Green Wizardries: Set a Place For Brigid

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Imbolc, the first day of spring falls on the first of February.  We have a week to prepare!  Coincidentally, this is also the first day of the Community Choir which starts at the Community Hall at 2:30 pm.  Newcomers may come try out the choir for free for the first two sessions so they can see if they like it.  Cost for this choir session is $120 to 140 sliding scale.  Bursaries are available from Arts Denman. 

I am doing something different this year to celebrate the great day.  I will be potting up elderberry cuttings on the day to give as gifts to my friends and neighbours.  The elder cuttings are made during the pruning, or coppicing, of the elderberry bushes which should be done in January.  I got mine done just before the first snowfall.

The cuttings are taken so they have two leaf nodes and can be planted straight into a nursery bed if the soil is not frozen.  Some people like to plant the cuttings so deep that only the tip is sticking out of the ground and others like to plant them higher.  I do not know which works better so will do both and take notes.  

The cuttings can be left to root in the nursery bed which should be quite sandy to help you get the roots out next October when the cuttings that thrive will be planted out in their permanent locations.  For fruit bushes, I would plant five or six feet apart.  Elders can be used to create a hedge and what a lovely hedge they would make with their rapid growth and crowns of creamy white flowers.  Elders would make a great hedge to support pollinators and thirty five different species of North American birds eat elderberries.  The dense shrubs make excellent nesting sites for low-nesting birds.  Plant a foot apart to create a hedge.

Elderberries kept for fruit production should be planted out in October and left to grow for a full year before their first pruning.  Some people like to cut the elders right to the ground and others leave some nice supple canes at waist height so the elders do not get too tall to easily harvest their fruit.  Prune out any branches that have rough bark, are crossed or weak.

The berries are picked and frozen to make it easier to get the berries off the fine stalks and and can then be made into juice, syrup, jams, jellies, pies and wine.  Humans have to cook elderberries before eating them but birds, including chickens, love to eat them raw and flourish on them.  

I love elderberries for their anti-viral properties.  I find them very useful for treating colds and flu.  They make a very tasty juice when cooked with some cloves and a bit of chopped ginger.  The solids are strained out and the juice sweetened with honey and canned.  It makes a very refreshing drink served cold with club soda or served hot, added to tea.  

I will be donating some of my elder cutting to the Garden Club raffle.  The Club meets at the United Church Hall 21 February at 2 pm.

Imbolc is sacred to the Goddess Brigid and is the feast day of Saint Brigid of Kildare.  These two may well be the same exalted being as the church at Kildare was built on an ancient shrine of the Goddess Brigid and both have the same powers and duties.  Saint Brigid is also thought to have been brought up in the house of a Druid…

Imbolc being the first day of spring it is considered lucky to plant some seeds.  Onions, celery, celeriac and leeks can all be planted in February.  I will be planting some coriander seeds to grow some fresh herbs on a windowsill.  

The feast is centred around foods Brigid loves.  Both Brigids are defenders of the dairy, the hearth, the home and bring the spring by spreading their green cloaks over the land.  Both of them love honey, butter and cheese.  

I will be making some lemon and poppy-seed pancakes which I will cook so they have a golden colour.  The round shape and gold colour are like the sun and the poppy seeds represent the seeds and flowers of spring.  For a good lemon flavour add some lemon zest to the batter.   

I will serve these cakes with butter and honey.  People do divination with the pancakes.  Ask a question and flip a pancake.  If all goes well, the answer is yes.  If the flip was not a success, the answer is no.  

Typical dishes include, oatcakes, seed cakes, braided and fruited bread, custard tarts, brambrack ( a yeast loaf containing dried fruit that has been steeped in cold tea or whisky), and colcannon.  The last is a dish of mashed potatoes, butter, cabbage, bacon, onions and herbs.  

In the evening, light a candle and put it in your window to let the Goddess or Saint know she is welcome and you ask for her blessing.  When you serve the Imbolc feast, set a plate for Brigid and she will come.