The air seems to shimmer with gold right now as the sunbeams start to noticeably lengthen. The bright peridot greens of early summer give way to golden fields of corn and grain. Yellow flowers like goldenrod punctuate the landscape. Ever-faithful sunflowers turn their yellow faces to follow the path of the sun across the sky every day. At the height of summer’s heat, we are reminded that this fertile season will be over all too soon, that it is time to start collecting our bounty for the slow winter ahead.
Ancient cultures celebrated this shift with Lammas or Lugnasad, the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox. The name translates to “loaf mass” and was marked by baking a special loaf of bread from the first harvest of grain or corn. It heralds the start of harvest season - the perfect time to put up jams, pickles, and other preserves. It was a sacred day because it carried with it the reminder of the cycle of life. Grain was associated with the cycle of death and rebirth and its appearance in late summer was a reminder that the season of death (winter) was on its way. It was also seen as more literal; before the days of big agriculture and automated processing, the hand-harvesting and processing of grain was a crucial part of survival and nourishment. Harvesting grains before Lammas was seen as bad luck because it meant that the previous year’s stores had run out.
While European cultures marked this occasion with the grains of their homeland - wheat, barley, oats, and the like - the native peoples of the Americas harvested their own gold: corn. One seasonal celebration was known as the “Green Corn Ceremony,” which also marked the beginning of harvest season. It involved a sacrifice of the first corn of the year to ensure the bounty of the remaining crop. It, like Lammas, was a time of feasting, dancing, and ritualized celebration. This ceremony also represented a time of gratitude and forgiveness; grudges were forgiven and thanks were given for the bounty of the earth.
Perhaps we, too, would dedicate a festival to celebrating corn if we paused to consider how much it affects daily life in North America. We depend on corn for just about everything from the feed for our livestock to the processed foods we snack on to the fuel we pump into our cars and machines. Corn is even used in many plastics, paper products, adhesives, and other industrial applications. That’s all in addition to the corn we eat for dinner like butter-drenched grilled corn on the cob or soft and fluffy cornbread. It is truly the plant that fuels our nation. How better to mark the ceremonial beginning of harvest season here in the Americas than by eating and appreciating corn?
Another plant that makes itself known in late summer is goldenrod. Plentiful spires of bright yellow line roadsides, fill fields, and create bright spots on grassy hillsides. This often-misaligned plant is not the source of your seasonal allergies; its pollen is too large and heavy to be airborne. (The real culprit is likely ragweed, which grows in similar environments.) Ironically, goldenrod plants can be used to relieve seasonal allergies when infused into honey, taken in a tincture, or sipped in tea. Goldenrod has also been used for ailments of the urinary system such as urinary tract infections, kidney disease, and even kidney stones.
More than that, though, goldenrod is a ray of sunshine. It is a gentle nervine and has been known to help with seasonal depression. Its latin name, Solidago, translates to “making whole”; an idea that is reflected in many cultures. For example, the ancient Druids celebrated goldenrod. Legends tell of them using the stiff stalks as divining rods to help locate hidden treasures such as wells or buried gold. The Ojibwe peoples of North America described the formation of goldenrod roots as gripping the earth in preparation for difficult times ahead - how appropriate that it, too, makes its appearance during the beginning of harvest season when we put up our stores for winter. Even the famed naturalist John Muir believed goldenrod to be the source of some powerful medicine indeed:
“The fragrance, color, and form of the whole spiritual expression of Goldenrod are hopeful and strength-giving beyond any others I know. A single spike is sufficient to heal unbelief and melancholy.” - John Muir.
Here we have a plant that fills you with the light of summer sunshine. It nourishes and heals your body and helps you find your way back to faith and hope and joy when your strength is waning and your body heavy. And in late summer, that melancholy heaviness can set in all-too-easily with the stagnancy of slow-moving air and the smoke that fills the West during the peak of forest fire season. It’s time to consume the bounty of summery golds and move slowly but with purpose to prepare ourselves for the onset of Autumn.
This slightly-sweet gluten free cornbread has a nutty, slightly herbaceous flavor thanks to the addition of fresh goldenrod flowers and a surprising orange color with the addition of turmeric (which also adds some anti-inflammatory properties to the mix.) The addition of seeds and nuts fill it with more nutrition and a gorgeous design baked into the top makes a stunning presentation! This recipe makes a wonderful breakfast or side dish.
1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. white rice flour
1/2 c. tapioca starch
1/4 tsp. xantham gum
1 1/2 c. ground yellow cornmeal
2 tsp. turmeric powder
1/4 c. honey
1 1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. fresh goldenrod flowers, plucked from their stem
2 Tbs. chopped sunflower seeds
1/4 c. finely-chopped pecans
To decorate: an assortment of seeds, nuts, and/or dried fruit
I hope all of you have a wonderful beginning of harvest season, whatever seasonal celebrations you partake in. May your life be fertile with joy and health!