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Last week I noticed, while driving up the gated gravel road on Mount Mitchell to do my little job, that the roadside was an absolute festival of St. John’s Wort in full flower. I’d been thinking about that all week–those yellow flowers with their bursting stamens, the leaves freckled with their secret ingredient: hypernicum. So on Monday when I met up with Whitney, and we warmed ourselves on the rocks like lizards, I mentioned to her that I wanted to make medicine when I went up to Mount Mitchell the following day, and asked her if she wanted to come.

“Yes!” she replied, an emphatic affirmative, “It’s a date!”

And though it was later than we planned, we did manage to get up the mountain, mason jars and round basket in tow. In the high atmosphere of the mountaintop we plucked blossoms and leaves–the blossoms I dropped whole into my jar, and the leaves I stacked and tore with my fingers. It was quiet and magic work. The world spread out below us, and the cloud people soared overhead, watching us. A pair of juncos ventured close, chattering with curiosity. There were meadows of St. John’s Wort, and I had a large half-gallon jar to fill. When Whitney had filled her quart jar, she began harvesting yarrow, which was especially vibrant on the mountain–leaves a deep emerald lace, blooms a shimmering creamy white. By the end of it, my fingers were sticky and black with hypernicum.

We walked back up the road together, quiet, blissful. I sucked on one of my fingers. That secret ingredient was bitter, slightly tannic on the tongue, but mellowed to the flavor of hazelnuts. A bunny hopped past us, smiling and content.

Up at the truck we poured the half gallon jar full with brandy, and the quart jar full with olive oil. Bubbles glided leisurely through the oil. Then we ate the fat sweet blueberries that Whitney had brought, bursting with pleasure.


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