100 Herbs & Flowers: Creating l’acqua di San Giovanni
Establishing tradition is something that means a lot to me, as does reconnecting with the Italian ancestry my Grandfather kept shrouded for his entire life. The creation of the “cento erbe” (100 herbs and flowers) is a tradition from rural Umbria, in central Italy- nowhere near where my Grandfather was born and raised, but it is a tradition that I began with my Son, the summer of 2011 that we lived in Umbria. Introduced to us by our hosts, I found the tradition beautiful and vowed to continue doing it each year and share it with people so that they could enjoy this little Italian bit of rural summer tradition, on their own.
Picking Cento Erbe (and identifying plants) in Paciano, Umbria, Italy:
And so, tonight is Notte di San Giovanni Battista (night of Saint John the Baptist), which we celebrate by gathering 100 types of leaves, herbs, flowers, etc… these go into a large bowl of water, which sits outside all night, collecting the dew. Before going to bed, we burn last year’s dried cento erbe. This is an old Pagan Italian Midsummer ritual, marking the halfway point of the year- burning the old, and giving birth to the new. (the Catholic church basically created religious holidays on or around all of the Pagan holidays, to make the church traditions more palatable to the Pagani). The Feast of San Giovanni takes place on June 24th, to celebrate this patron Saint. Traditionally, all members of the family wash in the floral water at sunrise, and babies are completely immersed in it. The water smells absolutely incredible, and is rejuvenating in every way.
It’s a beautiful tradition that Connor and I have done for the last 4 years. Every year, our gathering looks completely different. What we gathered today will look very different tomorrow morning when I wake up, too! This can really be done every month, in particular on the night of the full moon.
Here are some of our past year’s “cento erbe”. You can collect any type of flowers, herbs, leaves, berries, nuts, or wild plants. They infuse into the water overnight and the result is always different. I can’t wait to see what this year’s looks like when I wake up tomorrow morning…