Falling on June 21st this year (2022), the summer solstice marks the the beginning of summer, longest day and shortest night of the year, and the energetic climax of the waxing season. The solstice has long been considered a significant event in many cultures. For pagans, who live by the cycles of the sun and moon, the changing season is a magical time when the sun is at its most vibrant peak, giving warmth and growth to the earth. With gorgeous sunshine, and plants in full bloom, this is a time for letting go of winter blues and celebrating the abundance, light, and joy which surround us.
If the teaching of winter solstice is quieter internal reflection, the summer solstice is the opposite: midsummer is about stepping into your most beautiful, expansive self, and finding joy in nature’s bounty. This means not only passive indulgence, but also getting to work while the sun is shining, gathering supplies in preparation for the colder months as the season starts to wane.
Plants are unsurprisingly central to any festival which honours the natural world and changing seasons, but herbs are especially crucial to rituals marking the solstice. Traditionally, it was believed that herbs attained the peak of their medicinal value on this day, so healers and herbalists would gather them to dry and keep for the rest of the year.
Drying your own herbs is likely easier than you think. If you have the patience to wait for about three weeks, simply leaving the flowers in a well-ventilated area, exposed to warm, dry air, is enough.
Some tips to keep in mind:
The best time to harvest is early in the day, after the morning dew has dried but before the sun has had a chance to dry out the herbs’ essential oils. While some people and practices use specialised tools like a boline, your usual garden snippers will work fine
Some herbs, such as mint, can be quickly stripped of leaves with your fingers, whereas those with woody stems, such as rosemary, are easier to cut in their entirety. When collecting flowering plants like chamomile, make sure the blooms are fully open before harvesting. At this time of year, pruning leaves and stems will actually encourage further regrowth in your plants
Bunch cutting is a great method if you like the look of hanging herbs. Simply snip of the stems where they branch off from the main plant, and tie together about a dozen stems to make a nice chunky bundle to be hung in a dry, airy place
It is not generally a good idea to dry herbs in direct sunlight, because they can burn and become over-dry, compromising their useful properties
Let the herbs sit for several weeks. You’ll know they’re done drying when the leaves crack when you pinch them
Alternatively, if you’re in a hurry, you can spread the gathered herbs flat on an oven tray, and cook them on a low temperature for a few hours. This method carries the risk of overbaking, and the herbs will be useless if they burn. Some people use dehydrators, which work at lower temperatures
Store your dried herbs in coloured glass jars, or ceramic containers with airtight lids. You want to keep air and light out – so clear zip-loc bags don’t tend to work. Don’t forget to label each container with the herb’s name, and keep the jars in a cool, dark area
There are a variety of plants and herbs associated with the solstice, often used by Druids in their ceremonial Midsummer bonfires. The items in bold are currently on sale at The Walled Garden at Mells, and many others may be found in our beautiful gardens: