Fragrant Quote for September 16th, 2012-Fragrance of September fields

Achillea millefolium

Some of the August and September composites have strong savers. The corn sow-thistle, when warm in the sun, has a suspicion of the chrysanthemum smell; achillea, the milfoil, has a delightfully homely blend of it. The reek of the camomile is pleasantly familiar in the harvest fields, though a weed execrated by farmers. Spenser
in his ‘Muiopotmos’ speaks of the flower with evident affection as ‘the breathfull chamomill.’ Some of the thistles are sweet-scented. The nodding, or musk, thistle has a perfume appropriate to a flower of its beauty. The carline, like the everlasting, has the dry fragrance you would expect from its smooth, juiceless, straw-colored bracts — an almost indoor smell. The fleabane and the ploughman’s spikenard each have a smell that is strong and subtle at the same time. They belong to the order of smells noted by Bacon which have some earthy or crude odors joined with them.

The labiates have a southern, or rather an English midsummer, smell, the plain homely dead-nettle smell of an English lane. A blind man, familiar with herbs, could always detect a labiate by its scent. The tribal smell is strongest in stachys and ballota, most pungent in the mint and sage, earthiest in the ground-ivy, sweetest in lavender, marjoram, basil, and thyme. Thyme, no doubt, is the favorite of the order, and the best loved of poets. It gave the flavor to the honey of Hymettus; one smells it when one thinks of a Midsummer Night’s Dream; and it has passed into the soul of the Sussex downs, where —

No tattered herbage tells
Which way the season flies,
Only our close-bit thyme that smells.
Like dawn in Paradise.

The possessive pronoun here is fit and eloquent. The thyme is the pick of the labiates, and they are a very English order, for we like to think of them as such on account of their homely associations. Their scent pervades our ditches, banks, and hedgerows. The hedgerow smell is a distillation of catmint, dead-nettle, horehound, and woundwort.