The Magic, Medicine and Majesty of Lavender
Growing a Garden of Enchantment
By: J. Marlando
There are few things that I enjoy more than having a garden—plants, flowers, vegetables not only beautify and bring charm into your yard but, if you ask me, a certain calm amidst all the noise and chaos that most of us endure in our daily lives.
There is a very special plant that should be in everyone’s yard or in a pot on their patio, however, and that, as far as I am concerned, is lavender!
First of all it is a beautiful plant that has a beautiful fragrance; a plant that keeps its lovely scent even when dried; also lavender has medicinal properties and is just wonderful to eat or for being brewed into tea for drinking. It’s good and can be good for you!
Lavender has been used for perfumes for millenniums but I’ll be sharing some of its most intriguing history next. For now, however, I am hoping to inspire you to grow and enjoy lavender no matter if you have as much as sixty acres or no more than a six foot patio. And even if you don’t have a patio, you can grow this great plant inside too.
Incidentally when I was a child—almost too many years ago to remember—my grandmother always grew lavender in our yard and during the summer, we always had lavender in our salads. My grandmother, by the way, who was an old hill woman, remains the most influential philosopher and teacher of the heart I’ve ever had. She talked to her plants and flowers way back then and while a lot of people no doubt thought she was foolish, she always had the most plentiful and beautiful yard in the neighborhood. She always used to say that to grow plants healthy they needed nutrition from the good earth, water and lots of love. That formula has always worked for me and it’ll work for you too.
The History of Lavender
While the use of lavender may go all the way back into pre-history we at least know that the ancient Egyptians used it (or a plant very similar to it) as a perfume, in their cosmetics and finally their embalming techniques.
The ancient Greeks, who called the lavender plant Nardus, probably learned how to use it as perfume from the Egyptians but in the 3rd century B.C. Theorophrastus, a physician wrote a book on the healing properties of scents. It appears that it was the Romans, however, who first recognized lavender for its healing and antiseptic qualities although it was a Greek physician who served Nero, the Roman Emperor at the time, and eventually wrote a book on the medical uses of the plant. Most of what those ancient thinkers and researchers discovered remains unattested today. For example, Nero’s physician, Dioscordes, wrote that lavender could relieve indigestion and headaches when taken internally and be used to clean wounds, help heal burns and treat other skin ailments. The Roman soldiers carried lavender with them to treat war wounds and, at the same time, lavender was being spread on the flower to sweeten the smell of rooms and as incense for religious services. Lavender stems can be used as incense by the way.
Pliny the Elder, one of the most famous of the ancient Greeks scholars taught that lavender had benefits for those suffering including menstrual problems, kidney disorders, jaundice and even dropsy; it had been known even long before this that lavender was good for insect bites.
The Greek physician, Dioscordes, called his work De Matera Medica and the Arabian physicians used it as a guide to help develop their own medicinal cures. Some say that the some of the earliest lavender plants to be domesticated was in Arabia. What if this is so or not, it was the Arabians who brought their medicine and herbal knowledge to Spain and so the medicinal value of lavender began to spread throughout Europe.
By the time of the Dark Ages, the church was using the medical benefits of Lavender along with other healing herbs. It wasn’t only lavender’s medicinal use of course; the ladies during those times would place it among their linens to sweeten their smell, used them as general air refreshers and even mix lavender with their beeswax to polish furniture. Queen Henrietta Marie (wife of Henri I) brought cosmetics to the English court also used lavender in the soap and bathed in water sprinkled with its blossoms.
Continuing down through the gates of history we find Lavender has retained its reputation during the Renaissance—by 1600 France, lavender was considered the most effective treatment against infection and actually evolved into being called a “cure-all” by the 1700s.
By the 1800s and the Victorian Era Lavender was extremely popular especially for the ladies who would buy it from street vendors. They would use it as perfume but also to sweeten the scent of their wardrobes and created small bags to hang amidst their clothing. And, younger women wore small bags of it in their cleavage hoping to attract a romance. As it had been in the past, lavender was also put to all kinds of uses like furnisher polishing, insect repelling but always as a medicine for ailments.
Queen Victorian herself was an advocate of lavender and appointed Miss Sarah Sprules to “Purvey of Lavender Essence to the Queen.” Miss Sprules would have purchased it from a commercial grower as depicted below.
By the time the 20th century rolled around Lavender had lost the popular appeal and importance that it had maintained since very ancient times—new perfumes and toilet waters came on the markets as did drugstore medications. Big city living either lacked a place to grow things or as the Industrial Age grew most people had little time to grow much more than chickens and vegetables, and for countless people they were simply purchased at the grocery store and modernism would see even more home gardening diminishing right into our own times.
Lavender in Modernism
Lavender is a native to the mountainous areas of the Mediterranean but grows vigorously in Southern Europe—is that lavender I see in the beautiful Monet below?
Lavender also grows in Southern Australia and Southern United States…but, as I say, my grandmother had it in her yard high in the Rockies so it’s a darn hardly plant. It especially grows well in California where I live now only around an hour above Los Angeles.
It is, by the way, the exquisite oil in the flowers that give the herb its sweet scent. And, the professionals are still agreeing that lavender’s oil can be good for repairing hair loss, and especially anxiety and stress. As the advocates put it, lavender “can be” beneficial because so many people are sue crazy these days but there are even today’s scientists who are now studying the health benefits of the plant.
Indeed, in olden times people even filled their pillow with lavender flowers to help them fall asleep and those scientists who are looking into the benefits of lavender are saying that it may even slow down the activity of the nervous system and promote relaxation. However, swigging down too much of the oil can actually make you sick but the tea is nearly as potent a relaxant and is far tastier.
The reader here should note, however, that oral use in children is not recommended. Some studies suggest that some shampoos, soaps and lotions might even cause breast development in males but you need to ask your doctor about this.
Actually—right or wrong—I recommend adults not take lavender oil internally either and I am not alone in this recommendation. What I do recommend, however, is lavender tea. Use external applications as you will but test first to make sure you don’t have an allergy. And, don’t use at all if you’re a pregnant lady or if you’re breastfeeding.
So how difficult is lavender to grow?
I’ll share instructions I received from the professionals:
Do NOT amend soil
Do NOT use organic materials
Add DC mix to soil
Dig your planting hole SMALL
Do NOT mulch (You can put some DC around plant)
Do NOT water immediately after planting (Give 10 or 14 days to Nature)
Plant on small MOUND
Sprinkle every 2 or three weeks but DO NOT FEED.
Now how difficult is that?
My wife has added lavender to our soups and stews and, as far as I am concerned, there’s nothing better than a nice (healthy) cup of lavender tea. I like natural medicines and herbs but also I am a flower and plant lover. There is just something uplifting about watching plants and other vegetation grow and, if you will, eating the fruit off the vine. If you agree, give lavender a try, I think you’re in for a lot of pleasant surprises.