The longest day of summer, summer solstice, has also been referred to as “midsummer’s day.” This is the period in the summer where daylight is the longest during the year and the duration of night, the shortest.
photo credit: gmoorenator
The sun-worshiping ancients built Stonehenge to accurately identify this time. The celebration at Stonehenge has been documented in history and held great significance to the participants.
Plants harvested on this day (mainly herbs) were believed to be imbued with special powers and healers of this time believed that herbs cut on this date would be more potent and help to heal the ill.
While gardening you may notice that the plants constantly change in color and strength during the season. If you notice this year even though the season is young for many there will be a subtle change in plants after solstice.
Before solstice, garden plants put their energy into growing roots and shoots and leaves. After the solstice, you’ll see a small change in the vegetables. The plants will shift their efforts to reproductive growth and set about developing flowers and fruit. The additional vegetative growth that was so apparent before will drop off.
For those who follow the solstice or plant and harvest by moon, these gardeners plan for solstice and start their plants indoors not just to get a head start, but so they’ll be as large as possible by the solstice. These gardeners feel that the plants will peak on this day and want the plant to be as mature as possible.
Throughout history herbs have been known for their healing quality. Their prime harvesting is when the vegetative growth is most leafy.
The ancients harvested the leaves because they held the essential oils, which carry the scent and medicinal qualities. Many herbs also hold their highest oil content at this time. The heat of the summer causes the herbs oil to evaporate out of the leaves.
A cool, still midsummer morning is the traditional time to harvest herbs for drying and storage.
Herbalists try to cut the herbs all at once before the rising sun hits the leaves, to retain as much of the oil in the leaves as possible. The sun and wind can also cause oils to evaporate out of freshly cut herbs.
For this reason, you want to cut herbs and get them into the shade before sunrise. It’s better to cut some of the herbs and move them indoors, then go back out and cut more. You don’t want the herbs to wilt in the sun while you are harvesting more herbs.
It is best to cut most herbs with long stems. This makes hanging the herbs in bundles, upside down easier. You will also have a benefit of the plants being stimulated into growing more vegetation with a low, rather severe cutting.
photo credit: TheatricAL 03
You can hang herb bundles in your kitchen, which will scent the air as they dry, if they do not receive any direct sun through the window. I dry my herbs in the barn, which is dark, cool, and dry. It also has excellent air circulation, which is very important for the herbs to dry evenly.
Herbs that do not have strong stalks will dry better on an old window screen. Oregano and clover are two examples. Space herbs on the screen so there is little to no overlap. They will dry faster and will not develop a mold problem from not having adequate air.
By watching your plants in the garden you will notice the effects of the seasons on their growth and this will also help you notice any plant disease or growing problems.