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THE MAY IN APRIL 

April is truly a magical month! 

For us of the northern hemisphere, no other month brings such change and such promise. For us here in southern Ontario, April ushers in a softer world, where green shoots and mild breezes replace the frozen white stiffness that is the Canadian winter. 

April is the sixth month of the Celtic calendar. For more on these ancient and mystical peoples, please read our article "A Celtic Herbal: Druids, Drupes, and Divination" in this April E-Zine. This sixth month (their year started in November and included the very short thirteenth month, the last three days of October) was associated with the hawthorn tree, also called whitethorn and ironically, may. Read more about the hawthorn in our article "May Day." 

As I look out my window today, in early April, my hawthorns are bare - with only the slightest swelling of buds showing. Yes, I have hawthorn shrubs growing everywhere - in my perennial beds, lining my driveway, by the forest edge, around the pond. They could be called volunteers (I didn’t plant any of them) - or survivors (I didn’t uproot any of these, obviously) - or exploiters (hawthorns are well adapted to exploit any area of open soil) - but I call them friends. Now that I know how to use the leaves for tea, I look at them in a new light. I have yet to learn how to use the blossoms and fruits (or haws), but perhaps this year . . . 

Others may not look so kindly on the hawthorn, even calling them some unprintable names! Farmers curse the thorny bushes which are so quick to crowd into field and pasture. Worse - their thorns pierce the flesh of woman and beast. But you just have to admire the toughness of the hawthorn, with over one thousand species worldwide and over one hundred in North America.  

Don’t ask me which species grow in my garden, but even I, in my botanically deprived mode, know that not all my hawthorns look alike. I suspect that they include the dotted, cockspur and downy hawthorns - all distinctive and yet somehow, all recognizable as hawthorns. 

Enjoy this month to the full - go outside - smell the damp earth - and listen to the birds. You will then know the promise that April brings. The first green veil that covers the earth and the trees soon gives way to the pastels of the spring blossoms. But look at the carpet beneath your feet; you may be surprised to find that it is mainly blue. See "Spring Blues" for more on this. 

And if Browning’s words "Oh, to be in England, now that April’s there!" make you long for the Old Country, you will want to see our Events' listing for a tantalizing description of another "Spring Blue" - the bluebells at Kew. 


Mention Celtic and for many of us images wild and romantic emerge - spiritual, artistic, and ancient. What deep longings, what tugs from long-buried folk memories fuel the modern resurgence of Celtic traditions that we see now?  

Although everyday life for the Celts must have been hard, sometimes brutal, they have left us an enduring legacy of myth, lore, reverence for nature, and knowledge. Modern seekers are finding in things Celtic an element that "connects" with them. What part do herbs play in this and what parallels do we see in the "Herbal Renaissance" and the Celtic resurgence? 
 

Branches and leaves intertwine symmetrically ...
All things Celtic are "in" - music, dance, art, jewellery, folklore, religion and herbs. In music, Ashley McIsaac, Riverdance, and Natalie McMaster are the modern minstrels of these wild and untamed sounds. Celtic energy and spirit conjure images of the far-flung glens and misty mountains of the fairy kingdoms, blood-feuds, dark longings, and a jaunty, sometimes irreverent, love of life. Celtic art is full of twisting but perfectly balanced knots, mythical beasts, and fierce weapons. Branches and leaves intertwine symmetrically in Celtic symbols which echo Greek, Egyptian, and even Mayan art forms. 

Modern pronunciation of Celtic may be either Seltic or Keltic. But chances are that the native speakers used the latter since the word is derived from the Greek Keltoi and the Latin Celtae, both pronounced with the hard K sound. The language of the Celts is Gaelic, a mystical family of languages whose soft sounds and lyrical tones fit well with the romance of the Celtic tradition. 
 

A recurring theme of the Celtic world  
was humanity’s affinity with nature.
The Celts were those ancient tribal peoples who, moving west through central and northern Europe, populated the British Isles, especially Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, in pre-Roman times, i.e., more than two centuries ago. Although Celtic culture faded under the onslaught of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invaders, its traditions and customs were kept alive in the folk-memories of the people.  

