by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's note. To set the mood for this article, be sure to search any search engine for "Ladies in Lavender", composer Nigel Hess, violinist Joshua Bell, recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 2004. It is based on a short story by William Locke (1916), filmed in 2004.
Before starting this music, put aside all the cares of your day, make yourself comfortable, and allow yourself the shear bliss of indulgence in this most lyric and evocative of scores.
There is a famous quotation that one always finds the particular England one goes in search of. Today we are en route, via the unrelenting power of remembrance, to the most loved England of all...
You are walking in the springtime of May through a woodland dappled with sunlight, repository of ancient secrets and long-ago laughter. Everything about this wood sings of a special place, a place of beauty and serenity, a place where there is peace, and to spare, for the weary traveler... without knowing why, you feel at home here, at once... every step taking you in a direction you now know you have always wanted to go... you cannot say why, but this is home... the home you have always wanted and cherish.
Every fibre of your being is happy... such is your joy in this place, a world apart where you are expected, as if everything about this place knows you and has been waiting, forever and patiently, for you.... and now rejoices at your arrival.
You are walking up a hillock... and in a moment you are at the top and then you know, no one needs tell you, why you are happy, at ease, serene...
On every side, you see -- and then inhale -- the sweet lavender. Fields of beauty! Acres so rich in flower you catch your breath... for there is such abundance that you are sure there is comfort enough here for the world burdened by its dismays and distractions.
You are glad that on such a day as this, glorious in every way, this last glory, too, has been vouch-safed you, to live forever in your heart..
Lavender has done its healing work again, certain balm for the troubled soul, your soul.
"We shall find a cleanly room lavender in the windows and twenty ballads stuck about the wall."
Izaak Walton, "The Compleat Angler". 1653-55.
Facts about lavender.
The lavenders are a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family. An Old World genus, distributed from Cape Verde and Canary Islands and Madeira, across Africa, the Mediterranean, South-West Asia, Arabia, Western Iran and South- East India. There is some reason for thinking the genus originated in India.
The leaves are long and narrow in most species. In other species they are pinnately toothed, or pinnate, sometimes multiple pinnate and dissected. Flowers are borne in whorls, held on spikes rising above the foliage. Flowers may be blue, violet, or lilac.The calyx is tubular, with five lobes. The corolla is often asymmetric. All this readies us for the most beloved lavender of all....
Lavandula angustifolia, English lavender.
Those without a drop of poetry in their veins call it "common" lavender, but wiser folk know there is nothing common about our relationship to lavender and the many ways it eases our lives.
Flowers yield abundant nectar from which bees, insightful and industrious, make a high-quality honey. Flowers can be candied and are sometimes used as cake decorations. Lavender flavors baked goods and desserts; it pairs especially well with chocolate and is also used to make "lavender sugar". Lavender flowers are occasionally blended with black, green, or herbal tea, adding a fresh, relaxing scent and flavor.
Lavender lends a floral and slightly sweet flavor to most dishes, and is sometimes paired with sheep's-milk and goat's-milk cheeses. For most cooking applications the dried buds (also referred to as flowers) are used, though some chefs experiment with the leaves as well. Only the buds contain the essential oil of lavender, from which the scent and flavor of lavender are best derived.
The French are also known for their lavender soup, most commonly made from an extract of lavender. In the United States, both French lavender syrup and dried lavender buds are used to make lavender scones and marshmallows.
Lavender is used extensively with herbs and aromatherapy.
English lavender yields an essential oil with sweet overtones, and can be used in balms, salves, perfumes, cosmetics, and topical applications. Essential oil of lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It was used in hospitals during World War I to disinfect floors and walls. These extracts are also used as fragrances by bath products.
According to folk wisdom, lavender has many uses. Infusions of lavender soothe and heal insect bites and burns. Bunches of lavender repel insects. If applied to the temples, lavender oil soothes headaches. In pillows lavender seeds and flowers aid sleep and relaxation. An infusion of three flowerheads added to a cup of boiling water soothes and relaxes at bedtime. Lavender oil (or extract of lavender) heals acne when used diluted 1:10 with water, rosewater or witch hazel; it also treats burns and inflammatory conditions.
Flower spikes are used for dried flower arrangements. The fragrant, pale purple flowers and flower buds are used in potpourris. Lavender is also used extensively as herbal filler inside sachets used to freshen linens. Dried and sealed in pouches, lavender flowers are placed among stored items of clothing to give a fresh fragrance and to deter moths. Dried lavender flowers have become recently popular for wedding confetti.
Our constant friend and solace, humble despite such great gifts.
Ancient peoples were well aware of lavender's bounty and succor. So well regarded, it was one of the holy herbs used in the biblical Temple to prepare the holy essence. It was a plant, a scent that never intruded. It lifted! Soothed! Gave respite and release! As such it helped deliver the peace of God.
The magnificent English poet Edward Lear (1812-1888), partaker of lavender's solace, wrote characteristic nonsense more revealing than lucid prose:
"... his aunt jobiska made him drink lavender water tinged with pink, for she said, 'the world in general knows there's nothing so good for a pobble's toes!'"
This is why when you are weary, sore oppressed, make your way, if only in memory, to the place of these amiable and most hospitable of flowers. Sit down and drink in their beauty, given to you at the moment you most need it, for these are the good Samaritans, offering you in all humility what they most embody -- the enduring comfort of God Himself.