Today is Johannistag – St. John’s Day

St John’s Wort – Johanniskraut

Not only was this once considered to be the date of the summer equinox, it is also the last day for harvesting your rhubarb and asparagus! And it is also the latest date for making hay – still adhered to in the nature reserves here, thus allowing wild flowers and grasses to go to seed. The equinox is actually a few days earlier, on June 21st, but old traditions die hard…

Alpine Meadow 2010

In Bavaria,  24thJune is an important date for forecasting the weather and thus planning the harvesting season… yes, even today it can be fairly accurate! There are many sayings connected with Johannistag. Here are a few I have rewritten in English in order to make them rhyme!

  • When the glow worms start to glow, it is time to go and mow! (Wenn die Johanniswürmer glänzen, darfst Du richten Deine Sensen)
  • Before St John’s Day pray for rain, after it will spoil the grain. (Vor Johanni bitt’ um Regen, nachher kommt er ungelegen)
  • Cherries red, asparagus dead! (Kirschen rot, Spargel tot!)

The word Johannis is heard often in different contexts in June:

Johanniskraut, St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), is named after this saint since it usually flowers on or around St John’s Day, and is harvested then.

Redcurrants are called Johannisbeeren in German, as they ripen around this date.

Glow worms are also known as Johannis bugs, as they typically appear towards the end of June.

It is time to cut your beech hedges, as they send out new shoots at this time of year; the Johannis shoots!

And the Johannis herbs – herbs used for herbal remedies -are harvested at this time, such as chamomile, moon daisies, cornflowers, burdock, wolf’s bane, larkspur, wild poppies, thyme, mugwort, verbena, calendula, verbascum, and of course St John’s Wort. A small wreath is traditionally made with nine herbs, and displayed on the door as protection against sickness and evil.

Alchemilla mollis, Lady’s Mantle… a herbal remedy for women in particular:

Leucanthemum vulgare, Moon daisy… a healing herb dedicated to St John:

In the south of Germany the night of June 23rd-24th is celebrated with ancient customs. Across the countryside you can see beacons lit on hills – the Johannis fire – as a pagan symbol for the sun at the summer solstice, later being changed by the Catholic Church into a symbol of light and hence Christ.

In some communities there may be a dance, or other festival, and re-enacted rituals involving herbs, especially St John’s Wort.

Are there any special traditions for Midsummer where you live?