The first thing that comes to mind when I think of lavender is the fragrance of my childhood, from the Yardley of London, Lavender Perfumed Talc. To me it was something that brought with it a whiff of glamor to our everyday lives, and also, the arrival of Grandpa and Grandma from abroad.
I loved to look at the vintage can with pictures of Francis Wheatley’s ‘Lavender Seller’ on it. It gave a distinctive, elegant, English touch to my mother’s dressing table.
It has indeed been a favorite with Indian film stars of yesteryears like Nargis, Tanuja and even the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. This cosmetic company, established in 1700, in a way seems to evoke the colonial days of yore.
The lavender story reaches farther into the past, to the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans who used it for embalming, as massage oils, to treat headaches, indigestion and to apply on wounds.
Queen Elizabeth I loved it in her tea. It was much in use and considered fashionable during the time of Queen Victoria. During the time of World War I, it was used on soldiers as antiseptic.
Legend has it that it was a plant in Eden. It is believed to protect against evil. Women threw drying clothes on lavender bushes to absorb its smell. It is used in cooking also.
While reading about lavender, I found out it has its own idiomatic usage too, ‘lay someone out in lavender’ means to scold someone severely!
This passage that I read from Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ left me wistful.
‘Philip opened a large cupboard filled with dresses and, stepping in, took as many of them as he could in his arms and buried his face in them. They smelt of the scent his mother used. Then he pulled open the drawers, filled with his mother's things, and looked at them: there were lavender bags among the linen, and their scent was fresh and pleasant. The strangeness of the room left it, and it seemed to him that his mother had just gone out for a walk. She would be in presently and would come upstairs to have nursery tea with him. And he seemed to feel her kiss on his lips.’
Those who have visited lavender fields spread out in seas of purple, blue set off by green are really lucky. Its visual appeal has few rivals, I think. And, though I have never had the pleasure of standing in one, here’s my own paint version of a lavender field.