December Almanac

Winter Is Here

Deadhead the rose bush. Prune the wild muscadine. Move the front porch pumpkins to the compost pile. 

The days grow shorter, yet from darkness comes light. Behold phlox and hellebores, snowdrop and iris, camellia and winter-flowering crocus.

This month, while the soil is cool, plant spring bulbs and fruit trees, harvest edible weeds and winter greens, and when the work is done, create sacred space to enjoy the season. And beaucoup peppermint.

First cultivated in 1750 near London, England, as an experimental hybrid between water mint and spearmint, this perennial herb has long been used for its magical and medicinal qualities. According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, however, the candy cane came before its flavor. Sometime around 1670, a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany, asked a local confectioner to come up with a special candy stick to help pacify the young folks during the live Nativity on Christmas Eve. Shaped like a shepherd’s staff, this sugary creation surely kept them quiet (and buzzing) until the Magi arrived.

Want to grow your own? If you’re going for potency (read: high oil content), go with black peppermint, named for its dark purple-green leaves and stems. White peppermint has a milder flavor, but crush the leaves between your fingers and feel an instant calm throughout your entire being. Because this aromatic herb can quickly take over an entire garden, and because it craves rich soil and good drainage, container gardening is recommended. Full sun increases its medicinal qualities (and makes for stronger, spicier tea).

Stocking Stuffers

Pear tree seed

• Bird food

• Binoculars 

Peppermint Tea for Two

2 cups water

14 peppermint leaves

2 teaspoons honey

Bring water to boil

Place leaves in teacups; cover

mint with hot water

Steep for 5 minutes

Remove leaves (or not)

Add honey

Steep with fresh tarragon leaves and a quarter-inch slice of vanilla bean to enter a new realm. Add lemon wedge to continue the journey.

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. — William Blake

Celestial Shower

As we approach the winter solstice — the longest night of the year — we look to the stars to celebrate a new season, and the final hours of the year. The Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night of Wednesday, Dec.13, until the earliest hours of Thursday, Dec. 14. Sky-watchers may see as many as 60 to 120 shooting stars per hour predawn. Watching with friends or loved ones? Steep a pot of peppermint tea or keep the cocoa simmering on the stovetop for this enchanted celestial event.

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