Then followed that beautiful season… Summer…
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if newly created in all the freshness of childhood. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Looking for a festive way to celebrate the upcoming summer solstice? Well, these aromatic sunny cookies may be just the ticket. Made with sacred herbs and flowers of the sun, they’re filled with the gathering magic of midsummer traditions. And served up at a summer solstice picnic, they will delight young and old. After all, doesn’t everyone love a pretty cookie?
And what better way to capture the magic of the longest day of the year? This is the day (June 20th or 21st) the sun’s powers are at their peak, from now on the sun will recede from the sky a little earlier each evening. For our Northern European ancestors, the summer solstice was the turning point between the waxing and waning cycle of the great year. And they marked the occasion, as they so liked to do, by throwing a party. Feasts, bonfires, and dancing, all in celebration of the glorious midsummer sun. And they still do today!
Across old Europe, summer solstice had many different names. In Britain it was known as Midsummer, in Latvia, it was Kupala Day or Herb Evening, and in Scandinavia, it was celebrated as Litha. For women, this was a “Gathering Day”, an important day of the ritual first harvest. Wearing ceremonial clothing adorned with symbols of the sun, they would weave flowers into garlands and crowns. Then they would go into the fields and forests to gather plants and herbs.
On this day plants were believed to be vigorous with the heightened life force of the sun – so it was common knowledge that a curing or magical herb plucked on Midsummer doubled its powers! Folklore tells if you picked nine flowers or the leaf of plantain and put it under the pillow – you would dream your future spouse.
St. John’s Wort, with its solar yellow flowers, is the herb most associated with Midsummer. According to old herbals, it blooms on this day, and along with its many healing abilities, it brought protection from fire, disease, disaster and the evil eye.
While it was renamed by the Church after St. John (its bright red sap mimics the blood of St. John) it’s association with female powers and witchery is strong. Its flowers were left at the feet of statues of Greek and Roman goddesses, such as Hecate, the goddess of ghosts and sorcery, and Circe, who distilled its leaves and flowers for potent charms. And well-known herbalist, Susun Weed, steadfastly refers to this herb as St. Joan’s Wort.
Other herbs bearing the magical power of the sun include rosemary, vervain, hyssop, fern, mullein, basil, lavender, thyme, fennel, and wormwood. These herbs were associated with powers of invigoration, healing, purification and protection, and the flowers (rose, wild daisy, marigold, cornflower, calendula and more) represented beauty and love. Petals were scattered in water or dried in love charms. In Bohemia, girls wore chaplets of mugwort while dancing around the Midsummer bonfire. And on Midsummer’s Eve Italians washed their faces in bowls of water containing flowers, rose petals and herbs.
And of course, this herbaceous solstice bounty was also consumed! Fresh herbs and traditional midsummer feasting are a long-standing culinary tradition. They were used in dishes made from the first harvest of the season; vegetables (peas and mint, new potatoes and dill), fresh cheeses (like the Latvian Caraway cheese) and alcoholic libations (the Scandinavians made Aquavit with dill, fennel, and coriander). And in Provence five sacred aromatic herbs-rosemary, thyme, marjoram, hyssop and sage, are gathered to make an “infusion aux herbes de Saint Jean.”
In Nordic countries, the midsummer feast included “sun breads”, cakes or buns made with honey (also a golden sun food) believed to bring fertility, prosperity, and abundance to the community. One Scandinavian folk tradition recommends including midsummer dew in the dough to cure diseases! Roman’s had their own summer solstice celebration Vestalia, during which priestesses Vestales made sacred cakes with water from her holy spring.
So inspired by these many summer solstice food traditions, I decided to do a little baking ritual of my own – midsummer sun cookies! Infused with herby aromatic flavours and flowers of the sun (like rosemary, thyme, lavender, and sage) then coloured golden with a few drops of orangey St.John’s tincture, golden beet colouring and turmeric, and then adorned with symbols of the sun – they would be food magic indeed.
And I think they turned out beautifully. So if you’re looking for a way to mark the turn of the seasons and connect with mother nature, celebrate Gathering Day. Summer solstice festivities traditionally occurred somewhere between June 20th to early July according to differing calendars. So you have plenty of time!
Wear something sunny, and take the children (or not) for a flowery, herby harvest. But however you decide to enjoy nature’s midsummer bounty, remember that above all, “On Midsummer we eat and dance with abandon, leaving all worries behind. The sun never sets and there are flowers everywhere.” Seems a good a reason as any to celebrate with cookies!
Summer Solstice Herby Honey Cookies
- 1 & 3/4 cups of flour
- ¾ cup softened butter
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup brown or cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon minced thyme
- 1 teaspoon lavender buds
- 1 teaspoon minced rosemary
- 1 teaspoon minced sage
- a few crushed cardamom seeds
- pinch of salt
NOTE: I used more like a tablespoon of each herb in my cookies, but this might be too herbaceous for some, so adjust accordingly. And I also added 3/4 cup oatmeal to another batch of cookies and cut back on the flour. Feel free to experiment or use whatever cookie recipe you like…after all it’s not the cookie that matters as much as the spirit!
- 3 teaspoons milk
- 1 cup icing sugar
- a wee bit of grated lemon rind. ( I also added lavender buds to the second batch of icing)
- Colouring. I used a combination of golden beet juice, St. John’s Tincture and a pinch of turmeric powder, but of course, you could use a store-bought natural food dye. Recipe for a carrot-based coloured icing here.
- Combine your milk and icing sugar. Slowing add in your colouring and mix until you find the desired colour/consistency
- Preheat Oven to 300 F.
- Beat flour, sugar and soft butter together until creamy.
- Slowly drizzle in honey while beating until mixture pulls together.
- Add minced herbs and petals, mix well through the dough.
- Divide into four balls and chill for an hour or so.
- Roll out and cut into round shapes. Add flour as needed.
- Bake at 300 for 10-15 minutes.
- Let cool.
- Decorate using the flowers and herbs of the sun: petals of calendula, lawn daisies or ox-eye daisies (not storebought daisy chrysanthemums), St. John’s Wort, rose, or sprigs of rosemary, thyme and sage.
Note: St.Johns Tincture can cause photosensitivity or interfere with antidepressants. While there are only a few drops included in the icing (and entirely optional) be careful if you are on antidepressant medication or are sensitive to the sun- i.e. do not consume these cookies in copious amounts (i.e. a dozen a day) for more than a week.
For more summer solstice magic you’ll find a recipe for Magical Midsummer Floral Extracts here. Plus you’ll find more midsummer recipes, cakes, desserts, salads, cheeses, dips at Gather Victoria Patreon -with more coming in a couple of weeks!
And while there isn’t room for all the pictures I promise there’s lots of fresh salads, savoury dishes & dips, herb salts & floral sugars, condiments, bread, crackers and so much more!