Calendula and the Lily of the Valley


Soothing Skin Salve

I'd forgotten about calendula. I used to grow it years ago. I buried grandmother crow under its roots and it flourished into a massive bush of fuzzy green leaves covered in the brightest orange flowers. I put it in my salves and oils. The flowers reminded me of gold coins so I used it to draw money in spells of folk magic. But then I lost my garden and I forgot about this plant many herbalists consider an essential medicine. And then, there it was again, growing by the door of my new house. It's hardiness impresses me. We've had many frosts and snow three times now, but it still blooms.

Dehydrating food and medicine

I decided to do something with it before the old winter hag finally kills it off with her icy touch. I plucked the flowers along with those of toadflax and evening primrose and combined it with sweet violet leaves in jojoba oil. Like many people, I get itchy dry skin in the winter and the plants who are supposed to help all happened to be growing in my yard. After a couple weeks the flowers and violet leaves are strained out and a little vitamin e oil and a few drops of rosemary essential oil are added to preserve it. Now it's ready to massage into dry, cracked skin or to add to a lotion recipe.

The raspberry patch has been incredibly hardy, still producing flowers and fruit after hard frosts. The berries still sweet and lovely. I dug up so many ash tree saplings from the untended patch that I am convinced it contained more baby ash trees than it does raspberry canes! I am hoping that with more sunlight and root space, the patch will be productive next year with lots of new growth. I planted garlic cloves from my mother's garden next to the patch because garlic and raspberries are supposed to look out for each other.

The hardy raspberry patch

Planting garlic in the fall

I am sweet on a friend of my mother's. She is a gardener like me and thinks herbalism is fascinating. Her name is Lily and she is ninety years old with a thick German accent. She lives alone in the woods. Her husband passed away ten years ago and her kids are long gone, busy with their own grandchildren now. She invited the whole family over for lunch last Sunday and I couldn't very well say no. I was excited to get to know her better. My mother winced when I told her the news.

"You never know what you're going to get when you eat at Lily's, it could be squirrel or worse!"

"I don't mind, I'm hoping for venison!"

So we dressed up the wee man in the coat his great grandma made him and all of us hopped in the car and off we drove down the beautiful country roads past the colourful poplars and maples, farmer's fields, and marshes full of dead trees and bushy native willows. We drove up a very long dirt drive, half wet from a marsh, and came up a hill to a beautiful view of silver lake and there was Lily's home, an old converted cabin with a green sun room lush with plants.

Lily's House

The wee man was completely in love with her birds. She has fat chickens, a regal goose named Georgina, and a family of peacocks. He chased them all over, but wasn't fast enough to even get close. The goose was the most tolerant of him. I asked Lily if I could take pictures and she told me to take as many as I wanted as long as they weren't of her. She told me she didn't think she was pretty enough. Despite her killer cheekbones and beautiful smile, I couldn't talk her into a portrait. She is small and spry with short cropped grey hair and a hooked nose, very funny and full of mischief. She was frying onion dumplings when we came in and the house smelled amazing.

Lily's sun room

There was no squirrel, but there was melt-in-your-mouth slow cooked venison and delicious candied black bear ribs served with endless vegetables and salads from her garden; raw kale salad, red cabbage, fresh herbed carrots, boiled potatoes, tomato and garlic brushcetta, and of course the onion dumplings (which were amazing with the bruschetta). For dessert Lily had made an apple crisp with apples from her trees. We ate the fruits of her harvest and we ate well!

A shared feast

Lily's kitchen

I am glad to have a found a friend who also walks the green path and has many decades of wisdom and practical gardening advice to share. When I am ninety and wrinkled and grey, I hope I am as full of energy and wit as Lily with all my marbles and a massive jungle of a garden.


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