Respect Your Elders (The Uses and Lore of a Familiar Tree)

 Kay Nielsen, The Elder Mother (ca. 1900)

“It was not exactly a story,” said the Elder-mother; “but the story is coming now, and it is a true one. For out of the truth grow the most wonderful stories, just as my beautiful elder-bush has sprung out of the teapot.
—Hans Christian Andersen, “The Elder-Tree Mother”

For people of millennia past everything crackled with meaning. The fire that burned in the soul was “of the same essential nature as the stars,” the twentieth-century Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács wrote, for the world was for those living then “new and yet familiar, full of adventure and yet their own.” Even plants were rich in significance. The humblest weeds had indwelling spirits both familiar and strange.

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What Dreams May Come (Musings on Mugwort)

If they would drink nettles in March
And eat mugwort in May,
So many fine maidens
Wouldn’t go to the clay.

—Proverb

The days drag when unrelieved by summer festivals, backyard parties and weekend getaways. My Google Calendar, which in years past teemed with events during the warm months, sits as empty as beauty salons did late last March. On rainy days I fill the hours with the important-looking books I always intended to read but never found reason to — all eleven volumes of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, say, or John Cowper Powys’s A Glastonbury Romance. And when the sun shines I head outdoors to read the natural world.

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Horseradish: A Condiment Rooted in Tradition

Sit down, gentlemen, and fall to, with a good hearty appetite; the fat, the lean, the gravy, the horseradish as you like it – don’t spare it.  — William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1848)

Originating in the warmer climes of western Asia, horseradish has since become a favorite condiment of the decidedly cooler climes of Central and Northern Europe, where it is cherished for its peppy, pungent flavor. The 1901 edition of the South Australia Journal of Agriculture reports that the zesty root grows “on a considerable scale in various parts of Bohemia,” favoring  “a deep, loose, strong soil, with plenty of moisture,” which “is considered the most suitable.”

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