It is Lughnasad (“Loo-nah-sah”) as I write this, the old Celtic festival of the first fruits of the harvest that takes place during the first two weeks of August. In Christian times the feast was renamed “Lammas” or “Loaf-Mass” when everyone brought the first loaf of bread made from the year’s new grain to church to be placed on the altar and blessed.

I am an herbalist and a Druid and I live in an oak forest in New England. There is very little light here for growing things so I mostly rely on wild-crafted roots, barks, leaves, flowers and berries. Every season brings its own moment of opportunity and late summer is an especially rich time to harvest from nature.

Here are a few cautions that I follow before I pick; “Walk by the first seven, leave the eighth for the animals, and you may take the ninth” is an old Native American saying. Always leave enough plants behind to feed the wild creatures and to make seed for next year’s crop. “Gather 1000 feet from a roadway”; brake linings, car exhaust and other pollutants abound near roadsides. “Act fast, because Nature doesn’t wait”; there is usually just a short window of opportunity for gathering from the wild. “Know your herbs”; be sure you have a good guide or a live teacher to point things out to you, and never pick endangered species in the wild.

The last few weeks have been the time of Elderberries, Fennel and Goldenrod in my neck of the forest. Elder (Sambucus nigra, S. Canadensis) has been called “The Elder Mother” because her berries and flowers are healing for children and adults. Elderberry tea is beneficial for chest colds such as bronchitis, flu and rheumatic conditions. I like to preserve the berries by filling a jar with the very ripe ones and then just barely covering them with Vodka. I let them steep until the berries begin to break down and then I strain them through cheesecloth into a glass jar. Because of the alcohol no refrigeration is needed and the tincture keeps for about five years in a cool, dark place. The resulting tincture can be taken 20-40 drops at a time in hot water when you are sick, three or four times a day, or added to a warm cup of tea.

Two tablespoons of the fresh or dried flowers can be steeped in a cup of freshly boiled water and taken three times a day. (Add a little sweetener and fresh lemon for better taste).

(The dosages mentioned are for a 150 pound adult. Adjust for a child – for example a 75 pound child can take half as much)

Another way to keep the berries is to steep them in apple cider vinegar for about a week, and then strain and bottle, to add to salads.

I like to make Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) vinegar too, using it in salads is a nice way to build your immune system. It is also said to benefit the kidneys and help with arthritis. There are a number of different Goldenrod species that flourish in my area and I use them all. In late summer I strip the fully opened flowers off the stem and stuff them into a jar, and then cover them with apple cider vinegar. They steep for about a month and then I strain and bottle the vinegar for use in salads all winter.

A friend of mine has a nice patch of Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) growing wild around her house and she lets me pick a few stalks each year at this time, to make Fennel liqueur. It is a great hit at Yule tide for gifts. (I have also made liqueur with Thai Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Balm, Thyme, Bee Balm, Raspberries with Echinacea, Pears with Ginger, organic Oranges with Saint John’s Wort flowers, and Blackberries with Concord Grapes. But everyone seems to like the Fennel best. I use just the Fennel flowers and leaves).

A Basic Herbal Liqueur Recipe

  • 2 cups fresh leaves (or 2 cups fruit, chopped)
  • 1.5 cups vodka (or enough to barely cover the herbs or fruit)
  • 1.5 cups organic sugar or ¾ cup honey (I use less)
  • 3/4 cups water

Place the herbs (or fruit) and vodka in a clean glass jar with a tight lid. Let stand 6 weeks in a cool, dark place. Shake every few days.

Combine the water and organic sugar or honey in a pan. Heat until the sugar or honey melts completely. Allow to cool.

Strain the vodka and herbs (or fruit) through a cheese cloth or strainer. Combine with the sugar-water mixture, bottle and keep for up to 1 year.

I use only organic sugar, organic fruits and herbs, and well water. This is a medieval recipe, in the old days they would have used honey.

You can find more herbal and magical info in my books and DVDs.  Purchase from my site and get a signed copy with a personal note!