Japan's 72 Microseasons - #64
"The Heal-All Plant Grows Anew"
December 22 - 26
”The heal-all plant grows anew”
As the new solstice at the bottom of the year begins, so too does a new life cycle for the helpful heal-all plant.
A bit of healing herb would’ve been quite welcome this past week, as I spent most of it sick with some seasonal bug that snuck up on me among the busyness and revelry. Feeling better now, so let’s go back a week real quick.
Having withered at the start of the summer solstice, marked by Kō 28 half a year prior, the medicinal plant known variably as the heal-all, self-heal, and woundwort begins freshly growing on the shortest day of the year—the Winter Solstice. Green growth among the half-finished winter, the turning point between death and life.
While the night of the Winter Solstice is the longest and darkest of the year, another way to look at it is that each day following it is brighter and warmer. That’s the meaning of the seasonal phrase ichi-yō raifuku (一陽来復, literally “the spring sun returns”) and aside from the actual astronomical movements, the phrase can also be used to talk about a long-awaited change of fortune. The Winter Solstice is the midnight of nature’s celestial clock. Everything after it is new, reset.
In many countries, the Winter Solstice is viewed as something like the Sun’s birthday—the time when its completed its own year of life. One of the most famous traditions tied to celebrating this is now called Christmas.
As grassy meadows bask in longer hours of sun, early heralds of spring begin to sprout, and the heal-all soaks in the warmth to store up and convert to helpful curative compounds. And although we’ve been saying “grow” and “sprout” for the heal-all plant, they’re actually a perennial plant that merely retreats a bit during autumn and winter, to await sunnier days. When it emerges again during this kō, it spreads out in a rosette—a flat, circular arrangement of leaves that maximize surface area for the sun and keep near to the warm earth than the frigid wind.
In the same way, as we pass the solstice—looking towards the new year and the back half of winter—we too can build up nutrition, save our strength, and slowly spread out, feeling for the space we can grow into when spring comes.
We’ll have to wait until it withers in June to harvest the heal-all plants, but if we’re building nutrition, what better way than with some seasonal items?
● Seasonal fish
maguro, 鮪, bluefin tuna
● Seasonal vegetable
hōrensō, ほうれん草, spinach
● Seasonal flowering plant
manryō, 万両, coralberry or “Christmas berry”1
Just how midnight is a new day and yet hours from daylight, the Winter Solstice is the turning of the year from winter towards spring with still some time to go until bright warmth. The dawn of the new seasonal year is not yet here, but ever-approaching.
In Japanese myth, the goddess Amaterasu Omikami—kami of the Sun and divine ancestor of the Imperial family—locked herself away in a cave at the start of winter following a shocking tragedy. The other kami gathered to convince her to return, trying all sorts of things to no avail, but it was their laughing and dancing that finally drew her out. For that reason, this month in the old lunar calendar was called Kaguraku-tsuki (神楽月), “the month of dancing gods.”
As we pass the solstice, remember that brighter days are coming and healing plants are growing again. If you’ve locked yourself away, listen at the door for the sound of joy and join in, when ready.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
Fittingly, the fruited branches have often been used as Christmas decorations, and are used in Japan as New Years decorations
They are edible when ripe, although bitter and sour if not sweetened and cooked into something