Last spring, I was fretting over my Meyer lemon tree. Weeks of rain brought out a flurry of new green leaves, but nary a blossom. The previous year, you could barely see the leaves for all the tiny white blooms covering them. I could smell their fragrance through my open window as I sat at my computer thinking up clever ways for the villain in my suspense novel to thwart my detective. But after such abundance, the tree seemed to have gone into a sulk.
A friend informed me that the situation was of my own doing. Apparently, I failed to take the proper precautions to ensure ongoing bounty. She wasn’t talking about fertilizer, pruning or proper irrigation.
“Sprinkle some salt around the perimeter,” she advised. “Then burn a bit of esfand and wave the smoke over the tree.” If performed during a season of abundance, this ritual will prevent jealous neighbors from putting the evil eye on the tree and ruining the next year’s crop. Esfand comes from a shrub that grows wild throughout the Middle East, and it produces a strong, woodsy odor when burned.
I have this advice on excellent authority. My friend is from Shiraz, a city in southern Iran, famous for its lovely gardens and fragrant citrus groves. Her family grows Seville oranges in their garden, and the trees are so bountiful that the blossoms end up in a variety of dishes, with plenty remaining to form big, juicy fruit. Some of the blooms add fragrance to tea, while others are turned into moraba-ye bahar-e narenj, or orange blossom preserves. To collect the flowers, the women spread large sheets under the trees, shake the branches until the blossoms snow down all around, then gather them up in the cloths.
I even have the proper tools for protecting my lemon tree from the evil eye:
First, you heat the wand over a flame until the metal coils glow red, then you dip it in a bowl of esfand. The seeds crackle and release their scent in a cloud of pungent smoke. I burn it in my kitchen to get rid of cooking smells, especially fish. My husband complains that this simply replaces one bad smell with another, but I like the scent. It reminds me of hiking in the forest and camp fires.
The ritual precaution seemed to work well for my Shirazi friend, so I tried it. And wouldn’t you know it – my lemon tree is now covered with lovely yellow globes, nearly ready for harvesting, with a second crop of tiny green fruit following close behind. I predict a steady supply of lemons throughout the coming year.
Do you observe any superstitions or rituals in your daily life? How well do they work?