This time I would like to tell a herbal story about lavender, one of the most well known herbs. I think most of us think of lavender as a typical summery flower and associates it with rest and calmness. But there is so much more to say about this sweet scented flower!
Originating from southern Europe and parts of Africa, Asia, and India, many ancient and medieval cultures relied on the herb not just for its signature scent but also its pain relieving and sedative properties.
Lavender belongs to the Lamiaceae, just like rosemary, thyme and summer savory. There are many varieties but only 3 are native and are growing in the south of Europe. This shrub is originally growing wild in the Mediterranean area.
In France and England, lavender was first gathered from the wild and cultivated in cloistered priests’ gardens and cottage and castle herb gardens. In time, the desire for the flowers became so great that serious cultivation for commercial purposes developed and great fields of lavender were planted to meet the demand.
You probably know these endless fields in the Provence in France where the lavender covers the landscape with a purple blanket. Since the 17th century lavender has been an valuable crop for the French. They produced lavender oil on a big scale for the perfume and soap industry.
Last year we visited a little cooperation where we could see the fascinating process of lavender oil distillation. It’s wonderful to know that ancient techniques are still used, though they are a little modernised. I loved the heavy scent of lavender lingering in this place!
The Latin name ‘Lavandula” is derived from the Latin ‘lavare’ which means ‘to wash’. Lavender is refreshing and has naturally antiseptic properties. It has long been used to make perfumes and soaps. The Romans scented their baths lavishly with great bundles of it. They also used lavender oil as a natural remedy for many diseases and ills.
Lavender was also served as a strewing herb ~ an herb spread over floors to be crushed when walked on and, thus, to mask unpleasant odors. It was often used in the sickroom as a deodorizer and disinfectant. In medieval times, it was burned in large quantities in buildings and streets to fight the plague, which was thought to be spread by smell .
The essential oil of Lavandula angustifolia or the “real” lavender is a real medicinal herb as it is disinfecting, pain-killing, bactericidal, wound healing, anti rheumatic, insect repellent, calming, antispasmodic and anti fungal. It improves the digestion, stabilises the mood, improves the sleep and has an anti-depressive working.
It’s also used to treat insect bites, to treat skin diseases and burns. You see, lavender has a long list of medicinal benefits, it’s worth it to have this oil in your medicinal cabinet! If you buy lavender essential oil it’s important to buy the right one as there is a big difference between the oil of Lavandula and Lavandin. The essential oil of Lavandin has the same scent but not the therapeutic benefits. And you’ll notice Lavandula is much more expensive than Lavandin.
In our garden we have 4 different types of lavender growing. Here you can see the white variety, the pink lavender, lavandin and the real lavender. I think one can’t have too much lavender! During summer I pass a long row of lavender every time I go to my studio and it’s so comforting to touch the lavender and enjoying its calming scent on my hands.
There are many ways to use lavender. I will share the ones I use it for but there are many more possibilities to enjoy its healing benefits.
First of all, we need to harvest the lavender. If you want to dry the flowers, you have to pick them when they are already colourful but just before they’ll open. Cut the flowers stems and dry them upside down in little bundles in a cool and ventilated place.
Once the lavender flowers are dried they can be used in herbal tea for example. It’s too strong to be used by itself as a tea, but mixed with chamomile, lemon balm and other flowers it makes a soothing herbal tea. You really don’t have to add many flowers because of its strong taste. A cup of this tea is the perfect calming drink in the evening.
Lavender is well known for its ability to relax the mind and improve the quality of the sleep. Sprinkle 2 or 3 drops of organic lavender oil (not more or you’ll be overpowered!) on your pillow and dream away on its heavenly scent! It’s scent is wonderfully soothing and calming. You can also sew little sachets and fill them with dried lavender flowers. I’ve added some dried lavender bouquets in our bedroom. Adding lavender oil to a homemade bug spray is an effective way to scare off the annoying mosquitos in the room.
And what about making a late summer bouquet with dried lavender stems, blue thistles, poppy seedpods, withered grasses and dried angelica? They beautifully blend together and will last for a long time.
It’s a joy to keep memories of the freshness of summer in the house all year round by storing clothing and linens in lavender. You can do this by making a typical French lavender wand. Of course you can also sew some linnen bags and add dried lavender flowers. The fresh scent of lavender will perfume your clothes and expel moths.
I came across this quote from an early twentieth century brochure promoting the lavender industry:
“Satin gown and silky fur,
Should be laid up in lavender,
For its fragrance drives away
Flitting moths of silver grey.”
Making your own infused honey is another fun thing to do on a summer day. I used a small jar of our own raw honey and add 3 stems of fresh lavender (with little flowers opened) and a little handful of fresh flowers. Put this jar in a dark and cool place and turn it upside down every day, for 3 weeks. Afterwards you can sieve the lavender and enjoy the honey in a cup of warm milk or a cake or whatever you prefer!
For me, this lavender infused honey always make me think of holidays in France and warm summer days. Sometimes I just need a spoon of this on a cold wintery day and the blissful feelings will return!
May you enjoy those late summer days with a touch of lavender!