Today lavender is a popular flower and herb. Taken only for its beautiful appearance and clean calming scent, it deserves the attention.
Lavender has long had many uses and legends attached to it. Adam and Eve were said to have taken lavender flowers with them when they were banished from the Garden of Eden. It is mentioned in the Bible by the name spikenard (from the Greek name for lavender, naardus, after the Syrian city Naarda): “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.” Gospel of Luke
For protection, Christian households would hang a cross made of the herb over the door, a tradition possibly explained by the legend that Mary hung baby Jesus’ clothes on a lavender bush to dry.
The Greeks used lavender as a remedy for various ailments including muscle ache, insomnia and insanity. The Romans loved using the plant in their bathing rituals, believing it purified the body and soul. They gave it its name, derived from the Latin “lavare” which means “to wash” and introduced it to the English.
During plague epidemics it was credited with warding off the disease, often with a sprig fastened to each wrist.
In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, servant women who washed in lavender water, placed lavender in linens or draped laundry on lavender bushes became known as ‘Lavenders’. The lowliest of these were sometimes reputed to be prostitutes.
A sprig on the wrist
a spell for a plague
is worth two
in the bush
where the Lavenders
lay their cares.
Such a fair flower
stolen like sinning
scented from heaven
lost on earth.
Found to be useful
for washing and cures
and heart ache
Such ladies at work
their laundry to air
to ruin them
can save them.
All through the ages
a toiling to some
somehow a likeness
For how they do grow
Well drain’d in full sun
with still enough breath
to live on.
Clusters of secrets
that beg to be kept
their hopes to the wind
and a way.
From A House Near Luccoli
Donatella overslept the chance to be the first to find Golone anything but vigilant on his master’s couch. Still, she was glad the doctor had returned to Alessandro sitting up insisting on caffè forte and a brisk walk to knock the demoni from his head.
“Your nurse has her orders.”
“What next?” Golone stretched. “Your jailer.”
Alessandro’s head dropped into his hands and a slow moan.
“You see.” Donatella stroked his pillow.
“Hmm.” The doctor picked up the blue bottle that was back where he had left it. “Empty? No more medicine for you, signor.”
“I thought it was a spell.” Alessandro fell out of the conversation, avoiding the awkwardness he wouldn’t have felt anyway, always as if unconscious of his sins and anything surrounding him that wasn’t his choosing.
So Donatella stayed, for the unknown and contradiction of those senseless moments. She sat by his bed in the safety of friendship, and even for virtue, rubbing his temples with lavender, knowing she might never have such intimacy with him again.
Donatella washed in the suggestive scent of lavender water and changed her underthings behind a screen. She emerged, as her mother commented, like someone condemned. She couldn’t avoid the tight-lacing of her corset, but refused to be dusted with chalk and cerise powder and most adamantly to her lips being stained with crushed cochineal. Too much midnight-blue fabric shimmered and swept around and behind her. Her bosom was flattened, her waist elongated, and the ruffles of a new chemise, thinner than any she had worn during Genoese summers, showed flirtatiously on her lower arms and through the slashed and puffed tops of her sleeves.
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