The Origins of English Lavender
The word Lavender is derived from the Latin term lavare, meaning ‘to wash’.
It was in this manner that dried English Lavender flowers were first used in the baths of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the East, especially in Turkey, they are used, as of old, for perfuming the bath. (Grieve, p, 473)
In Greek mythology, English Lavender was dedicated to the goddess, Hecate,
and ruled by the planet, Mercury.
The species – Lavandula angustifolia – has been described in many historic books, such as the herbal written by Hildegard de Bingen (1098-1180) and those of other important herbalists, such as John Gerard and Nicholas Culpeper, who lived in later centuries.
In the Complete Herbal and English Physician, a dosage is outlined as follows... “two spoonfuls of the distilled water of the flowers taken, helpeth them that have lost their voice, as also the tremblings and passions of the heart, and faintings and swoonings, not only being drank but applied to the temples, or nostrils to be smelt into.” (Culpeper, p. 85)
Uses of the herb included drying the lavender flower heads
for the purpose of scenting linen and deterring insects, and for adding to potpourris. Bundles of dried lavender were also
burnt in order to disinfect and deodorize rooms in which people
Oil was distilled from the flowers of this lavender species, and was used to create Lavender Water and toilet vinegars. Aiding cases of low spirits and weak nerves, the oil was also used externally to relieve stiff joints and for its antiseptic qualities in wound healing.
English Lavender has also been known for its curative effect on headaches, and its ability to dispel nervous conditions, and taken in the form of tisanes or by inhaling the fragrant oil.
English Lavender was also enjoyed at meal times in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods. It was “used as a relish to be served with game, roasted meats, with fruit salads, sprinkled over sweet dishes, or as a sweetmeat in its own right, with the side benefit of relieving headaches.” (McLeod, p. 113)
In A Modern Herbal, it is also mentioned as a condiment, being added as a flavouring to meals in order to ‘comfort the stomach’.
Aside from its role in restoring physical health and enhancing food, English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) had great importance as an ornamental plant.
First thought to have been brought to England with the Romans, it was highly valued for its perfume and medical purposes, and was later sought for planting in monasteries and walled gardens in the Middle Ages. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it later featured in the historic styles of Tudor and Elizabethan garden design.
During the 19th Century, Lavandula angustifolia became a common sight and smell in many cottage gardens throughout England. It was combined with other fragrant plants, such as sweet williams, wall flowers and old-fashioned roses. (McLeod, 2000)
To this day, English Lavender remains a popular garden plant – treasured by gardeners and bees alike.
Next article: The Medicinal Facts about English Lavender