Skip to main content

The Hunger Moon and Other Moons

In the Old Farmers Almanac there is a name given to each full moon of the year. These are mostly adapted from those used by early American Indians, who kept track of the passing seasons and tied their calendar to the full moons. I was reminded of this last week by a friend who told me we were in the Hunger Moon. He was helping me understand why one of our hens had been taken earlier in the week by a wild animal in broad daylight. The Hunger Moon falls at the end of winter when game is scarce and predators are particularly hungry. Names for the moons varied between different indigenous peoples, but they carried similar meanings. The Hunger Moon was also known as Little Famine Moon and Bony Moon. In those days the threat of famine after a long winter was real, for people as well as for animals.

planting by moon

I spoke on the phone today with Jessica Prentice, one of the founders of the locavore (local foods) movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s also author of Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection, in which she uses the lunar calendar as an organizing principle to talk about food.

Explaining her fascination with moon names, Jessica said, “As I started to read about the moon names of different cultures I was struck by how the names reflected something profound about their culture and their food system." She added that an “abundance of food and scarcity of food are both cyclical.” People in pre-Industrial times were acutely aware of this and their moon names reveal it. Most of us, on the other hand, have lost our connection to those cycles.

Jessica has also published a series of food wheels that illustrate the fresh foods available throughout the year in different parts of the country. She also lists the moons associated with each month on these wheels. I own “The Local Foods Wheel” for the New York Metro region.

food wheel

Here are the 12 moons listed on Jessica’s foods wheel. The definitions are reprinted directly from her website. For longer descriptions, you can visit her website or purchase Full Moon Feast. The book is available pretty widely, but if you order directly through Jessica you can get a signed copy.

Sap Moon (March)—The first drops of sweet nectar from tree taps was living proof that nature is in a constant state of change and flux, and that there is a lot going on underneath the surface. There are forces moving that we cannot even begin to perceive.

Egg Moon (April)—On old-fashioned family farms, hens lay fewer eggs during the winter when nights are long and days are short, and more eggs when there is more daylight. The Egg Moon means that spring is here, the days are longer and the hens are laying more and more eggs.

Milk Moon (May)—The cows have had their calves and are feeding on the rapidly growing spring grasses in the fields.

Mead Moon (June)—Mead was the Norse and Old English version of a drink fermented from honey, and though many modern Americans have heard of it, few have tasted it.

Wort Moon (July)—Wort is the old-fashioned, Old English word for herb. Late summer was the time of year when medicinal and culinary herbs would be harvested, dried and stored for the winter.Tinctures would be made, herbal ales would be brewed and medicinal lozenges, jellies, candies and spirits would be processed. It was a time to refill the medicine chest for the year.

Corn Moon (August)—It is the time of year when grain is ripening in the fields, readying for harvest. Throughout much of the United States the plant Zea mays is being harvested and Americans are enjoying plenty of their beloved sweet corn.

Harvest Moon (September)—The moon appears particularly bright and it rises early in the evening. This allowed farmers to keep working at their harvest into the night. (Source: The National Geographic Society.)

Blood Moon (October)—The name comes from the fact that small farmsteads would slaughter meat for winter in the fall. It was the time of year when hogs would be fat, having benefited from harvest season and all the other richness of the farm's agricultural year.

Snow Moon (November)—In 16th-century England it was the time of year when villagers of the British Isles would expect to see their first snowfall of the winter.

winter moon

Moon of Long Nights (December)—In this moon we will move through the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.

Wolf Moon (January)—This was a time of year when country folk and farmers could hear the hungry winter howls of wolves in the distance and begin to feel the metaphorical wolf at the door of their farmhouses. Either the stores of food were still well provisioned from the harvest, or they were beginning to run low.

Hunger Moon (February)—The late winter lunar cycle was called the Hunger Moon by many different peoples in many different languages, but always for the same reason. When you depend on the land where you live for food, and the land has been frozen for months, you are likely to be hungry.

Last fall I took a moonlit walk at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. The night was chosen because it was the Harvest Moon. A group of us walked on the grounds of the Institute for a couple of hours without flashlights, learning owl calls and viewing the heavens through a small telescope. Thank you, Cary Institute, for organizing the Harvest Moon event, helping us remake a connection with the cycle of the seasons that most of us have all but lost.
Dorian Winslow is the president of Womanswork, and is passionate about making the best products on the market for women who garden and work outdoors.

Horticulture publishes the free weekly e-newsletter, "Smart Gardening Tips," and "The Curious Gardener," a free monthly e-newsletter with more tips and articles by Dorian. Subscribe to our e-newsletters.