Sunday, June 24, 2007

Midsummer's Eve and St. John's Wort

The Baron’s friend, Phanarath, sent us a recording and the lyrics for Vi Elsker Vort Land (We Love Our Country), a Midsummer’s Eve song the Danes sing every year at the celebration of the summer solstice.

For many years we used to have a two-day party here on the weekend nearest the solstice. Were we still celebrating, it would have been winding up today with trips to the river for a swim and then lunch, before everyone folded their tents and headed back to the city.

The best part of the celebration was Saturday evening. Everyone brought food, there was often live music, and then immediately after dark — around 9:00 or so — our friends would put on a spectacular fireworks display, lasting a half hour or so.

Yesterday was sadly quiet; we don’t have a Midsummer’s Eve party anymore. Over the years things change, and the gradual deterioration of my health made it harder to do every year. Besides that, after my daughter’s death, celebrations became harder. The picture of her that I sometimes display was taken at one of those long ago parties.

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I notice that the Danish midsummer song mentions “sankte Hans” (St. John), whose feast day is June 24th. Here is the English translation of one verse:

We love our country
and with sword in hand
outside enemy’s will know us, as ready
but against unpeacefull spirits
over fields, under the beach
We will light the fire on the graves of our fathers
every town has its witch and every Parish has its trolls
we will keep them from our lives with fires of joy.
we want peace in this land
sankte Hans, sankte Hans!
it can be won, when the hearts never gets doubtfully cold.
we want peace in this land
sankte Hans, sankte Hans!
it can be won, when the hearts never gets doubtfully cold.

hypericum perforatumI didn’t know the Danes celebrated ‘sankte Hans’ particularly. They probably don’t anymore; no doubt it’s an anachronism, just as is naming hypericum perforatum St. John’s Wort.

Phanarath’s song reminded me that I’d let St. John’s wort die out in the garden. The plant is not long-lived, but it’s attractive and sturdy. I put it in among the flowers in my daughter-in-law’s perennial bed a few years ago. Her house is on a busy corner; lots of people walk by with their dogs and the former owners put up a small, attractive rail fence — probably to keep pedestrians from cutting that corner. The St. John’s wort looks pretty right there.

The Germans call it “Johanniskraut” — “kraut” means herb, says the Baron. In Germany, tinctures and powders of hypericum perforatum outsell the more modern treatments for depression. Evidently the Germans have established that it helps mild to moderate depression. A lot of people think herbal medicine is “safer” than the synthetics that Big Pharma concocts. However, taking this herb can cause photosensitivity just like the pharmaceutical anti-depressants do. If you use it, be sure to stay out of the sun during the most intense part of the day.

Once I have a car again (mine died the other day — but that’s another story), I’ll get more St. John’s wort and re-plant it in the herb garden where it used to flourish; it’s bright yellow prostrate flowers went well with the tall white Echinacea and the daylilies. Yes, I know the latter aren’t herbs, they were just there at the end of the bed when I started it. Besides, the flowers and the spring shoots are good in stir-fry dishes. I know because Wally Ballou showed us how to cook them. And daylilies abound here — they grow wild everywhere, just like the dogwoods and redbud. So even if they don’t cure anything, they’re pretty in addition to being edible and not prone to diseases or dramas. That’s as good an excuse as any not to have to dig them up and move them.

Thanks to Phanarath for the song — what a joyous way to celebrate the solstice. Whoever said that singing is “praying twice” was right.

Happy feast of Saint John to all.


At 8:03 PM, Blogger Yolande said...

Sankt Hans Aften is very much celebrated in Denmark, every year on the eve of 23rd June. Up and down the Danish coastline you can see the bonfires from each village. The residents all come together and picnic on the beach in preparation for the bonfire.
When the bonfire is lit and underway everyone circles around and sings this son. Truly uplifting.

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Yolande said...
This is my blog of the event at Niva strand, north of Copenhagen. Our international school - family, children, grandparents, teachers, head of school, all gathered for a shared picnic and marshmallow roast before the bonfire at 10pm.


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