The old Celtic religion of nature-worship was overseen by officiants who unified the roles of priests, magicians, and soothsayers - the Druids. Nature worship, a combination of plant lore and beliefs aimed at strengthening the human/nature bond, was their religion. Wise elders had been given the task of memorizing in verse all the knowledge and history of the Celts. This was passed on by word of mouth and by ballads sung to Druidic harp accompaniment. Later, the Christian monks penned the ancient songs and poems, giving them a written form. 

A recurring theme of the Celtic world was humanity’s affinity with nature. For us of the modern world, Celtic poetry still "delights with its tender love of the natural world."1 Birds, fish, animals, woods, seas, earth, fruit and blossoms all fill Celtic myths and poems (sometimes in the same verse!). Lush images from this nature-loving people are found in such phrases as: 
 

Blackbirds to a swan . . . waves of perfect vermilion flowers . . . your puny craft navigates over a blossoming halcyon wood . . . a wall of woodland overlooks me . . . frost crystals and level ice . . . from primrose of the mountain.2
The Celts, like all ancient peoples, relied on plants in daily life for food, for medicine, and for tools; they especially relied on trees for shelter and fuel. But beyond mere reliance, the Celts revered the trees which then covered the British Isles in vast thick forests and personified them with qualities both good and evil. Among the indispensable trees and shrubs used in herbal ways by the Celts were oak, willow, yew, blackthorn, ash, apple, elder, holly, hawthorn, briar, birch, rowan and hazel.  

The herbs often used by them included nettle, mugwort, mistletoe, plantain, betony, heather, thyme, and fennel. We will look at some of these in future articles but now we will consider the ways Celts used the trees,blackthorn, elder, and oak, and how they characterized them. 
 

The blackthorn Prunus spinosa, from the large rose or Rosaceae family, is a thorny shrub which bears white-petalled flowers which open in early spring followed by small blue-black fruits. The blackthorn drupes (fleshy fruits enclosing stones), also known as sloes, have a sharp sour taste, ripening or sweetening only after the first frosts. The sloe gin that we know is the liqueur made by steeping sloes in gin. The Celts added the blackthorn berries to wine, enhancing the flavour. 

According to Liz and Colin Murray in their fascinating book, The Celtic Tree Oracle: A System of Divination, blackthorn is called straif in Gaelic, a word which has links to the English strife.  
They further describe this Celtic herbal shrub which is associated with the colour purple: 

    Black-barked and with vicious thorns, the Blackthorn forms dense thickets when given the opportunity to spread .. . The wood of the Blackthorn is that traditionally used for the Irish cudgel, or shillelagh; the thorns, those used in witchcraft to pierce wax images . . . Blackthorn is the card that represents the strong action of fate or outside influences on your life journey . . .that a winter of discontent can lead to a fruitful change and a new flowering. 3
A Celtic poem from 800 AD confirms the paradox found in the blackthorn imagery: The wicked blackthorn . . .   Each prickle is a pang,  Appetite has been well sustained by  Those berries, juicy, darksome, stainful.4  

Elder, shrubs and small trees of the genus Sambucus, in the Caprifoliaceae family, was also used by the Celts. Ruis, as it is called in Gaelic, produces five-rayed clusters of creamy white flowers followed by tiny blue-black or red berries. Black elder Sambucus nigra, is also known as European elder, ellanwood or ellhorn, names derived from the Old English word ellaern.   

The fruits, which probably account for this shrub’s association with the colour red, were made into wines and jellies. The root, bark, young shoots, leaves, flowers and fruit may all be used, but with caution, since too high a dose may be purgative especially if the berries are eaten raw. The Celts used the bark medicinally and the flowers as a dye as this verse shows:  Elder, that women strain, boil twice,  The bark will dry the pus in boil  Out of the flowers will come a greenness.  Dyers make the dark and the pale be seen.5 In The Celtic Tree Oracle we read that: 
 

    The Elder, with its distinctive, easily hollowed, pithy stems, is a tree of regeneration. It regrows damaged branches readily and it will root and grow rapidly from any part. . . . This Ogham card is linked to the eternal turnings of life and death, birth and rebirth. 6

