by Lisa Bartell of Wisteria Manor
“Ladies fair, I bring to you
Lavender with spikes of blue;
Sweeter plant was never found
Growing on our English ground.”
— Caryl Battersby
Have your eyes ever had the pleasure to see a bountiful field planted with lavender, row after row of alluring azure blooms against a blue sky? The tempting aroma that wafts among the rows and dances on the breeze has such a calming relaxing effect on one’s nature.
This ancient herb from the Mediterranean has been around for over 2,500 years. Known to have been used by Mary on the Christ child at his birth and after his crucifixion (known in Hebrew as “Nard” or “Spikenard”), it has passed down through the ages for its aroma, beauty and medicinal purposes. Romans used it in their public bath waters to perfume themselves. Hence the Latin root word of lavender, “lavare” which means “to wash.” Romans also used it for its medicinal properties, gaining knowledge of this from the Greeks.
People from the Renaissance period thought it would ward off the horrific plague. During the Victorian Era, the English used lavender in their homes for its clean fresh scent, hanging it in bundles in every room, placing sachets in dresser drawers and washing their linens in its essential oils. This came about due to Queen Victoria’s obsession with all things lavender. English society, loving to follow trends set by their queen, followed suit. Queen Victoria loved it so much that she had it strewn on her floor, so when stepped it would release its clean aroma into the room.
It was of the utmost importance to the queen that she took it upon herself to appoint Miss Sarah Sprules as her “Official Purveyor” who would oversee her never ending supply of lavender. This herb was in such demand, that farmers started farming it commercially to supply both commoners and royalty.
Today we still use lavender for many things.
Lavender is widely used to treat insomnia, hair loss, stress, anxiety and post-operative pain. It is also used by aromatherapists, and by massage and acupuncture practitioners, as well as for chiropractic manipulation.
Lavender is also used as laundry and carpet freshener, linen spray and bug repellent. Here is an easy recipe:
Linen spray recipe
- 2 teaspoons witch hazel
- 40 drops of lavender essential oil
- 4 ounces of distilled water
- spray bottle
Mix witch hazel and oil together and let it set for a few minutes. Add water and put in the spray bottle. Always shake well before using. (You may want to spot test an item before using.)
Lavender is often used in baked goods such as breads and cookies and cakes. It is also sometimes infused in honey, especially in honey imported from the Mediterranean where bees frequent lavender plants to get their nectar and produce a highly sought after floral honey. Lavender is also used in many other dishes and beverages and even a summer thirst quenching lemonade:
- 5 cups water
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 12 stems of fresh lavender
- 2 ¼ cups of fresh lemon juice
Boil 2 ½ cups of water with the sugar. Add the lavender stems and remove from heat. Put a lid on the pot until liquid has cooled. When cool, add 2 ½ cups of water and the lemon juice to the mixture and strain out the lavender. Serve the lavender lemonade with crushed ice and garnish with lavender blossoms. Serves 8
Home decor & aromatherapy
Lavender wreaths and bouquets are beautiful to the eye as well as pleasantly scented. Sachets can be bought or handmade from dried lavender petals placed in a small linen sack. Sachets are great for closets and drawers to make your clothes smell fresh and clean. Lavender soaps and bath salts may help you get a good night’s sleep. Candles made with essential lavender oils can be placed in the bedroom or along a soaking tub to help you relax and unwind. Potpourri made with lavender stems and oil will make any room smell clean and fresh.
Homemade Lavender Potpourri
- 3 cups of dried lavender buds
- ½ teaspoon of orris root powder (You can find this at a garden store or online.)
- 20 drops of essential lavender oil
- Mason jar with lid
Place the buds, orris root powder and oil in the mason jar and shake it all together. Let it set in an area free of sunlight in your home for about a week. Periodically shake the jar during the week to mix up the ingredients.
After the time period has lapsed, place in a decorative bowl in your room and enjoy!
With its timeless beauty and aromatic scent, not to mention all its valuable uses, you may want to plant some lavender in your own garden. Lavender can be grown in zone 5 and up which makes our area a good candidate. Lavender thrives in full sun and dry soil. It grows in purple/blue mounds making it lovely for a border. Lavender hates dampness more than cold so be sure you have well drained soil. If the summer is full of high humidity make sure you have plenty of spacing around each plant for air to circulate.
If you have a lean soil you will have higher concentration of essential oils and if you have an alkaline soil, the plant will be more aromatic. Pruning is a must once your lavender is well established. Prune by cutting the flowers, this will encourage new growth. Each spring cut the tall varieties back by one third and the small mound varieties by a few inches. You can also plant lavender in garden pots and containers in full sunlight. Be sure the pot is a few inches bigger than the plant’s root system to give it room to grow. Water the soil — not the plant — when dry, and make sure the pot has plenty of drainage.
I hope you try planting some lavender this spring and enjoy its endless bounties!