There’s something special about the scent of flowers. Each variety has a unique aroma that conjures something different for everyone. For me, the scent of lilacs is the scent of summer. When they first bloom in spring, I inhale their rich perfume, pressing my nose into the tiny purple petals. I close my eyes and am transported back in time to the house where I grew up, which had a lilac tree off the deck.
Poems are written about flowers and girls are named after some, like Rose, Lily, or Iris. Flowers are powerful and symbolic — there when we are married, there when we die, and marking all the celebrations in between. Throughout human history we have treasured flowers, and lavender is one of them.
The plant is a member of the mint family and people have used it for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used lavender in cosmetics and for embalming their dead. It has been found in ointment form in ceramic jars in pharaohs’ tombs. Lavender got its name from the Latin “lavare,” meaning “to wash.” The Romans used lavender to scent their baths, beds and clothes.
In the Middle Ages, it was used to treat lice, in furniture polish, and as a cure-all for various ailments. It is also reputedly good for burns and was used in World War II to treat war wounds.
You may remember lavender sachets, used to freshen linens and clothes in your mom or grandma’s drawer. Lavender is also used to flavor foods. If you’ve ever had something cooked with Herbes de Provence, you know how delicious it can be. It adds a sweet floral touch to meats and seafood.
Adele and Ken Kilseimer of Selah know a thing or two about lavender and are scrambling to prepare for Lavender Harvest Days. It’s July 12-14 at their Selah Ridge Lavender Farm. They estimate more than 3,000 people may visit and say it’s one of the biggest events in Central Washington that weekend.
The couple has run the farm for more than 19 years. Why did they decide to get into the lavender business? Adele says, “I had roses when we lived in town, and I planted lavender next to them and I just loved it. That’s where it all started.”
She doesn’t have a second full-time job, but Ken works for the Department of Transportation in addition to his farming duties. Not everyone is cut out for lavender farming, he says, “It’s a lot of work, it’s low to the ground, you’re bent over when you have to cut it and bundle it and hang it — and you handle it so many times.” They both laugh when Adele says, “The older we get, it gets a little harder every year but we keep planting more!”
Their three-acre farm is one of the biggest, if not the biggest lavender farm in Central Washington. Sequim, on the Olympic Peninsula, is known as the “Lavender Capital of North America.” Its climate is similar to the Yakima Valley’s in that it stays relatively sunny and arid in the growing season, due to its location in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains.
After harvest in Selah, it’s time to distill the oil so Adele can use it in the products she makes from lavender, which include lotions, cleansers, face creams, soap and essential oils. Ken says, “She’s like a mad scientist. I’m boggled by all the products she’s created.”
She says lavender has healing properties. “I know this because I’ve seen it in action — if you cut yourself, like I have during harvest, you can put a little oil on there and it stops the bleeding.”
They don’t use pesticides because insects don’t bother lavender. Something in its chemistry repels bugs. Ken adds, “Deer don’t bother it, either.”
But it sure seems to make people feel good. During the celebration the second weekend in July, Adele says, “Everyone’s really happy in the lavender. My sister likes to spend her time in the lavender during Harvest Days and she says ‘everyone is always so happy.’ It seems to do something to them.”