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  • Writer's pictureSu Guillory

The Magic of San Giovanni

One of the most captivating days of the summer months is June 24, San Giovanni, or rather the evening before. It's a night of magic, herbs, and friendship. Recently Su experienced a San Giovanni event firsthand.

The Setting: 'A Lanterna in Monasterace

Steps away from the ancient ruins of Kaulon sits 'A Lanterna, a bio-ecological agriturismo built in 1891. Here you'll find a farm overlooking the Ionian Sea, a B&B, and a restaurant serving up farm-fresh meals.

The event was run by Mariangela Salerno, a naturalist and expert in wild herbs.

A Walk Amongst the Herbs

She started by taking the group on a tour of the property where we learned about the herbs commonly found in Calabria, including mugwort, lavender, rosemary, and malva. She explained the medicinal uses of each, which was fascinating.

Though there was no Saint John's Wort on the property, Mariangela had foraged plenty in the mountains and gifted each of us a bouquet. Saint John's Wort is one of the flowers associated with San Giovanni (John = Giovanni. Get it?). She instructed us to dry the bouquet and save it to burn next year.

A Dinner with Friends

Next came dinner, and we were starving! The restaurant on the property, Cocintum, is fantastic, and this evening was no exception. The chef used the herbs we'd seen on our walk in fritters and zeppole (fried dough), as well as in risotto and pasta. Even the dessert, a rich cream served with biscotti, had basil in it.

Now Comes the Magic of San Giovanni

After dinner, the fun began. Mariangela showed us the herbs that traditionally go into the magic water of San Giovanni, which included St. John's Wort, rose, mint, lavender, and hazelnut leaves, which are tied to witches, particularly those in Benevento, who were said to meet under a hazelnut tree each year.

Together, the group picked flowers and put them into a large cauldron of water. Doing this together created a sense of harmony and community. It was lovely.

After that, there was a ceremony for cummàri. Cummàri are two women who are good friends, like sisters. Men can participate too, though they're called cumpari. The two recite a poem (this one was in dialect, so I didn't understand much) and exchange flowers as a symbol of their eternal friendship.

Burning Away the Old

To close out the evening, a fire was lit. Laurel leaves served as a purifier, their smoke creating a pleasant smell in the air.

Those who chose to were invited to take a milk thistle flower and light it in the fire with a wish. We were told to leave the flower outside overnight. In the morning, if the burned flower continued to grow and change, the wish would come true (mine grew!).

We collected the flower water in jars to take home and let sit underneath the moonlight. On San Giovanni, we took the water and purified ourselves with it as a symbol of a fresh start and blessing.

San Giovanni is a unique event that if you have the opportunity to participate in, you will love!


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