Summer has arrived in the garden, and with it a time to release, to connect, and to gather and craft. It’s also a time to go slow, to nourish our gardens and ourselves in the midst of long days and hot weather. Our bodies start craving seasonal foods, meals that incorporate ingredients with higher water content and that are easier to digest. There are also a multitude of herbs that can guide us into the season; I’ll share a few below, along with some summer gardening tips.
A Time to Shed
Just like animals shedding their fur, the change of season from spring to summer almost forces us to release what is no longer needed in the next cycle. If you think about the summer season in relation to alchemical stages, it can serve as a metaphor for the stage in which matter is transformed by temperature. Another seasonal example of this can be found in natural wildfires and how they transform and renew landscapes.
Sometimes this “shedding” stage is an easy process and other times it is not. There are so many patterns that can be observed in nature, our gardens, and our lives. These patterns strengthen season after season. Sometimes they serve us, and sometimes they don’t. It’s easy to allow the patterns that no longer suit us to exist and to be dictated by them.
By “shedding” these needless layers of patterns, we open up spaces for new growth to thrive and we welcome in a synchronicity with the seasons. The growing pattern of some trees does this rather gracefully as they shed their leaves every season to welcome the next. The trees that hang on to brown leaves soon become mulch.
In the garden, the strong summer sun rays provide those wanting to remediate their soil or to rid the soil of pests and disease with a technique called soil solarization. This eco-friendly process gives you a blank slate to work with in growing your own soil to use for seasons to come. This approach can also be taken when wanting to remove a lawn.
A Time to Connect
Summer allows us to soak in the rays of play as the days are longer and the nights are warmer. It is the climax of the seasons, a time when the sun is the strongest, increasing growth and energy in plants that all the pollinators gravitate towards. Depending on the moon cycle during the start of summer, it seems as though some plants grow inches overnight.
Many plants are at their height of medicinal content during the flowering stage, allowing us to connect with their essence in all sorts of ways: by simply sitting by them, making a flower essence, gathering a few flowers for an herbal bath or footbath, making a bouquet from garden clippings, or – my favorite – bee gazing while nibbling on petals.
Serving as the height of the seasons, summer and its collective energy can be felt and seen by the people who flock outdoors for communal activities like picnics, backyard barbecues, nature walks, music and arts festivals, beach bonfires, gatherings by the river, and endless outdoor recreation activities.
A Time to Gather and Craft
One of my favorite parts of this season is enjoying the long days outdoors, savoring summer’s juicy offerings and herbal gatherings with friends. As we gather plants from the garden and then craft them into foods and medicines, we are also receiving guidance for the next season.
When air quality conditions permit, we light fires and soon find others gathered round in story. It is the trees that allow us this primitive and deep ancestral connection and a reason why I think this experience of fire can be very grounding. Many cultures also toss aromatic herbs onto fires to smoke out mosquitoes and for other ritualistic reasons. This is an example of the many ways we can welcome herbs into our daily life and during gatherings to connect with each other and the land.
A Time to Go Slow
Summer starts off with those beautiful sunny days and slowly warms up. Depending on where you live, the season might create drier conditions or more humidity. That end of spring-early summer kinetic energy is great to tap into, to lay everything in the garden to rest.
We can try and preserve as much soil moisture as we can by spreading mulch and looking into drip systems, ollas, berms and swales, and other water conservation landscaping methods. Once we do that, we can rest a little bit more, ensured that any soil integrity created will remain and grow into the next season. This also allows us more time to enjoy the season, which is what it’s really all about.
I think it is especially insightful to go slow and feel into the season in areas that don’t have drastic seasonal changes, so that we can give our bodies a rest. After the first heat wave, it is easier to feel into the stillness of the season. It’s a time when the plants start their process of spreading their seeds. It sure takes longer for a seedpod to form than a flower to bloom.
Feeling into stillness can sometimes make time go slower because we open our senses up to more – like the faint sound of crickets at night inviting us to slow down into rest, or the mysterious hoot of an owl sparking connection through curiosity, both stopping “time.” During summer, animals and birds minimize their activity and take up space under shade. There is so much we can learn from our four-legged and feathered friends.
It can be hard for some to slow down and, once again, there are herbs for that.
Rose (Rosa spp.)
As soon as spring comes to a close, I make sure to keep rose within arm’s reach. The increased heat and humidity can really make some people fussy, and rose has a nice way of immediately guiding that energy into a more grounded state that may allow us to be more present and enjoy the season.
I enjoy rosewater almost on a daily basis in summertime, drinking it and spraying it all over my skin. Rose-infused honeys, maple syrups, vinegars, and oils all make for a great toolkit to make relaxing, calming, and aphrodisiac herbal remedies.