 The Celts particularly revered the oak, perhaps because upon its branches grew the sacred mistletoe. The Celtic people would have used what is now known as the English oak, Quercus robur L. which is from the large Beech family. This familiar tree is distinguished by its lobed leaves and by its distinctive fruit, the acorn. Down through the ages it has become known as well for its very durable wood, so much so that the phrase English oak has become a metaphor for strength and fortitude. The Gaelic word for oak, duir, is related to the Old English dura and the Sanskrit dvar, both meaning door. The relationship between door and oak is that both are solid and offer protection. The Celts associated the oak with the colours black and dark brown. 

Liz and Colin Murray say of the oak Ogham (secret Druidic alphabet) card which represents primeval strength: 

"Choosing this card means that you will be secure and strong in your pursuits. The doorway to inner spirituality will be opened to you and you will be protected on your journey."7
The bark of the English oak is now used in much the same way as white oak bark, i.e., as an astringent or tonic. Here is a verse of Celtic poetry which shows the characterization of the oak as protector and healer:  Oak, mighty one, my shelterer,  I lie beneath you, acorn in shell.  Crush of your bark will cure a mastoid,  Swine root among the years of mast.8

The acorn, the fruit of the oak, is a thin shelled, smooth nut set in a cuplike base of overlapping scales. Its appearance and the handy detachability of nut from base are appealing - especially so to children for whom they make imaginative playthings. Illustrators of whimsical tales also have taken a liking to this natural versatility and often portray the cuplike base as a hat on the head of an elf! 

For the Celts, though, it is not clear whether the acorn was a source of everyday nourishment or merely a famine food. Acorns may have been boiled (a necessary step to remove the bitter tannins) and then ground and eaten or cooked into a pottage, a soup or stew. It is more likely that acorns were used as animal fodder as is described in the verse above. 

Paul Huson in Mastering Herbalism, A Practical Guide, conjures up a haunting picture of the charm of the Druid wood: 

    Imagine yourself standing in some dark forest in Europe ten centuries ago. All around you the wide trunks of trees stretch up into the golden-green ceiling of leaves overhead; beneath your feet lies a thick carpet of dead leaves - hundreds of centuries of leaves. There grows the smooth pale trunk of a holly bush . . . its dark, prickly leaves contrasting with the delicate pale-green keys of the ash which grows beyond it. And there, on the other side of you grows a vast, spreading oak . . . gnarled by many centuries . . . This was once a Druid wood, but though the Druids and the Romans have now been gone for many centuries, the trees remain, the oak, the ash and the thorn, the guardians of Britain, tall, silent, impressive, ancient, and very powerful.9 
     
Today, such evocative portrayals serve to inspire the modern Celts who are spearheading the Celtic resurgence. This revival is gaining popularity even with those whose Celtic roots are dim, tasting more of curry and maple syrup rather than leeks and heather! 

Next issue we will continue our look at the herbs of the Celtic world.  
_______________________________________________________ 
1. Katherine Washburn, John S. Major, and Clifton Fadiman, eds., World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse          from Antiquity to our Time (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1998), 207. 
2. Washburn, Major and Fadiman, "Part III: The Postcalssical World, Poetry in Celtic Languages." 
3. Liz and Colin Murray, The Celtic Tree Oracle: A System of Divination (New York: St. Martin's Press,        1988),  50. 
4. Washburn, Major and Fadiman, "Trees of the Forest" trans. Austin Clarke, 322. 
5. Washburn, Major and Fadiman, "Trees of the Forest" trans. Austin Clarke, 322. 
6. Murray, 52-53. 
7. Murray, 37. 
8. Washburn, Major and Fadiman, "Trees of the Forest trans. Austin Clarke, 322. 
9. Paul Huson, Mastering Herbalism:A Practical Guide (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 2001), 260.


