks directly to our bare feet on cold ground and lifted face to chilly breeze, when the season is shifting. An aware body and open senses allow us to tune into the nuances and moods of time and place. Once we pick up on the beginning of the shift, we can take action accordingly, pulling out those immune elixirs, root teas, mushroom soups, warmer clothes, and sleeping longer hours. Our family loves celebrating the turn of the year with extravagant festivals complete with a well adorned home and lots of seasonal treats. For many of us, it may not even require thought after years of practice, especially if we already have a routine in place for the turn of the wheel of the year. As fun as the celebration is, the most important part still lies in the actual noticing, the connection between our skin and the skin of the earth, where our toes touch the dirt and fading flowers.
One of my favorite easy preparations for the Winter Tea Season (yes, it is so official that I capitalize it) is to make root, bark, and spice infused honeys to use add warmth, flavor, and immune boosting properties to my daily (or, hm, hourly) beverages. Of course, these honeys aren’t restricted to beverages, they’re also great in all sorts of treats, both sweet and savory. We love adding Elderberry-Cinnamon infused honey to berry tarts, or using Sassafras and Ginger infused honey to sweeten an Apple pie. Some herbs to consider infusing in honey for this purpose:
- Spikenard (Aralia spp.) berry and/or root
- Oshá (please buy from an ethical source if you choose to work with this plant)
- White Fir needle
- Pine needle
- Spruce needle
- Elecampane (incredibly useful, but a bit debatable on the taste front) root
- Birch (aromatic spp.)
- yeah yeah, you get the idea, and so many more….
Simple, common sense medicine, but still so good!