Saturday, July 21, 2012

For the Panting and the Passion

A couple of summers ago,
I planted a row of nine lavender plants 
which have lately grown into a lovely small hedge
near a side door on our house.
Every time we walk by, 
the rich sweet scent of lavender is released into the air.
That's a perfume that has been enjoyed through the centuries.


Even so, lavender isn't discussed that much
in the books I've read that describe the very oldest English herbals,
for example, Leech's Book of Bald
(a leech was a physician, Bald the author),
which suggests that early Saxon healers relied 
more heartily on other herbs.
For example, bettony was said to be good for diseases caused by elves.

But lavender finds more mention in the later 16th- and 17th-century herbals,
such as the ones by Turner, Gerard, and Parkinson.
Usually lavender is prescribed for diseases of the head like colds,.
Alice M. Coats tells us that Turner recommended lavender 
be sewn into a cap for the wearer's benefit, 
and that Gerard suggested "lavender in various forms" 
was effective against "'the panting and passion of the hart.'"
But lavender was also thought to protect against the bubonic plague.

I have grown lavender off and on through the years,
sewn the dried flower buds into sachets;
tossed the dried stalks onto fireplace coals to scent a room in winter;
and in the last few years, I've collected and tried a few recipes.
My favorite is to add 2 tablespoons of lavender buds 
to sugar cookie dough. 
The first time I made lavender cookies,
 I feared they might taste like soap,
but the lavender imparts only a hint of its flavor.
The cookies freeze very well,
so they can be enjoyed for weeks after baking;
or pulled out as a defense against a panting heart,
or worse, a pestilent elf  if there's no bettony in the house.

No comments: