Sage Advice & The Honorable Harvest
Shortening days characterized by falling leaves and chilly, dew-drenched mornings that transform into dry, clear afternoons foretell of coming frosts and freezes. Now is the time to gather up any remaining herbs that I hope to keep for the winter. Once the morning breezes and warming sun dry them fully, I head out and begin to harvest. Over the years, I have learned from my mistakes and now I work methodically from one plant to another, carefully labeling each bunch to avoid confusion once they are dry. They will hang in the rafters of my studio for several weeks imbuing the air inside with soft fragrances of sage, marjoram and thyme, reminding me of warm summer days for several weeks to come. This year's harvest has been different so far as it has evolved further into becoming more of a mindful practice. This has been prompted in part by my growing awareness and appreciation of the ecosystem that is our yard and the sage words of Robin Wall Kimmerer. Her chapter in Braiding Sweetgrass entitled, The Honorable Harvest is a wonderful reminder of how important it is to reflect in this harvest season on all the gifts that we are given each and every day. As I harvested my herbs, I spent some time reflecting on how harvesting in an honorable way has altered this rather straightforward task.
Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them. I am still in the early stages of learning each of my herb's nuanced needs. I know this primarily due to the loss of several sage plants and my sole rosemary plant this summer. I need to listen more carefully next year.
Introduce yourself. I find that I am talking and humming to my plants more than ever. Hopefully, they see that I truly do not mean them any harm and that I wish them a long and healthy life.
Ask permission before taking. Gone are the days of running out to the herbs, quickly snatching a handful and running back into the house and throwing them into whatever dish I am making without any acknowledgement given to the plant.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
It is equally tempting to harvest the first herbs that appear in the spring and to keep harvesting until the bitter end, but I know that for a fully-developed, healthy and flavorful plant, I need to wait and I need to stop harvesting early enough so that the plant can prepare itself for the coming winter.
Take only that which is given. I am learning to be a better listener when it comes to my plants, not pulling persistently on a plant that seems to resist and not harvesting if the plant does not appear to be strong enough.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others. This is tricky sometimes, especially if I am harvesting for gifts for family and friends, but I am practicing thoughtful restraint. I am also beginning to understand that "others" doesn't just mean other people. I need to leave some for all the other beings who need this plant as well. Knowing who exactly that is depends on how well I have come to know the life cycle and ecosystem of that plant.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
I keep trying to improve my pruning skills and knowledge of when and when not to subject my herbs to a harvest. I am also learning to harvest over an extended period of time to allow each plant time to recover before another harvest.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
I only collect and dry what will fit into my small storage jars and what I plan on giving to a few friends and family members. During the winter as I use these pungent little gems, I will try and remember to thank them for continuing to add flavor to our food as they rest patiently under the snow.
With all beings!
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Even the smallest gift needs acknowledgement. One sprig of spicy oregano is still a sacrifice for that plant.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
The clearest explanation of how to go about this comes from Robin Wall Kimmerer herself in a article that appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of yes! magazine (One of my favorite magazines, click yes! to read the article). "How can we reciprocate the gifts of the Earth? In gratitude, in ceremony, through acts of practical reverence and land stewardship, in fierce defense of the places we love, in art, in science, in song, in gardens, in children, in ballots, in stories of renewal, in creative resistance, in how we spend our money and our precious lives, by refusing to be complicit with the forces of ecological destruction. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and dance for the renewal of the world." I hope you will join me in the dance.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever. Sage advice indeed, pun intended.