Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hyacinths for Nawruz


Hyacinths for Nawruz


If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves
alone to thee are left,
Sell one & from the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul
Muslihuddin Sadi,
13th Century Persian Poet
When I went to the supermarket today to get supplies for our Nawruz dinner, I bought a pot of three hyacinths. Both the jeweled colors and the intense fragrance remind me of Persian New Year. Hyacinths were one of the chief decorations at the Nawruz concert I attended last year. And the hyacinth (or sonbol) is one of the seven S’s always present on the table at the Nawruz celebration.

My daughter and I were feeling too lazy to prepare a Persian feast so we reverted to our old tradition of eating seven foods that start with S in English: spaghetti, spinach frittata (as close as we got a Persian dish), smoked salmon, strawberries and shortbread with a few new additions: Sauvignon Blanc, Stilton cheese and pomegranate ice cream (sure, it doesn’t start with S but it seemed Persian).

After the meal, I tried drawing the hyacinths. It was difficult as they have so many blooms on a single stem. I tried to count them but gave up. My guess would be 49 flowers a stem (just to continue the theme of 7’s that’s part of Persian New Year).

Hyacinths have their own family: the Hyacinthaceae. The ones I bought at the store are Dutch hyacinths, so named because the Dutch developed over 2,000 varieties of this plant in the 18th century. Hyacinths are native to Turkey and Iran.

There are several myths that tell of the origin of the plant. In one, both Apollo and Zephyrus love a beautiful youth named Hyacinthus, who only returns the love of Apollo. Zephyrus kills him in jealousy and Apollo turns him into a flower. Another Greek myth says the flower was formed by Apollo from the blood of Ajax after he killed himself. Here is a version of the story from a classical Greek text that refers to other sources for Hyacinth myth:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Aabo%3Atlg%2C0548%2C001&query=1%3A3%3A3

I got the wonderful quote above from the Persian poet, from my favorite garden writer, Paghat, who has lovely pictures of the hyacinths in her garden and recommendations of how and where to plant them:
http://www.paghat.com/hyacinthwhite.html
According to her, I should be able to plant my potted hyacinths and they will open up and become looser and more natural looking.

Chelsie VandeVeer writes about some of the medicinal uses that the English herbalist, Gerard, ascribed to hyacinths, but warns against trying any of them:
http://www.killerplants.com/herbal-folklore/20020422.asp

Apparently the new Chanel fragrance Chance uses hyacinth along with citron, amber, patchouli and jasmine to produce a sensual fragrance that constantly changes. Based on the glowing reviews of this perfume I read on various perfume web sites, I’m going to have to go find some to try.

Happy Spring Equinox!

1 comment:

martha said...

Thanks for the beautiful poem and the beautiful blog.
Happy VE to you too!