The Embrace of Aloe and Lavender

August 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

the embrace of aloe and lavender

When I was a girl and came home with a wound – an abrasive initiation from the new two-wheel bicycle, a scrape from a play too rough with our collie – my mother held me examining my injury with the tender but keen eyes of a physician. If a minor bruise bled against the pale skin of arm, a gentle kiss assuaged the pain; if the fall had opened it, a caress of aloe vera was sure to follow.

I remember my mother walking to this plant sitting in the corner of the room. The aloe vera eyed us like a thick-skinned grandmother.  With a sharp knife, my mother sliced off one of the plants thick spines and squeezed the gel from it as if in sacrifice from an ancestral body, smoothing the cool ointment onto my hot pain. Afterwards, my wound smelled of the greenest of green, taught in the embrace of the aloe’s jelly.

In London, far away in years from that little girl and her mother’s apothecary, I live close to a narrow, brick-laden, hidden gem of a lane on the border of the boroughs of Hackney and Shoreditch called Columbia Road. On a weekday, even with vibrant shop signs of pink and turquoise advertising antiques, hats, handmade clothing and garden gear, it’s a rather subdued corner of town. But on a Sunday, it fills with horticulturists from all over the southwest bustling with their wares.

“Peonies: two bunches for five!”; “Basil, Thyme, Tarrogan: five  herbs for a tener!”; “White lilies for a fiver!” They yell amongst a congested congregation of people and plants.

The ritual of buying flowers here every week is one of the delights of living. Buskers from Scotland play St. Louis Blues. Every once in a while a double bass appears accompanying a sweet sounding songstress. The road packs with tourists and locals; the air smells of jasmine and jade.

The ritual of visiting the market is like healing journey in itself. Rituals, peaceful and non-harming, have the power to alleviate us in their own right. Whether it’s a morning ritual of meditation, a nightly bath with sage, a weekly trip to a café, the pretext of routine creates a space that holds me in its sanctified patterns. In the Sunday ritual of flower buying, I journey to the market by bicycle passing smiling people carrying bright bouquets through London Fields. The scents and sights of foliage and flowers remind me of beauty and of the abundance of life itself. Once there, I choose a flower that fits my mood, one that might refresh my altar; I feel alive and filled with a simple magnificence. I return home humming with a handful of green and rainbow.

Last Sunday I indulged in more than just flowers.   A gardener had intoxicated me with his lavender. He pulled off a shoot, crushed it between his fingers and sprinkled it into my palm.

“Smell that.” He said.

I was sold. “French lavender”, I thought, “how gorgeous that will look in my aqua blue ceramic pot picked up at yard sale last month.”

Reminded of my mother’s ritual of aloe gelling me when I was a child, I invested too in one of those tough-skinned cacti, my own grandmother of healing to settle next to me whilst I sleep. Just looking at the rich lavender and sturdy aloe reminds me how healing the earth can be, how life affirming the mother is that surrounds me daily. The sight of the plants fills me with gratitude for those silent physicians of the garden, quietly cultivated, and sacrificial in their brilliance.

And it’s more than just their scent, their sight, the ritual of their birth, cultivation, roots and blooming. Lavender is an antiseptic and an antidepressant. The scent lifts moods; the oil soothes rashes and anxiety. The ketones in the plant reduce pain and inflammation. Lavender induces sleep, reduces soreness, prevents muscle spasms, fights fungal infections and prevents scarring. Aloe Vera is an anti-inflammatory, astringent, emollient, anti-fungal, antibacterial and has antiviral properties. It soothes sunburns, scalds, acne and eczema. Taken internally, it helps to heal a host of troubles: poor appetite, IBS, diabetes, ulcers, and asthma.

Spray some lavender oil on your pillow for a good night’s rest. Sprinkle some of its dried flowers in a sachet and lift it to your nose every time you feel low. Find some organic aloe vera juice and add it to your morning smoothie to make your skin glow from the inside. Put these plants next to your altar and each time you see them, bow.

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