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Wild Gardener

A sprig of Muguet on the first of May

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Of the four pagan festivals of ancient Europe the only one that hasn't been subsumed into the Christian calendar is Beltane, May Day. Although it is now celebrated across the world as Labour Day this has nothing to do with the traditional practice of pastoralists who drove their cattle between two huge fires to sanctify them before turning them out onto their summer pastures.

There is however, maybe unwittingly, a remnant of this pagan rite of purification still extant in France, where the sale of bunches of Lily of the Valley has official sanction by the state. Anyone can sell these brins de muguet on the street without let or hindrance, and without having to pay tax on them either.

Muguet (moo-géh) has long been associated with Beltane as it reliably flowers on the first of May and was used along with yellow spring flowers to decorate holy wells and trees. The fresh, salubrious lemony scent of these tiny white clusters of bells seems to perfectly capture the promise of spring; renewal, new life and happiness.

Muguet flowers smell of a lemony note which is somewhere between the fugitive thinness of hyacinth and the scouring powder crunch of lilac, and they also have an important undercurrent of pink rose. Muguet is a bit like a lighter, floral note of denatured lemon with the acid and most of the aldehydic tang of the peel removed.

Muguet is always given along with the shiny and silica green smelling leaves which support and complement the aroma of the flowers. A posie is known as le muguet du premier mai - le porte-bonheur, the lucky charm. Muguet smells like the most lovely and fresh scouring cream; natures way of spring cleaning the world.


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