Every season about this time, I feature an article in my newspaper column on growing lavender. The subject and fascination with this plant makes it one of my most requested herb talks. There is a romantic allure to the purple haze of blossoms in the garden this time of year. The festivals begin in mid-July and fragrance fills the air on a hot summer day as the essential oils are released. The charm is not only about growing it in the garden. The legend, lore and history of lavender can be just as enchanting as growing it.
I once heard it termed as the Swiss army knife of herbs and that is an apt description. It does just about everything a herb should do. The use of lavender buds and essential oil dates back thousands of years. It has recorded uses for over 2500 years, from medicine to cooking; it has stood the test of time. Many herbs go in and out of favor as their attributes are found to either not work or to be too powerful to be safe. Lavender has never gone out of favor and is as popular as ever. The essential oils are in all parts of lavender from roots to leaves, but the flowers are the only part that oil is distilled from. The aromatic oil of lavender has powerful natural ingredients that are prized in perfume but also for medicinal qualities. The principal components of the oils depend on where it is grown but include properties that are antibiotic, antiseptic, skin renewing and healing, calmative, pain relief, insect repellant and nerve tonic. Culpepper’s historical herbal gives testament to many “interesting” healing properties including sluggish maladies, strengthening of the stomach, a gargle against toothache and to reduce the trembling and passions of the heart.
The name lavender is derived from the Latin lavare which means “to wash”. It was used extensively in history by Romans as perfume for the bath. In areas of Europe and the middle east where it was native and plentiful is was used as a strewing herb; harvested stems were strewn across the floors of home and churches to cleanse and repel flies and mosquitoes.
English lavender and its cultivars are the most common grown in our gardens and of note; English lavender did not originate in England but was a plant introduction as it spread its way into France, Italy and Spain. The first notation of lavender cultivated in England was in 1568, and has since become synonymous with English gardens. An air of Victorian melodrama comes with lavender lore as it was used as an aromatic spirit to prevent fainting spells and swooning.
(Use caution on sensitive skin and test for allergies first!)
On your next camping trip take a bottle of lavender essential oil: Dab it on bug bites for itch relief, dab on minor burns for fast healing and soothe a headache with one drop of oil on each temple and gently massage for 15 minutes.
Mist sunburned skin with a cooling lavender water mist: To make a mist, simmer ½ cup of fresh lavender buds in 4 ounces of purified water for at least 15 minutes. (Do not boil, just simmer). Allow to cool, add 10 drops of lavender essential oil (found in health food stores). Place in a glass bottle with mister spray top. Shake well before use and mist on sunburned or itchy skin.
Fill a fabric sachet with dried lavender buds and place the car as an air freshener. The added aromatherapy properties have a calming effect for tense times in rush hour traffic.
(Recipes from the second in the series of Creative Garden Guides- “In Love with Lavender” by Susan Goetz
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