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Lammas: the first harvest

With the somewhat unpredictable weather of the last few weeks, I wasn't surprised to see an upsetting number of conkers littering the ground as I was out walking the other day. When I say conkers, I mean their closed green spiky shells. I tried to open one, but it wasn't having any of it. Then something (perhaps an obsession with conkers) persuaded me to have another go, when I saw one had fallen from the tree that provided last year's first conker. Oh the joy of having a ritual walking route! As you can see, I wasn't disappointed; not the world's biggest conker but without a doubt My First Conker of 2022. Interestingly facebook has just reminded me that my 2021 First Conker which didn't appear until 26th August!

Lammas is celebrated on 1st August and marks the peak of summer after which the season slowly and imperceptibly begins to turn - and then you find a conker. The word Lammas comes from “loaf mass” and honors the loaf of bread baked from the first grain harvested. It's where the tradition of the corn dolly comes from and also the story of John Barleycorn. (Note that according to wikipedia the song about him is listed as number 164 in the Roud Folk Song Index and no I didn't get at all distracted by watching Fairport Convention's version from 1982 and I'm all there for the rainbow jumper obviously.) The other name for this festival is Lughnasadh, after the god Lugh, who was a Celtic sun god, and whose energy was used up in the ripening of the grain and is now sacrificed back to the land - this is also the tale of John Barleycorn. For ourselves it's the time of year to reap what we sowed in Spring and to start to turn our outer energy into more introspection, ready for the onset of Winter. Don't get too hung up on the Winter yet though!

This is the first of three harvest festivals, the other two being the autumn equinox and Halloween, and there is plenty of time to still celebrate the summer. If you can, make the time to get out for some walks while the weather is still good. If you want to turn your walk into a seasonal pilgrimage, why not look out for hazel, one of the trees of Lammas. If you're like me you might notice the hazel tree when a pesky squirrel lobs a half eaten nut at your head as you walk beneath the tree! In Celtic mythology it's the tree of knowledge and the nuts were seen as the ultimate receptacles of wisdom. Carrying a double hazelnut in your pocket is said to prevent toothache. Another name for a hazelnut is a filbert, which might mean something to those Leicester City fans out there. Hazel can be found all over Scotland - to read more visit Trees for Life. Another plant to look out for is one of the herbs of Lammas, meadowsweet, garlands of which were worn for the Lammas celebrations. You may have smelt its heady (sweet, as in its name) fragrance while you are out and about in damp woodlands, its favourite place to grow. It can stand at over a metre tall and its flowers appear in big white frothy clusters. Read more about it here. Finally of course, we're coming into what I think must be the most popular foraging time of the year, something I think almost everyone has tried - bramble picking! I've already had my first blackberry and apple crumble from foraged berries when I was down south where things were definitely riper, but they're on their way here too. The branches are laden and the berries are beginning to turn. What a great time of year!

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