ROSE: OUR HERB OF YEAR 2002! 
Preserving Blooms and Buds 
By Janette Oliver-Rodgers
   What's in a name? That which we call a rose 
Would by any other name smell as sweet.  
                     - Shakespeare,   Romeo and Juliet

For centuries, people have sought many different ways to preserve the rose both for beauty and fragrance. Roses have always been used to adorn rooms and for decorative touches in weddings and festivals in many cultures. 

During the seventeenth century, it was common practise in Europe to preserve rose buds and petals between layers of coarse salt in crock pots or bowls. The salt would absorb the moisture and provide support to delicate blooms as they dried, retaining their shape. 

Moist pot pourri was made much the same way. Fragrant petals were also placed in layers in pots and crocks and salt was used in a lesser quantity.  Eventually, the crafter was rewarded with a moist mash of petals that was highly fragrant. Moist pot pourri was placed in little bowls with decorative filigree lids that would allow the fragrance to waft out but would conceal the dough-like contents. 

Today many crafters use their own blend of white sand and borax in a shoe box to dry their flowers.  Roses are carefully picked in the morning when the dew has dried and then stems are removed.  The shoe box is half full with the drying mixture and the blooms are carefully set in - face up. Then another layer of the sand-borax mixture is carefully poured on top until the roses are hidden completely.  This drying process can take up to several weeks for large blooms and care must be taken not to damage the delicate and brittle blooms when removing from the shoe box. Crafters will painstakingly use a fine sable brush to sweep away the grains of sand. 
 

And I will make thee beds of Roses 
and a thousand fragrant posies. 
           -Christopher Marlowe
Any petals that fall away from their host can easily be used in pot pourri making. With a little fragrance added and a fine fixtative such as oakmoss or orris root chunks, the petals can be revived and used for years to scent a room or closet. 

Red roses are most popular for pot pourri making as they tend to retain their colour longest. White and pale pinks and yellows are quick to to lose any colour and may turn brown more readily during the drying stage. 

An oil, either from a fragrance or essential oil would be used to enhance the true scent or possibly add a fragrance where none existed before drying. We find that many rose varieties today give us rich deep colours but the fragrance has all but been lost. Rose fragrance is more widely obtained from a fragrance oil rather than the real essential oil which could cost upwards of hundreds of dollars for the tiniest vial. The scent varies from company to company and some even mature much the way a true essential oil would in pot pourri. 

There is a saying that "an old pot pourri doesn't smell like a new pot pourri." Much care is is needed to ensure a good quality pot pourri that can be refreshened and enjoyed for years. 

The idea of willing someone your own pot pourri blend of roses collected over the years from special family events is not a new one.  This tradition provides new generations with the opportunity to add their own rose petal memories to those of their grandmothers and greatgrandmothers. 

Celebrate the rose!

 
 


 
SPRING BLUES
By Jen L. Jones

Green - verdant, lush, and full of life - is of course the colour of spring.  But there is another colour of spring which runs a close second - blue.  

Look around the early spring garden or woods and blue can be found everywhere.  No other colour is as abundant among spring’s herbaceous plants (except the acknowledged spring winner: green!). 

Blue-flowering spring plants, including herbs, are common - periwinkle, bugleweed, bluebell, iris, forget-me-nots, lilacs, violets, spiderwort, heal-all.  Nature saves most of the bold  reds, yellows, oranges and purples for high summer and fall.  

In the colour spectrum, blue falls between green and violet. Is this nature’s way of making the transition from winter evergreen - to spring green - to spring blue - to summer’s riot of colours? 

The mechanisms of flower colour lie deep within the genetic make-up of the plant; but beyond that the forces of natural selection must have exerted their influence in order to make blue such a prominent spring colour. The blue colour must provide some adaptive benefit to the plants with blue flowers.  

Does the blue attract insects more than other colours? Does the blue attract a specific insect which is more numerous in the spring, or only alive then? Is this insect vital to the pollination of the blue-flowering plant? What of other animals - foragers or birds for example?  What effect, if any, does the blue colour have on them? Perhaps the 
blue repels certain foragers. Is the blue colour a result of soil minerals? Is there some quality of sunlight in spring that affects the soil, and so perhaps influences flower colour?  Or does the light affect the flower colour directly? Maybe it is human eyesight that changes in the spring so that we discern blue and green more. 

