Autumn has surely arrived here in our Canyon, the Snakeweed blooming all golden-glinted and honey-scented across the mesa, while the Epazote slowly but surely turns from lime green to shades of crimson and scarlet as the nights grow cooler. While I would like to devote all my attention to the final harvest, from acorns to elderberries, there is much work to be done to ready for the oncoming Winter and the birth of Ælfyn. Wolf, Rhiannon, and I spent 12 hours this past weekend struggling to update our dying solar battery setup for the kitchen cabin. Hours that needed to be devoted to the Good Medicine Confluence, Plant Healer Magazine, medicine making, and baby preparations, but had to be diverted in order to keep our tiny household going.
Likewise, the coming weekend will be given to installing a small wood stove into our bedroom so that Ælfyn will be toasty warm when born into our coldest season come December. Being nearly 30 weeks pregnant doesn’t lend itself well to hauling cast iron stoves around, but it has been beyond difficult to obtain any local help when we live so far from the village in such a remote area. Nevertheless, I’m in full nesting mode, and I WILL have everything suitably arranged by the time of the birth!
In spite of all this busy-ness, I was able to spend part of last evening gathering the aromatic inflorescences of one of my favorite herbs, Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), from our weedy little garden. A common ornamental here in New Mexico, this native plant of the steppes of Central Asia is easily grown even with our short growing season, semi-arid woodland ecology, and dramatic temperature shifts. It also happens to be one of Wolf’s favorite flowers, so while we grow very few domestic cultivars, this is one given priority.
Additionally, it’s a very useful medicinal herb, sharing much in common with the true Salvias of the American Southwest, but being much hardier and easier to grow in a variety of environments than most of our low elevation aromatic Sages. The flowers are a sweet, resinous combination of Sage and Lavender, lending themselves to all manner of edible and medicinal combinations. While the leaves are both bitter and aromatic (and make a fantastic base for many warming bitter formulae), the flowers lack almost any bitterness and I love to grind them with salt or sugar as an abundant flavoring source. Russian Sage and various Firs (Abies and Pseudotsuga spp.) combine exceptionally well in many dishes, but Rosemary, Juniper berries, and Epazote are other well-suited elements to keep in mind.
However, this particular batch of flowers is intended for a seasonal muscle warming salve, and so will be infused into oil with Alder leaves, Snakeweed (aromatic Gutierrezia spp.) flowers, Goldenrod flowering tops, and Piñon resin. This sweet smelling salve is a wonderful treatment for the cold, achy joints and muscles that often plague folks through the Winter.
Given our short growing season, especially this year with a very late hard frost, it’s amazing that I’m able to harvest much of anything besides our tenacious wild plants, but it looks like there will be just enough time to gather up the Borage flowers that are beginning to bloom in the garden. The Comfrey hasn’t had enough time to flower this year, but the leaves will work just fine anyhow. The Lovage, though it struggled mightily through our dry Spring, is flourishing once again, and I might even be able to harvest a few seeds from it before the growing season is fully over.
There’s nothing like the bittersweet beauty of Autumn to remind me of my lifelong love of heartbreaking ballads. From my deep Appalachian roots to the once wild moors of Scotland, where so many of my ancestors hailed from, I can feel the dirt, darkness, and dissonance of my origins… and being the tree hollow loving creature that I am, I can only see that as a good thing. In the drone and shimmer of the banjo, I feel at home, and feel the pull of both my African and European forbearers. And so I share with you a favorite traditional ballad, Yarrow, as interpreted by Red Tail Ring, with Laurel Premo’s beautiful clawhammer style banjo playing.