Southern World Of Scent
When I begin to feel the first stirrings of Spring, I do follow the lovely, and so very southern, tradition of using my new ablutions of the season. The scents used are chosen by carefully considering one's entire scent signature. It has long been the practice that southern women carefully choose their scents and thoughtfully craft an olfactory expression of their lives.
This antebellum southern tradition is taken so seriously that southern ladies would choose scents based on their age and life situation, the effect the scent of her sachets would have on her clothing, and on subtle distinctions in the weather where she lives. Of especial importance is the surrounding flora and the rich, alluvial scent of earth. Our deep, rich soil drapes our heavy air in a thick, minerally molasses. Our creamy, heavy flowers offer a soporific tug, and we are cloaked in and lulled by its primeval allure. The southern child cuts teeth on such headiness, is it no wonder that the southern woman should consider it a companion and friend?
As a southern woman ages, she gradually narrows down her choices, and in her more mature years, she would have chosen her signature scent. Her linen water, sachets, dusting powder and soap marked her distinct and revered station in life, whether it's new bride, new mother, or matriarch.
I've read of the choices my ancestors made in the journals and ledgers they kept. I can ascribe certain personality characteristics to the family of my past by the scents chosen. I think this is a lovely legacy, and I hope there are many our age doing this. I still base my choices on the seasons and the weather.
Winter to Spring
Wintertime and early Spring means the very subtle scent of rose or orris. Oh, the lovely old, old orris. How the scent always brings to mind the dear, sweet ladies of my childhood. It is the sweet, soft scent of gauzy Spanish moss and bald cypress. I always, always have orris dusting powder and sachets on hand, and it is the tradition to use only orris in a wedding trousseau.
It is not common to find a rose scented item of good quality. However, you may be pleasantly surprised by a few rose soaps and especially rose petal dusting powders and salves. When true rose is added to a powder, salve or a soap of superior quality the scent is subtle and very compatible to your skin's natural scent.
Linden often the choice of women of old southern lineage, as they are often still connected to their ancient European roots. It is especially common in Charleston and Savannah to drink linden tea at Easter.
It has a very soft citrus flower scent. It is a fresh, but soft and not a bit powdery. It is still possible to find fine French soap varieties that are hand crafted, natural soaps made the same way since the Middle Ages. These soaps are very mild and moisturizing, and I love how creamy they are. We are especially fond of making linden dusting powder.
Once the weather turns consistently humid, the linen water scents most often employed are lavender or orange blossom. Very rarely may one find an orange flower water that is true to the gentle floral creaminess of the flower, though. Orange flower water was very common in New Orleans and is still faithfully used by the older, Louisiana French (as opposed to Cajun) families. It is lovely on freshly laundered, crisp bed linens on a sultry summer night.
When the air turns crisp, it is the clean scent of lavender or rosemary. Now, one must be very, very picky about lavender scent, and most lavender scented items are quite off-putting. I do not want something sweet or powdery. I want the true, pure, clean scent of the lavender leaf and flower.
I grow copious amounts of lavender and rosemary, and I do make lavender water, rosemary water, salves, sachets, and dusting powders myself. The herbaceous clarity is a good foil to many of the warm spices often employed in our cuisine during the season. I do not care to have those linger.
In The Clear, Dark Winter
As fall turns once again to winter, I crave the scents of this world around me. To my senses, the ancient traces of metal-sweet fine pipe tobacco and honeyed leather seem to reemerge from old books and ledgers and old stately chairs. The air carries the cold and damp and chilled earth. Only true verbena is the scent of a southern Christmas. The scent lingers from pretty sachets and dusting powders, and winter in the south is wrapped in its subtlety. I have always considered it the scent of the mystery of this season.