A journey through the hands of a maker of magical items, discovering not only the secrets of Sacred art, but also the history and preservation of disappearing forms of Artisan work.
Burdock Flower Heads
All the herbs we use for our own work and/or sell at our shop are either homegrown or wildharvested. We only have a container garden in our roof terrace, since houses here have no space for backyards or real gardens unless you are very wealthy – so, when we need plants in bigger quantities, or plants that do not grow well in containers, we go to Mother Nature for help.
Wildharvesting is a harder job than people imagine. First, we need to locate the herbs/plants/trees in areas that are not too close to roads, and cars emit heavy metals that plants absorb, and obviously you don't want heavy metals in your herbal tea. Then, we must locate a place that has several plants of the same type, so we can get a good amount without decimating them or altering the natural equilibrium of the area. That, of course, requires that you know where and how to prune without killing the plant.
Wild Grapevine Leaves
The preparation for wildharvesting is not an on-the-go thing either. Besides bags and cutting/digging tools, we must always include several offerings for the Spirits of the Land, and since we wildharvest in several areas on each trip, offerings are separated in portions for each area. The offerings must be 100% biodegradable, and not be poisonous for any local fauna. Fruits, bird seeds, grains, bread, milk and honey are bagged/bottled and added to the wildharvesting bag, and our 20-year-old car is revised before every trip.
And that is not the hardest part – that comes when we come back with the harvest, dirty, tired, and hungry. Then, the processing begins. Each plant/seed/root/bark is revised, any damaged/dirty leaves is painstakingly removed (that avoid fungus from spreading, for example), and the herbs are tied in bundles that are not too thick, to keep the plants from moulding while drying. Seeds are removed from their covers and set on trays to dry, roots are washed and also set to dry, and so on. Sometimes this process can take several days.
Saint John's Pears
We're not finished there. On the following days, bundles are revised daily, to aerate them properly as they dry. Trays are turned over for even drying. Once the herbs have dried (can take a few days or several weeks, depending on the amount of water each plant keeps inside), herbs are chopped and placed in tagged clean jars. At that time, we may have another harvest (or two) already drying, so it is a neverending cycle.
Not that I am complaining for all the hard work. I wouldn't be doing anything else, and the moment when we discover a new wildharvesting area is priceless. All the pics in this post were taken yesterday evening, as we were processing the herbs from our latest trip, and right now the office smells like a forest, ready to welcome the Solstice among branches of wild grapevine, poppy seeds, fig tree leaf bundles, burdock flower heads (this type of burdock is called “Cardo Mariano” in Spanish, and is one of the Virgin Mary's sacred plants), Saint John's pears and bundles of wheat (not pictured, as we will be working on those today).
Poppy Seeds And Pods
During today's Solstice celebrations, we will create charms and ornaments using the wheat's ears, a perfect activity for today I think, and completely unplanned as the wheat was found by chance in a new area we started investigating. I believe this find was a love message from our Guanche Ancestors, as bundles of wheat have been used by Canarians for centuries in Romerías* to decorate cartwheels, farm animals and of course streets and houses.
On Sunday, we will be celebrating Saint John's eve, probably the most magical day in Spain besides All Saint's Day in November; in the whole country, it is believed that any plants harvested and any charms/spells performed around this day are specially lucky, so we always spend the Solstice preparing special items and foods for our Ancestors' magical night.
Despite all the hard work (or maybe because of the hard work), wildharvesting is entwined with almost every aspect of our life. The herbs will heal the body and the Spirit, ours and our customers'; the fruits will feed us and the Spirits that work with us; the seeds will be planted and shared, and many of them returned to Nature in guerrilla seed bombs, in a cycle that goes from Nature to us and back.
Have A Blessed Solstice!
*A Romería is a religious pilgrimage that ends in a sanctuary or sacred place. Usually they are celebrated on the day of a Saint/Virgin's feast, as each town celebrates its patron. A romería is a pilgrimage, but also an important celebration for a town's community that usually lasts one whole day. Traditional food, clothing and dances are always included, although in the latest decades they have become something much more secular.
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