In Vermont, people spend much of the summer preparing for winter. They garden obsessively, and then they can, freeze, dry, pickle and jell the harvest. They scour the countryside for sources of well-cured hay for their goats, horses, donkeys, llamas and sheep (people who have cows usually grow their own hay). And they chop, split and stack wood into piles that are viewed with as much admiration as the rows of canned beans, tomatoes and apple sauce in the pantry.
I do a little of all the above, though now that my goats are gone my hay hunt is limited to what I use for mulch and chicken bedding. But these activities only address the body's needs, for warmth and nourishment. This year, I wanted to address the needs of the mind and heart as well.
Even when the vegetables are canned and the freezer is full and the wood is stacked, Vermonters shudder slightly at the thought of winter: the long dark evenings and the sporadic isolation that the weather imposes on even the hardiest souls. At one time or another, between November and March, most of us complain of winter blues, cabin fever, seasonal affective disorder and generalized Weltschmerz.
Saint John's Wort has long been revered in Europe as a remedy against moderate depression, PMS, insomnia, SAD, OCD, and a number of other ills . I've always liked it that this plant, with its supposedly cheering effects, looks so cheerful, from its bright yellow flowers to its blood-red sap.
I like it so much that this year I went slightly overboard. I filled a couple of big trash bags with flowers and leaves and macerated them for a month in two half-gallon jars filled with the cheapest vodka I could find. Yesterday I gave them a final shake, strained the contents through cheese cloth, and decanted the wild-looking red tincture--the mere sight of which made me feel instantly energized--into bottles:
I threw the extremely alcoholic vegetable detritus into the chicken house and waited around to see what the hens would do. They sniffed it and turned away in disgust, but the stuff will make terrific compost anyway.
With more than I could possibly use of the potent tincture at hand, I feel well armed against winter--practically looking forward to it, in fact. I can see myself now, dispensing largesse from the top of our hill, squirting dropperfuls of the red panacea onto the tongues of melancholy friends...
(To those of you who are knowledgeable about herbs: do not be disturbed by those bottles in the sunny window. I put them there just for picture-taking purposes. I have since stowed them safely in a darker place.)