A simple fragrance, just a passing whiff, can evoke memories. For example, the briefest scent of mint can take one on an instantaneous trip in the mind to mint juleps on a Padre Island beach experienced twenty years ago.
I’ve been intrigued by the connection of fragrance to memory for decades. That interest prompted me to study centuries-old dream pillow formulas based on herbs and flowers, and then concoct new ones to evoke new and interesting dreaming. I’ve spent considerable time researching the responses that the fragrances of freshly dried herbs and flowers have on people of other cultures. My dream pillows and dream pillow blends have traveled around the world to many cultures, all with remarkably similar results in the dreams they evoke.
I know that our minds record fragrances based on where we found that fragrance, and years ago I started a habit when I travel. I began gathering herbs and flowers from the friends I visit, drying the plants in my pickup truck as I drive. I return home with a potpourri of memories.
Since I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to fragrances, I insist that flowers and herbs are the only things used. I never use oils of any kind, primarily because they overpower the real plant fragrances. The subtle fragrance of the plants themselves interest me more.
About a dozen years ago I decided to share my enthusiasm for authentic potpourri with others who come to tour my gardens in the summer. I wanted to give them a way to continue to enjoy their tour. I collected small paper bags and wrote instructions which I glued to the side; each visitor is given a bag at the beginning of the tour.
Then, as I give a tour of some of the 400 or so herbs I grow, I hand each person a sprig or leaf, insisting that they first smell it, then taste it, and then finally put it into their potpourri bag. Since this mix is to be dried in the bag on the dash of the car, I named it car-pourri. Visitors love it.
I begin the tour with spice bush which has a warm, spicy flavor and smell. It’s an Ozarks native, shade loving plant and is the one nearest the Herb Shop porch where the tour begins. I move the group on to lemon verbena with its sweet, lemony, almost bubble gum-ish fragrance. Each person collects a leaf which will add to the final aroma in the bag. Sometimes I ask the group on tour if they would prefer simply a fragrant potpourri, or a culinary one. If they say fragrance is more important, I pick a few things from the medicinal beds. I include hyssop and yarrow, both bitter-tasting herbs. I tell about Achilles and his connection to the blood-stopping herb, Achillea (yarrow). I add that bitter leaf to everyone’s car-pourri, the bitterness helping blend the sweeter herbs together.
If the group is particularly interested in potpourri for cooking (I call it soup-pourri) then we move on to the culinary beds and as we talk, add a few sprigs of thyme, some Arabian chives, an Egyptian onion bulblet, and finally some sage and lavender; their appropriate stories and uses are discussed as we walk.
Next I offer everyone a bit of Kaliteri oregano, one of the finest flavors of oregano in my opinion. We move on to the Greek columnar basil with its stately pillar of dark green standing out among the basils. Leaves of that are tasted by everyone, and added to the bag.
The clove-scented Indian basil grows in a bed to itself, as does ‘Magical Michael’ lemon basil, and those warm up the tones of the car-pourri and work just as well in the soup-pourri, too. The method I use, of encouraging everyone to both taste and smell each herb, helps record it in their brain. If they then follow the instructions on the bag, they simply close up the bag at the end of the tour, place it on the dash of their car, and by the time they arrive back home, the herbs should be dry.
Visitors can then put the car-pourri into a cloth bag and have a fragrant memory of their trip to my gardens. Or, if they’ve chosen soup-pourri, they can dump all of the herbs they’ve sampled into a chicken soup base with vegetables for a delicious herbal soup. Either way, visitors have a true record of the fragrances and flavors of my garden to take home and enjoy again.
It’s through fragrance that our minds seem to most often record memories. We can use that to our advantage, memorizing fragrances, connecting them to the pleasant places we visit, the people we meet, and allowing us to relive those again and again any time we choose.
Jim Long welcomes readers’ questions or comments; you may e-mail him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tour his gardens at www.longcreekherbs.com.