Samhain is around the corner and I’ve been working on reclaiming my ancestral heritage. Each year when we celebrate, we have an altar decorated for our ancestors and leave spirit plates of food and drink to honor those we’ve lost. I’ve always loved this time of year and had always celebrated it as Halloween annually without fail. Once I met Rimakej, I experienced it for the first time as Samhain. Now it is a tradition for us to host a gathering and invite others to leave photos, trinkets, foods, or items to remember their passed loved ones by on our altar for the evening. We spend the evening feasting after a small remembrance ceremony. But I always left setting up the altar and leading the ceremony to Rima. She had way more stuff and knew much more about her heritage. It never dawned on me that my standoffishness was related to the fact I really didn’t know anything further than 3 generations back and barely at that.
Getting a Head Start
While we were in England, Rima and her mom helped me to change that by researching my lineage on Ancestry.com (website not affiliated with HHH). Through them, I learned the areas my ancestors likely hailed from. I had a lead to start researching to begin to reclaim the heritage my family had lost touch with. There were so many directions to seek reconnection: stories, songs & dances, language, spirituality, home remedies & herbal medicine, mythology, food, etc. The language would be a barrier, so I started there.
I didn’t find another breakthrough until reading one of my books on brewing a few days ago. As I read, it began to dawn on me that mead, one of my favorite things to brew, is indigenous to my ancestral homelands. The book included recipes for various alcoholic fermented beverages that were made with traditional medicinal herbs and foraged ingredients. Ingredients I knew and use as an herbalist and a cook, as well as ones that I grow, forage, or wild-craft. I glanced down at the quart jar of micro-brewed wild-fermented mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) flower mead (pictured below) I had made the week before and thought about how making it and sampling it had felt so soothingly familiar. Suddenly it clicked that brewing mead as a wild ferment (meaning to capture the yeast living in the environment as opposed to adding store-bought yeast) was a part of my heritage that I had stumbled back to. Out of curiosity I grabbed another book of mine, Wild Fermentation, and flipped through it.
Heritage in Fermentation
Fermentation is indigenous to all cultures; it was how they preserved food and unlocked nutrients. It is part of my ancestral heritage. I looked at the apple cider vinegar and the lacto-fermented onions sitting in the kitchen. The reasons I came to fermenting were the same as my ancestors. I was already home. Silly, I thought, finally realizing that I was trying so hard to find my way back when I was already here. I’ve been on this journey for a while now. I’m an herbalist and my ancestors used plant medicine. They fermented food and drinks, so do I. They were as zero-waste as possible, used hand tools, and grew their own food. I’m a homesteader who does the same things. They repaired clothes, spun cordage, foraged, hunted and went fishing. I do too.