“We’ll keep the lavender blooming,” guarantee the folks from Sequin, Washington.
They should do a sparkling job, considering that their Lavender Festival is the “largest lavender event in North America.” Claiming over 110,000 plants in one town, they have the numbers to back up their promise.
They took very seriously novelist Alice Hoffman’s advice. She counseled, “There’s a few things I’ve learned in life: always throw salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck, and fall in love whenever you can.”
Mark your calendar (if you plan on being in Washington) for their Lavender Festival, a fabulous-sounding event that takes place this year from July 19 through July 21. I wish I could be there, since being surrounded by these purple plants with their peculiar and powerful scent sounds perfect to this lavender lover.
Though not native to the Vineyard or North America for that matter, lavender has found its way into our soils and souls. Hailing from the Mediterranean, lavender has become ubiquitous. It is widely cultivated all over the world, providing fragrance, health and nourishment. From earliest times, lavender has been valued for its many promising properties. Ancient Greeks and Romans called lavender Nard or Nardus, after the Syrian city of Naardia. Nard is mentioned in the Song of Solomon and was considered one of the holy herbs used in the biblical Temple.
Its value was more than just spiritual. A pound of the flowers cost as much as the monthly wage of a farm laborer, making the blossom out of reach for common folk.
In those days, it was the scent that was the major attraction. The word, lavender, is derived from the Latin root ‘lavare,’ which means ‘to wash.’ This name describes a common use of the plant, which was to add its flowers or oils to bath water.
Another way to enjoy lavender is on the tongue. It can be employed as a condiment or flavoring and, as a culinary herb, it provides pleasure and medicine.
British botanist John Parkinson sang its praises: “Lavender is almost wholly spent with us, for to perfume linen, apparel, gloves and leather and the dryed flowers to comfort and dry up the moisture of a cold braine.”
Mrs. M. Grieve continues this thought in her two-volume herbal reference book, A Modern Herbal. She suggests a dose ”from 1 to 4 drops (of essential oil) on sugar or in a spoonful or two of milk. The essential oil, or a spirit of Lavender made from it, proves admirably restorative and tonic against faintness, palpitations of a nervous sort, weak giddiness, spasms and colic. It is agreeable to the taste and smell, provokes appetite, raises the spirits and dispels flatulence. A few drops of the essence of Lavender in a hot footbath has a marked influence in relieving fatigue. Outwardly applied, it relieves toothache, neuralgia, sprains, and rheumatism. In hysteria, palsy and similar disorders of debility and lack of nerve power, Lavender will act as a powerful stimulant.” And obtaining the helpful herb was easy. Lavender was enthusiastically sold from the streets. Circa 1900 a seller hawking the flowers would call:
“Here’s your sweet lavender
Sixteen sprigs a penny
That you’ll find my ladies
Will smell as sweet as any”
British poet Caryl Battersby had this acclaim, “a sweeter plant was never found, growing on our English ground.”
It’s very little wonder, then, that the colloquial term arose “to be laid out in lavender,” meaning going to one’s final rest in the finest style. A more comfortable and sweet-smelling ending would be hard to find and, as the people of Sequin, Washington, have discovered, it’s not a bad way to live, either.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.