Went to the front field this morning, to pick Saint John\’s Wort.
Herbalists believe that if a plant grows abundantly in your proximity, it\’s because you are in need of its properties. If this is true the Wort, which is supposed to have anti-depressant and calming powers, is accurately reading my mind.
This is my least favorite season, and the fact that each year the heat and humidity grow worse ratchets my awareness of climate change up to obsessive levels. Holed up in the house with the windows closed and the shades down to keep out the heat, I creep wanly in the gloom like some cave creature, pondering disaster scenarios.
Hence the Wort.
Sent to me by the midsummer deities, and perhaps by the Baptist as well, its Van Gogh yellow starts to work on me right away. I snip off the tops of branches, trying to calculate how much I\’ll need to make enough tincture to last me through the year. The plants are so abundant this summer that I could cheer up entire nations of depressives.
Later today I will buy a bottle of cheap vodka. Then I will strip the Wort stems, chop up the flowers and leaves, put them in a jar and pour in enough vodka to cover them. I will give the jar a good shake and watch the vodka turn blood red. This ability to \”bleed,\” plus its habit of blooming around the feast of Saint John, in midsummer, is what gave the Wort its name.
If you\’re wondering what blood has to do with John the Baptist, here\’s a Biblical episode worthy of cable TV: John had condemned Herod Antipas, who was divorced, for marrying Herodias, who was also divorced and had a daughter, Salome, by her former husband.
Herodias felt threatened by the Baptist, and plotted to get rid of him. For Herod\’s birthday she had Salome dance for him, dressed in the famous seven veils. Herod was so overcome that he offered to give Salome anything she wanted. Her mother told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Here she is, painted by Lukas Cranach, having changed out of the seven veils into street clothes. The dark red of her headdress and of the Baptist\’s severed neck is exactly the shade of red that the Wort exudes when you crush it.