Late August is purple. I think every season has a color, though a different one in every corner of the globe. When we lived in New England, December was white, here in Tennessee it's something closer to grey. July here is a vibrant, deep, living green, but on an island in Alaska, July was the red of ever lengthening sunsets, the sort that never seem to end until they bleed into daylight. And I'm quite convinced that October will be, no matter where I live, the warmest, earthiest, coziest orange, a color that seems almost indistinguishable from the magical scent of falling leaves and sunshine and homeliness.
But, in this quiet hamlet of rural pastureland, late August is purple.
Time is purple, just before night, / When most people turn on the light -
But if you don't it's a beautiful sight. / Asters are purple, and there's purple ink.
Purple's more popular than you think, / It's a sort of great-grandmother to pink...
- Mary O'Neill, What is Purple?
My thoughtful spot in August is resplendent with the vivid magenta of ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) towers, and the violet-indigo of Venus' looking glass (Triodanis perfoliata), tiny star-shaped wildflowers that appear everywhere once you begin to look for them. I'm surrounded by deceptively soft explosions of lilac atop massive, prickly thistles (Cirsium vulgare), which are the gathering places of swallowtails in dancing clouds, and the occasional wandering monarch. As I walked here I harvested, to my great delight, a basket full of dainty purple and white self-heal blossoms (Prunella vulgaris), which, after several years of love and close supervision, are at last growing aplenty along the edges of the pasture. A few late-season red clover (Trifolium pratense) brighten the grass here and there with their plum-colored pom-pom blooms, and even in the last of the summer's blackberries, drooping from sturdy bramble vines over my path, there lurks in the depths of their color a royal, luxurious shade of purple.
For nearly ten years I have been wandering these same acres, each corner and valley and creek are familiar and dear, yet whenever I think I know them by heart, just then, some new discovery appears. It struck me today as I was looking for elderberry (which, now that I think of it, is rather purple too!) not far from this spot, that the sun was hitting a small level plot on the hillside I had never noticed before. Just about the size of a kitchen table, only a tiny plateau between two slopes, it is shaded by a lacy walnut tree and looks made expressly for picnicking. And here in this pleasant place I found the final addition to my purple bouquet, the downy blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum). What an aptly named plant! It does indeed look as though the stems are encased in a soft lavender cloud of mist.
There's more wandering to be done this afternoon, for I'm off to try to find a vine of wild passionflowers (Passiflora incarnata). Just recently I discovered that they are the state wildflower, and their exotic firework blossoms will be the perfect complement to my basket overflowing with purple.
Perhaps I've been delighting in this magic color for a bit too long today... for as I read over this page in my notebook I begin to fear my prose themselves are turning rather purple!
In my herb garden a beautiful garden sage (Salvia officinalis) is spreading prolifically and is just about ready to bloom. This herb is familiar to most of us as a culinary herb, and its pungent scent is always reminiscent of the Thanksgiving dinner table, but a host of healthful benefits and traditional medicinal uses make sage an herb that deserves to be enjoyed throughout the year, not just in November.
The name “sage” is an Old French derivation of the plant’s latin name, salvia, which literally means healing plant, a name that aptly reflects both the modern medicinal uses of sage and the historical belief that sage could heal just about anything. Traditionally it was used as a natural bandage and considered an essential herb for wound healing, it was believed to enhance memory and knowledge, and even to lengthen life, a theory which inspired the old English rhyme, “He that would live for aye, must eat sage in May.” Sage has been found to be very high in nutrients such as vitamin K, iron, calcium, and antioxidants, and to aid in lowering blood sugar and cholesterol. It has long been used to support healthy digestion and is the perfect herb to include in cooking rich and heavy meals, which is most likely where the association with Thanksgiving dinner began. Drinking sage in teas can also soothe a sore throat, relieve stress, and settle an upset stomach, and when consumed regularly in either tea or tincture form, sage has been shown to improve memory and enhance focus and concentration.
Sage is also beneficial externally, it has strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and is a gentle astringent, making it a wonderful herb to infuse in salves or oils and use topically for skin irritations such as acne, sunburn, and insect bites. The traditional use of sage leaves as a natural bandage is also beneficial, and a simple sage poultice can help prevent infection, reduce swelling, and promote healing of cuts and scrapes.
This silver-green summer herb can be enjoyed throughout the year in a variety of ways, both as a culinary staple and in medicinal remedies. For an unusual, summery sage treat, steep 1 TBS lapsang souchong and 3 fresh sage leaves in 8 oz of boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain, stir in 2 TBS sweetened condensed milk, and chill. Enjoy the unique flavor and healthful benefits of this sage tea over ice!
First published in The Tea Lifestyle, July - August 2020
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