Monday, October 24, 2011

Lovely Lavender...

Lavender has always been a favorite herb of mine.  I love it's scent.  I have an eye pillow that is filled with its dried flowers.  Just laying it across my eyes and lying back for a short bit can help me get rid of headaches, and completely relax. From time to time, I have burned lavender in the form of loose incense during meditation.  I have also used lavender essential oil for aromatherapy. Not too long ago, I made a blogging friend who has a home in Provence.  Over the months she has posted many pictures of the flowering lavender fields.  So bright and beautiful that I can almost smell their aroma.  I imagine the perfume of all of those plants being quite intoxicating.

(Dried lavender flowers)
The history of lavender, or should I say the history of 'the use of' lavender, dates back over 2000 years.  The name of lavender is said to have started with the Romans, and translated from the Latin verb "lavare", which means "to wash".  The Greeks are said to have called it "Nardus" after the city of Naardus in Syria, near the Euphrates, and many just referred to is as "Nard", which could be a simplified version of "Spikenard" which refers to the lavender flowers' shape.  (There is another aromatic herb also called 'Spikenard' that grows in China, Nepal, and India.)  The Bible is said to mention "Spikenard", and Mary is said to have used lavender on baby Jesus, and to anoint Jesus' body for burial after the Crucifixion.

Going back to Ancient times, ancient Egyptians used the lavender flower for embalming, and in cosmetics.  Jars containing unguent traces (a salve or ointment used to sooth and heal) that had elements resembling lavender, were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen.  Highly valued, only High Priests and those of royal blood were said to use lavender in medicines.

In Ancient Rome, lavender was recognized for its healing and antiseptic properties.  It was used as a form of bug repellent, and was also used in washing.

(Left: Dioscorides, Right: Lavender page from 'De Materia Medica')

The first written record of lavender usage is from 77 AD, and was written by Greek military physician, Dioscorides, who served under Emperor Nero.  Dioscorides describes the medical uses of the herb in his 5-volume work entitled "De Materia Medica".  Lavender (when ingested) is said to relieve indigestion, headaches, and even sore throats.  It was used to cleanse external wounds and burns, and was carried by Roman soldiers to treat war wounds.  Aromatically, it was strewn about floors to sweeten the air, was used in the form of incense for religious ceremonies, and Romans heavily perfumed themselves with it.
(Senanque Abbey in Provence, France)
By the time the Middle ages rolled around, lavenders popularity waned a bit. The herb was mostly used by Monks and Nuns.  It was because of monasteries that the lore of lavender was preserved.  An edict by the Holy Roman Empire in 812 AD, charged monks with growing vegetables, medicinal plants, flowers, and trees.  Lavender was grown at Merton Abbey, which became the center of lavender production for England.

Lavender would see a renaissance in Tudor England.  King Henry VIII 'disolved' monasteries, so lavender became more of a fixture in personal gardens, usually the gardens of 'ladies of the manor'.  It was often grown next to the rooms where laundry was done, and washed items were laid on top of lavender to dry and absorb the plants lovely aroma.

Queen Elisabeth was a fan of lavender and used it in a tea to treat her frequent migraines.  King Charles VI of France was also a lover of the aromatic herb, and had his seat cushions stuffed with it.

(Engraving of the Great Plague in Marseille)
In 16th century France, Lavender was regarded as an effective protection from infection.  In the 17th century, lavender was found in most herbal medicines and was given the distinction of being a cure all.  A prevalent medicine, great interest developed for lavender, and street vendors popped up everywhere. Prices skyrocketed in the year 1665 when the Great Plague happened. Lavender was said to protect against it.

(Right: Queen Victoria)
During Victorian times, lavender had become a quite fashionable aromatic. With ladies especially.  They would put the dried flowers in small muslin pouches that would be placed in wardrobes, and between sheets.  Young women of courting age would place it in their cleavage to lure prospective suitors.  Queen Victoria was a great admirer of lavender, and appointed an official purveyor, known as Miss Sarah Sprules, "Purveyor to the Queen".  It was also during the Victorian Era that a small suburb of London known as Mitcham became the center of lavender oil production.  English lavender products became known all over the world.

(Lavender essential oil)
In the US, the Shakers grew lavender commercially.  Because of it's extreme popularity, in time lavender would become a victim to over usage.  It would see a loss of popularity in the early 20th century, when it became associated with "old ladies".

(Rene Gattefosse)
In modern times, lavender gained an all new popularity via aromatherapy. Rene Gattefosse, a founder of modern day aromatherapy, confirmed the healing and antiseptic properties of lavender through personal experience. After burning his hand severely, he used lavender oil to treat his wound.  His pain subsided, and the healing was quick leaving no scar behind.

Today, the largest producer of lavender is Provence, France.  The Romans can be thanked for that as they were the ones who first brought the plant into that area.  Some other producers of lavender are Belgium, Spain, Australia, Japan, and the US.

(Symbol for the Crown Chakra)
These days, some of the metaphysical uses are to attract love, for protection, purification, longevity, and to induce sleep.  It is also quite useful for easing stress and depression.  Lavender is associated with the seventh or 'Crown' Chakra, opening us to enlightenment and wisdom.


  1. An informative and interesting post Lisa.
    Lavender is one of my favourite essential oils,it's so versatile!

  2. Thank you, Ruby! I have been researching a number of things, and have been sharing what I learn in my posts. Lavender is versatile. It smells so wonderful. :)

  3. They sell the yummiest of Lavender at The Paris Market. I can't get enough of it.

  4. When I was reading stuff about Lavender, I got inspired to make a bunch of sachets. I love to put them in my dresser drawers and my bathroom, and they make neat gifts. Such a lovely and relaxing aroma.

  5. Great post! I love the pictures of the lavender fields. Beautiful beyond words! We grow lavender in the yard - it's my mom's absolute favorite scent, and one of mine, too.