Gifts of Summer: from Garden Delights to Edible Herbs and Flowers

"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building."
-1 Cor 3:6-9


Garden Delights

For me, healing starts in the garden, surrounded by colorful flowers and plants, with my hands in the dark, lush soil; planting, watering, weeding, and watching everything grow. All the elements are here and are part of the garden cycle: earth, air, fire, water, metal. The heat of the sun and the cool of the moon give their essence to the growing plants. Unseen insects and plant microrhizzae break down minerals and nutrients in the soil, chelating them and passing them through the plant roots. Right now, the days are long with sun and heat and our garden is coming alive with juicy melons, delicious summer squashes, broccoli, zesty red radishes and more. And so much more is on the way: among them, corn, snap beans, tomatoes and peppers.

Planting seeds in the spring was just the beginning of our work. From there, the seedlings needed careful tending, and the garden required regular weeding and water. Planting the lettuce, radishes, salad greens and other veggies in rotation every few weeks keeps a steady flow of fresh food on our table. Gardening makes me aware of the rhythm of Nature, the cycle of the seasons. If we miss a week of planting lettuce we will notice that gap later on. If we miss the window for planting carrots or broccoli, we won't have any for the year. To everything there is a time and season and we need to keep the beat.

Summer harvesting requires daily vigilance. In one day a zucchini just ripe to eat becomes a huge, woody monster ripe for the compost pile! After all our hard work, the rest is up to God and the weather. Because of an early summer frost, the tomatoes are ripening late and the basil that replaced those killed in the frost is not growing well; it was planted too late. In previous years, we've lost all our tomatoes or melons to early fall freak frosts. Such is life.

Colorful Edible Flowers

Flower gardens nourish our spirit with color and can include edible and medicinal flowers. Blue bachelor buttons, lavender pincushion flowers, seashell pink colored cosmos, and lavender poppies delight us with color and are in bloom already. Next will come the huge sunflowers, pink echinacea, Siberian motherwort and perhaps a few other surprises. Carefully check botanical identification and edibility before eating any flowers. Not all flowers are edible, but I'll mention a few sure to add some whimsy to any summer meal.

Safflowers will be fun to put on salads and dry some to use later. Edible yellow chrysanthemum flowers (Shinguku chrysanthemums) are an excellent summer herb, used as a cooling, refreshing tea that clears summer heat and soothes overworked and overheated livers. If you like, mix it with some Japanese honeysuckle flowers, some nettle leaves, oatstraw and schizandra berries. Johnny-jump-ups, nasturtium flowers, dianthus (either D. caryophyllus, clove pinks, or D. plumaris, cottage pinks) and purple garlic chive flowers make colorful, spicy additions to salads in small amounts. To keep your basil from going to seed early, pinch the flower heads and surrounding young leaves off and use them in salads and stir frys. A blend of salad greens that includes arugula, raddichio, endive and cilantro also adds a lot of flavor and nutrition to a salad. Plant this mix every two to three weeks to keep a constant supply throughout the summer.

Our friends who raise goats stuff scarlet, orange and yellow nasturtium flowers with their soft, mild goat cheese to make a delicious appetizer that doesn't last long at gatherings. Calendula flowers are blended into an oil that is excellent to use on minor kitchen burns to stop the burning, prevent blistering and speed healing. It works better and faster than aloe for this type of burn. Calendula flower petals are also a beautiful addition to salads.

Wild Edible Herbs

Outside our garden, blue chicory, yellow St. Johns Wort and the golden Salsify are all blooming. Oregon grape root berries are turning dark purple-blue and we could harvest them to make some very tart jam. Oregon grape root is a very thin root, growing close to the surface. It contains good amounts of berberine and is clearing and cooling for the liver, much stronger and more medicinal than chrysanthemum flowers. Chicory root makes a delicious coffee-like beverage that is a good liver tonic. Small, pink rose hips, a good source of Vitamin C, are forming on the wild roses; tiny little morsels of goodness. On a recent river trip, we were delighted with luscious, ripe wild blackberries. Passing through an old homestead, we came across an old bay laurel tree and now have these spicy scented leaves drying on our kitchen table. They will be used for soups and stews and mixed with juniper berries and other herbs to prepare a brine for my husband's homemade smoked salmon.

All around we are reminded of the gift of life. How rich and how precious it is. We give thanks at every meal for the miracle of tiny seeds growing into the daily bounty on our plates that sustains us in so many ways.

Written by Suzanne E. Sky, L.Ac., MTOM


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