Perhaps, the answer involves all these and factors not yet thought of: remember Shakespeare’s line, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!” Or, maybe Mother Nature and the Green Goddess just prefer blue in spring! 

To solve the blue puzzle, one would need to be all of botanist, geneticist, mineralogist, entomologist, meteorologist, naturalist . . .  soothsayer and seer.  

If colours have personalities, blue has a certain poignant, romantic quality. Never known for being cheery, blue is generally sedate and aristocratic. Blue and green, singly or together, have a “cooling” effect. Isabella Valancy Crawford, a 19th century Canadian poet who should be better known, captured this coolness in these lines from 
“Said the West Wind”: 

The broad, bold Sun . . . blots a drop
Of pollen-gilded dew from violet cup
Set bluely in the mosses of the wood.
Whether “bluely” or not, there is no doubt that spring flowers stud spring’s exuberant welcome mat of new growth.  
 
 
 
SPRING GREENS 
Weeds in Your Garden? -- Bite Back!
                                                  By Susun S. Weed 
 

I always say the gardener's best revenge is to eat the weeds. I've been doing it for thirty years and can testify that my health and the health of my garden has never been better. Here are a few hints for gardeners who'd rather eat their weeds than hate them (and for non-gardeners who are adventurous enough to try out nature's 
bounty). 

View your weeds as cultivated plants; give them the same care and you'll reap a tremendous harvest. Harvest frequently and do it when the weeds are young and tender. Thin your weeds and pinch back the annuals so your weeds become lushly leafy. Use weeds as rotation crops; they bring up subsoil minerals and protect against many insects. "Interplant" (by not weeding out) selected weeds; try purslane, lamb's quarters, or amaranth with your corn, chickweed with peas/beans, and yellow dock, sheep sorrel, or dandelion with tomatoes). And, most importantly, harvest your weeds frequently, regularly, and generously.  

Overgrown radishes, lettuces, and beans are tough and bitter. So are weeds that aren't harvested frequently enough. Give your chickweed a haircut (yes! with scissors) every 4-7 days and it will stay tender all spring, ready to be added to any salad. If you forget a patch for two weeks, it may get stringy and tough and full of seed capsules. (All is not lost at this stage. The seeds are easy to collect – put the entire plant in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and use the seeds that fall to the bottom of the bag – and highly nutritious, with 
exceptional amounts of protein and minerals. 

Unthinned carrots and lettuces grow thin and spindly, so do unthinned lamb's quarters, amaranth, and other edible weeds. Wherever you decide to let the weeds grow, keep them thinned as you would any plant you expect to eat. Here's how I do it: In early spring I lightly top-dress a raised bed with my cool-method compost (which is loaded with the seeds of edible weeds). Over this I strew a heavy coating of the seeds of lettuces and cresses and brassicas (cultivated salad greens), then another light covering of shifted compost.  

Naturally, weed seeds germinate right along with my salad greens. When the plant are about two inches high, I go through the bed and thin the salad greens, pull out all grasses, smartweeds, cronewort, clear weed, and quick weed (though the last three are edible, I don't find them particularly palatable). And, I thin back the chickweed, mallows, lamb's quarters, amaranth, and garlic mustard and other edible wild greens. 

Keep those annuals pinched back. You wouldn't let your basil go straight up and go to flower, don't let your lamb's quarter either. One cultivated lamb's quarter plant in my garden grew five feet high and four feet across, providing greens for salads and cooking all summer and a generous harvest of seeds for winter use. 

When a crop of greens has bolted or gone to seed in your garden, you pull it all out and replant with another crop. Do the same with your weeds. We eat the greens of garlic mustard all spring, then pull it out just before it bolts (making a horseradishy vinegar from the choicest roots) -- often revealing a generous crop of chickweed lurking underneath. 

