On The Scented Trail of an Aromatic Cult of the Goddess Strenia to Usher in the New Year - Part II {Scented Thoughts} {Perfume List}

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The goddess Strenia, the goddess of New Year's gifts is the one offering a crown and a mantle to a man*
*"The goddess Rest (Quies - Repos) has her temple outside the Colline gate, not being allowed into the city of Rome; the goddesses Strenia - goddess of new-year's gifts, giving a crown and mantle to a man - and Murcia - goddess of sloth, touching a man with her staff - do have their temples within the city (background)" 1475-1480 - The National Library of The Netherlands.

January 9, 2014 - Having taken the first steps on the faintly echoing scented trail left by the goddess Strenia of Ancient Rome {See Part I}, we pursue our exploration of a New Year fragrant atmosphere of yore - and why not today - scented with verbena.

When you uncover some of the past of the history of that natural scent, you realize that it is not just a fragrant trail you are following, but a moral one as well as perfume is by extension of its empirical aromatherapeutic properties turned into a symbol of virtues...

There are numerous types of verbenas - to know which one is referred to originally in the cult to Strenia and the New Year is not easy although verbena officinalis is indigenous to Europe, while lemon verbena or lippia citriodora originates from South America.

According to Celsus, verbenas in the plural, verbennae, could be referred to by the Ancients as a generic religious group of plants used in rituals. It could thus be in reality, for example, a bouquet comprising laurel leaves, olive branches, myrtle and verbena.

While today verbena in France is very popular as a tea infusion - it is one of the default 'tisanes" found in cafés - its usage as a plant of hospitality has been completely forgotten. It is sometimes used in cooking as a sophisticated twist, often paired with peaches in desserts, as the natural scent has a stewed-peach facet, as well as a candied one, its fruity facet even suggesting strawberry jam.

For the Ancients however, verbena was considered such a positive, contributing addition to an atmosphere of conviviality that a gesture of refinement requested that bouquets of verbena be placed underneath the table so that the scent would rise up towards guests, making the conversations livelier and the mood, happier.

This "home decoration" idea can be simplified today by using essential oil diffusers. Aromatherapist Nelly Grosjean writes in Le grand livre de l'aromathérapie that in over thirty years of experience, she's noticed that the essential oil of verbena is the most consensual scent she's ever encountered. It is universally loved when used as a "room fragrance". She insists that other essential oils you can like or dislike, but not so for this one. Only one person expressed dislike among the thousands she'd met and this was because that individual had been saturated with its smell during childhood. You know what scented candle you can offer, if in doubt.

The Ancients were much more attuned to the charms of verbena, using it as a lustral water or to clean altars dedicated to the gods.

The mood-enhancing properties of the plant were called upon also when trying to pacify fractious groups. Emissaries sent to proclaim peace-or-war always wore crowns made of verbena and for that reason were called verbenarii, "the ones who wear sacred branches" underlining the central importance of verbena itself.

For the ancient Celts, verbena only came second to Mistletoe. Over the centuries, it has been largely used as a medicinal and magical plant. A mid-19th century French source states that while verbena had gone out of fashion it was still used in villages as a cure-all plant - one of the popular names for verbena officinalis is "plante à tous les maux" (a remedy for all ills) - and in magical spells.

Please stay tuned for the next installment in this Verbena Scented Trail series.

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