9. Food and Sacred Cycles

There is no doubt about it, from Lammas until the snow fell was a busy time for hunter gatherers. But it had really started in early spring when the first young leaves, shoots, and fiddleheads had popped up with the first spring thaw.  Patches of snow were still holding on in shady places when people began preparing for the winter that was many months away. While we gorged on delectable leafy greens and fiddleheads we also set some aside in sacks of oil. We might well have dried some for later use as well. Spring greens purged us of the residual burden felt after many months of dense protein needed to survive the cold. Spring for many groups was marked by a great feast where remaining winter stores were brought out and eaten up. I have often thought of this as the ultimate act of faith, the conviction that the Earth would always provide. For those who had entered into the beginnings of cultivation they knew to ready their fields when the currant leaves appeared and the time for them to plant was marked by the appearance of poplar catkins.

As soon as those scrumptious leafy plants began to stretch their stems to form flowers and seeds we moved on to eating summer berries and fish, along with some of those gorgeous flowers. When the buttercups bloomed and the blackthorn fruit ripened we knew the summer salmon run would commence. But while we were filling our bellies, that plethora of berry species also provided a bounty for drying and storing for winter use. Early species of grass seed was ground, cooked into mush, amended with berries, formed into cakes, and dried. Reconstituted with water on a smoky fire while the snow was blowing drifts against our lodges must have been quite a treat the following winter.

Come about August everything accelerated. Late season fruit and nuts were gathered and put up for winter. More species of grass seed had ripened and were collected. Many root crops were ready to be dug. The goldenrod was in bloom, reminding adventurers that it was time to return their villages and help bring the harvest. Once the berries, fruits, and grains were ripe and harvested, hunters knew that the game was fat and ready to be hunted. They had their rituals, made their prayers, and sang their songs to insure that the quarry entered into the hunt as a willing participant. I have heard the prayers of the Dine’; I know the truth of this. The harvest of animals was a sacred and careful undertaking, nothing was wasted. Meat and fish were dried or smoked; bones and organs processed for food and other uses, and hides were carefully and prayerfully tanned. And when all of this was completed and homes were secured against the coming cold, we celebrated. Many groups, both historic and alive today marked their new year with the end of harvest.

Today there is a greater and greater interest if not an actual longing to live our lives in better harmony with natural cycles. In doing so we must also become aware of the natural cycles of the plants we eat. A real “Paleo” diet requires it; doing so is not only healthier for us it is healthier for our planet. The Appendix compiled specifically for this blog, Sacred First Foods, is a superb roadmap for developing a genuine “Paleo” diet. It illustrates in a profound way how utterly diverse and therefore acutely healthy and robust the diets of Mesolithic and Upper Paleolithic people were. Think about it for a moment. Can you name any more than a dozen or two edible leaves, shoots, and fronds available to you today? The Mesolithic people of the UK alone had a staggering 135 at their disposal and I bet many more now lost or no longer known. Every other food category is much the same. The lack of diversity and the loss of seasonal menus are likely contributing enormously to our loss of health. It makes an even better case for home gardening, where you can not only control the quality and purity of the food you eat but add enormously to the diversity of your diet. And if you garden consider growing those edible plants not readily found in the grocery. If your market offers an abundance of organic fruits, nuts, greens, and roots fill your garden with other species.

Can’t garden? Unacceptable! I have a blog that can get you started, Companion Plants: Bio Diverse Container Gardens. Although I have cited only common food plants in that blog all of the lessons still apply for less common species.

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