Some of my favorite garden weeds: 

Annuals  

Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) Young leaves, old leaves, even non-woody stalks are delicious as a cooked green; chop and boil for 30-40 minutes. Serve in their own broth; freeze leftovers for winter use. Use instead of spinach in quiche (you may never to grow spinach again). Collect seeds throughout the autumn by shaking seed heads over a lipped cookie sheet; or by harvest and dry the entire seed head. Winnowing out the chaff is tedious but soothing. There is a special thrill that comes when you toss the chaffy seed in the air, and the breeze catches it just-so, and the seeds fall back into your tray, while the prickly chaff scatters "to the four winds." 

Chickweed (Stellaria media) Young leaves and stalks, even flowers, in salads. Blend with virgin olive oil and organic garlic for an unforgettable pesto. Add seeds to porridge. 

Lamb's quarter (Chenopodium alba and related species, e.g. Chenopodium quinoa). Young leaves in salads. Older leaves and tender stalks cooked. Leaves dried and ground into flour (replaces up to half the flour in any recipe). Seeds dried and cooked in soups, porridge. 

Mallows (Malva neglecta and related species) Leaves of any age and flowers (the closely related Hibiscus flowers too!) are delicious in salads. Roots are used medicinally. 

Purslane (Portulacca oleracea) The fleshy leaves and stalks of this plant are incredibly delicious in salads and not bad at all preserved in vinegar for winter use. 

 Biennials 

Burdock (Arctium lappa) Roots of non-flowering plants harvested after frost make a vinegar that is deep, and richly flavorful as well as a world-renowned tonic. Petioles of the leaves and the flowering stalk are also edible; for recipes see my book Healing Wise.  

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis) Year-round salad green. Leaves used in any season, even winter. Roots are harvested before plant flowers. Seeds are a spicy condiment. 

Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) Leaves finely chopped in salads. Flowers are beautiful edible decorations. Roots of non-flowering plants, harvested in the fall, and cooked. 

Perennials 

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) Leaves eaten at any time, raw or cooked. Roots harvested any time; pickle in apple cider vinegar for winter use. Dandelion flower wine is justly famous. 

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) Leaves add a sour spark to salads. Cooked with wild leeks or cultivated onion and potato they become a soup called "schav."  

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) Young leaves cooked for 40-45 minutes and served in their broth are one of my favorite dishes. Seeds can be used in baked goods, porridge. 

Yellow dock (Rumex crispus) Roots pickled in apple cider vinegar are tasty and a boon for enriching the blood. Leaves, especially young ones, are eaten raw or cooked. 

 



 From Pagans to Protests  

May 1st is called May Day and is celebrated by many cultures around the world.  

This simple sounding grade school statement is really a grad school level trap, lined with needle sharp hawthorns, ready to snap shut on any unsuspecting herbal inquirer foolish enough to open this Pandora’s box!  

A simple spring celebration?  Try pagan-Celtic-spring fertility rite-medieval- Elizabethan-Victorian-modern-people’s day-socialist-bank holiday-Morris dancing-labour unionist-Jack in the Green-nature worshipping fire festival/debauch/ribbon and lace bedecked afternoon tea!  

Now you know why this ancient pagan festival was never taken over by the Christian Church!  

Thankfully, herbs continue to be linked with May Day, especially hawthorn, mugwort and violets. These old reliables lend stability and continuity to the crazily careening path of May Day celebrations throughout the ages.  

Hawthorn, also called may, is the Goddess tree and was associated with the month of April by the ancient Celts. They used the white hawthorn flowers to form garlands on houses and maypoles for May Day, or Beltane, the spring fire festival. There was a strong taboo against breaking hawthorn branches or bringing them inside except on May Day when sprigs of this protective tree were cut for the Goddess.  To this day some Irish will not cut a lone hawthorn, regarded as a fairy tree.  

Rowan and marsh marigold also were woven into garlands along with the flowering branches of the hawthorn. Mugwort was considered a magical herb in medieval times and its pliable, leafy stems were woven into garlands worn as crowns. Violets came into prominent usage in Victorian times when they were used for the posies held by the young girls who danced around the Maypole. Sycamore has a long magical association with May Day.  Its leaves are often those shown covering the heads of the God of Nature or Jack in the Green, whose foliated personages are often found in pub signs and in old churches.  Sycamore wood is often carved into Welsh “love spoons” given by a young man to his beloved as a symbol of betrothal, often around May Day.  

