It [lavender] is renowned for a simple purity -- a sweet fragrance and a subtle strength, it is the odour of the domestic virtues and the symbolic perfume of a quiet life.
-- The Fragrant Garden by Louise Beebe Wilder
I never used to be very fond of the smell of lavender. It was too piercing and clean a scent. I gravitate toward softer, warmer scents, like rose, jasmine, and sandalwood.
But I have come to appreciate lavender for a number of reasons.
First off, it's easy to grow. It likes any dry, well-drained, sandy or gravelly soil in full sun, and needs little or no fertilization. Sounds like it could almost thrive on neglect. Check.
This year I bought two types of lavender at the nursery. (Lavender is actually a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family.) The one pictured above is English lavender, which I usually get. The picture below is of the French lavender I found. I haven't grown this before. It looks quite different from the English lavender. The French lavender has a much subtler scent, and smells a bit like rosemary.
Here is some lavender I grew from plants last summer and dried.
Lavender oil is probably the best known and widely used of the essential oils. It is known for its antiseptic
and calming and sedative properties. Apply a few drops of lavender oil to your eye mask if you wear one at night, or to your pillow. Sometimes I put a drop on my wrist to smell as I'm falling asleep. Make a little potpourri of the flower buds and put it on your nightstand.
Look at what I found on my pillow last year when I stayed the night at a friend's . . .
Lavender is also good on burns and insect bites. Lavender is the only essential oil that you can apply directly to the skin. Every other oil must be first mixed with a carrier oil, such as almond or jojoba or apricot. I keep a little vial of lavender oil on hand and apply it directly to the affected area.
I have a couple good books about essential oils, and how to use and combine them, as well as a few books that provide some history of flowers and herbs.
Lavender has been highly prized down through history both for its scent and for its antiseptic qualities.
The word lavender comes from the Latin word "lavare" which means "to wash." Roman bathhouses used lavender to help create a fresh, clean scent for the bathers. In the Middle Ages, freshly washed clothes were often draped over lavender bushes to dry so that they would smell fresh and lovely. Queen Victoria is said to have used a deodorant made from lavender. And the author of the above-quoted book, The Fragrant Garden, says, "I remember when a little girl . . . were the Lavender stalls where the pale aromatic spikes lay piled in great bunches that were eagerly bought by the fastidious housewives of the city to strew in their linen presses." You can buy lavender ironing water now if you wish or make your own with distilled water and lavender essential oil. There are many recipes on the web.
During the plagues in medieval times, people would tie bunches of lavender to both wrists believing this would protect them from the deadly disease. There was even something known as "Four Thieves Vinegar," which contained lavender, and was used to wash with after coming in contact with someone with the plague. Grave robbers would use this to protect themselves after stealing from plague victims (hence the name), and as they seemed to remain healthy, they were promised leniency for their vinegar recipes.
Lavender may be the "nard" that Mary anointed Jesus with before His death, as described in John 12:3. The ancient Greeks called lavender "nardus," commonly "nard." It may have been spikenard, another flower of the valerian family. In any case, the word "nard" has come to mean any very expensive oil used for anointing or perfuming.
I have never used lavender in cooking, but it can be used to flavor lemonade or tea, decorate cakes, or add flavor to scones and shortbread. The Victorian Earl Grey tea I have is flavored with lavender. To me, it tastes a little perfume-y. Do any of you use lavender in your baked goods? I would love to hear.
|the Official Blog Cat likes to help with photo staging|