I personally use the wild rose that grows local to my region, Rosa californica, that I have planted and cultivated in our suburban garden. You need a large space for wild roses to spread. In places like Los Angeles, if you have the land to plant wild roses and a plan for supplemental water, as they are riparian roses, then I am your biggest cheerleader because you don’t see wild roses blooming at lower elevations as much as they did before the drought.
Growing your own wild roses for gathering is also a great way to give back to the land, and cultivation also shows gratitude to indigenous families that carry a strong connection to the local native plants. The local bees, of course, really enjoy the local roses.
There are many other types of roses that can be used in herbal remedies, not just wild roses. Roses can be a bit drying in excess and might be best paired with a demulcent like aloe, prickly pear, marshmallow, cucumber, plantain, or dairy.
Cornsilk (Zea mays)
After shucking organically grown corn for your gatherings, save the cornsilk to make cold and hot infusions, or teas. After drinking a cornsilk infusion, you will certainly feel more hydrated than simply drinking water.
The great thing about cooling cornsilk is that it can send out excess heat or dampness, or both, from your body. This makes it a great preventative herbal remedy and one that can also aid when dealing with kidney and urinary health conditions. Thanks to the shared wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s usage of cornsilk, we can find much documented about cornsilk draining dampness and its energetics.
Cornsilk, like rose, is cooling but might cause dryness; remember it sends out dampness, so if you’re already running dry but want to incorporate cornsilk, it would be best to also add some demulcent herbs like the ones mentioned at the end of the rose section.
Corn has been honored, cultivated, and used in various ways for many generations thanks to indigenous knowledge from Turtle Island. One of my favorite traditional growing practices is pairing corn with beans and squash, which is known as the “three sisters.” Some people think that you need a big space to grow corn, but there is a variety called Blue Jade that you can actually grow in a container. It’s a great variety for someone who is growing corn for the first time. If you plan on saving your corn seeds, make sure that you are the only one growing corn within a certain radius as corn can cross-pollinate rather easily.
Aloe (Aloe vera)
Aloe is certainly a staple for many people, which you can tell by all the various products on the market. Not only is aloe a resilient succulent of the lily family that hummingbirds enjoy, the clear insides of the leaves are cooling, calming, and healing to tissue both internally and externally.
Aloe is a great plant companion to consider during summertime, and it can be grown in a pot or in the ground with well-draining soil. Naturalized in many areas, aloe originates from tropical ecosystems across the SWANA region and also from a few islands in the ocean that the region’s sea is connected to.
I enjoy the cooling qualities of aloe when applied to skin that has experienced too much sun at once. I can also rest more assured knowing that I took action to offer my skin renewal after such exposure. You can use freshly harvested aloe gel or freeze it to use later.
When prepared correctly by selecting young leaves that carry less latex, aloe is also really tasty and fulfilling in drinks. The number of active constituents that aloe carries really is impressive: vitamins, minerals, sugars, fatty acids, amino acids, and more.
Plantain (Plantago major and P. lanceolata)
It has already warmed up where I live and plantain is still thriving all over the landscape. This abundant, somewhat tender-looking plant is very resilient. I see so many being stepped on that continue to thrive and go to seed. There are two varieties that grow in my area that originate from Asia and Europe – Plantago major and P. lanceolata – and they can both be used for healing remedies.
Plantain is my favorite for bug bites; I simply chew up the herb, run really warm water over it, and then place it over the bug bite. As the herb calms, the plant also draws out poisons, and I forget I was bitten, it works so well.
After letting the leaves wilt a bit, you can do a slow infusion into oil for salves or to be used simply as an herbal oil. You can also dry plantain and save it for herbal preparations like water infusions that are healing to the digestive system. In traditional medicine the entire herb is used, including the seeds.
This certainly isn’t a “weed” I would ever think of getting rid of; I’d welcome plantain and I frequently ask to gather the plant from friends’ gardens if I don’t have some.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is easy to grow in well-drained soils and is great for pollinator gardens with a culinary edge! Bees and hummingbirds enjoy the vibrant purple blossoms of sage in the summertime. Sage is a rather welcoming herb to introduce to people because many of us are familiar with the plant’s culinary usage.
A cooling herb, sage is remarkable at grounding energy to help bring focus while lifting spirits. Since sage is also drying, and if that’s not what you’re looking for, you can pair it with a demulcent herb or root.
I enjoy sage-infused honey that can be used to make many delights, a hydrosol spray for cooling down, and simply using dried and crushed sage in my cooking and baking. I find I tend to use sage more as summer ends and fall approaches to start transitioning into the next season calm, cool, and collected.