The Maypole was the focal point for many of the old customs and in Britain often was located near the village church until eventually most were destroyed by the church. The fact that the Maypole and the church were often close together might have been unintentional. Instead this coincidental placement could reflect the fact that both were situated on an ancient sacred site.  

May Day in its origins was a day for the common people.  All the people of the village would have been involved in the bringing of a living tree into the village to decorate it with flowers. All the people would have danced in the fields throughout the night of Beltane. All the people would have danced around the Maypole in celebration of the marriage of the White Goddess (Marian) to the Green Man or Robin Hood. This spring rite was not restricted to the Druid or priest class or to the aristocracy.  

Dismayed by the wanton nature of some of the early May Days, the Puritans fought against this celebration, winning its ban by the English Parliament in 1644. Although May Day re-emerged later in the 17th century, the time lapse had contributed to a loss of its earlier connotations.  The new May Day had changed into an innocent welcome to spring and it was in this manner that the Victorians marked it, with violet posies and white-clad young girls dancing around a beribboned Maypole.  

May Day though, through its former association with the medieval trade guilds, retained its identity as the people’s day. In Paris in 1889 the International Working Men's Association chose May 1 as an international working class holiday in commemoration of the workmen martyrs who had died for the labour cause. The red flag became the symbol of the blood of working class martyrs - in stark contrast to the Victorian white dresses.  And so May Day, once banned for being a holiday of the common people, had been reclaimed for the common people.  

Currently, May Day is celebrated by organized labour, military powers, and anarchists throughout the world - in a modern era far removed from the fires of Beltane.  

Currently too, as though in a parallel universe, May Day is celebrated by herbalists, environmentalists, nature lovers and everyday folk, everywhere. It truly does mark the return of the season of new growth.  
  
 

 


Through the Grapevine 
Snippets of Herbal Insight 
 with Janette Oliver-Rodgers
 
 

To enjoy fresh herbs throughout the coming season, you may want to consider growing herbs such as basil, parsley and cilantro, much the way you would lettuce in the garden. Sow a new row every two weeks and remember to pinch back for optimum fullness. You can continue to start seeds right into the first of July and any remaining plants can always be lifted and brought indoors at the end of the season. You will be amazed at the speed in which your herbs will grow once the soil is heated up and the days are at their longest.  

Of course a large patch of leafy vegetation is sure to attract some unwanted diners, so keep reading... One of the best slug deterrents is a mixture of crushed egg shells and  left-over coffee grounds. Spread the mixture around the base of your plants. 

 
One of my all-time favourite spring herbs has to be Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata. The licorice flavoured stems make a lovely treat that the kids enjoy chewing. The taste is very much like that of the "black balls" that I used to enjoy. Despite any relapse in cooler weather, the Cicely, once it has received its spring cue, will continue to sprout up from the ground in huge thick stalks with anise-scented leaves that will perfume the garden until the snow returns.  

Sweet Cicely grows well in some shade along the edge of a forested ridge in my garden. You know spring has arrived when you see the green of this robust perennial pushing its way through the blanket of leaves. 

Until next time, 
Janette 

 

 

 
 

This Month's Feature: 
Dandy Mandy Salad  

Toss together lightly the dandelion greens, lemon balm, mushrooms, and oranges in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate.  

Dressing: In a large jar combine the other ingredients except the almonds.  Place lid on jar and shake thoroughly. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Just before serving pour the dressing over the dandelion mixture and toss lightly. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. 

.More wonderful recipes coming soon!
Ingredients: 

6 cups of fresh dandelion leaves (unsprayed and picked before plant is in bud.) 

1 11oz can of mandarin-orange sections, drained 

1 cup of fresh mushrooms, sliced 

1/4 cup fresh lemon balm leaves, snipped 

3 Tbsp of sunflower oil 

1 Tbsp of lemon juice 

1/2 tsp of poppy seeds 

1/4 tsp of salt 

1/4 tsp of pepper 

3/4 cup of slivered almonds, toasted