Lavendula angustifolia

Family:   Lamiaceae, or Mint
Genus:   Lavendula
Species: angustifolia

Synonyms and Common names: English lavender, garden lavender, and elf leaf.

Description and Habitat:  Lavender grows both in the wild and is cultivated in many cottage or herb gardens, it is exquisitely English, although is also found all over Europe and the Mediterranean.    Lavender is native to the mountainous zones of the Mediterranean where it grows in sunny, stony habitats. Today, it flourishes throughout southern Europe, Australia, and the United States.

Lavender is a heavily branched short shrub that grows to a height of roughly 60 centimetres. Its broad rootstock bears woody branches with erect, rod-like, leafy, green shoots. A silvery down covers the grey-green narrow leaves, which are oblong and tapered, attached directly at the base and curled spirally.

The oil in lavender's small, blue-violet flowers gives the herb its fragrant scent. The flowers are arranged in spirals of 6 - 10 blossoms, forming interrupted spikes above the foliage.

Parts used:  Aerial parts.

Collection and preparation:  Lavender blooms should be harvested when the bottom third of the flower spike is in bloom. Wait until the sun has dried the morning dew, and it's a dry day, cut the plant as harshly as you like to harvest, the harder you cut it the more lavish it will grow. Dry lavender spikes on screens, or tie a half-dozen or so stems into bundles and hang them in a dark place with good ventilation. The darkness will help preserve the flowers' colour; free circulation of air will keep the inner stems from turning mouldy.

If you don’t have a sufficiently dark place to dry lavender, put each bundle, stem ends up, into a brown paper bag, with a few dozen holes poked into the sides for air circulation. Tie the bag closed around the stems and hang in any well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight.

When they are dry, rub the flower heads over a bowl to loosen them from the stem. Store these in a sealed container in a darkened place to keep them fresh. You'll notice the key to growing, harvesting and storing lavender is dry conditions. Moisture can lead to mould or mildew.

Constituents: The fresh flowers contain up to 0.5% of volatile oil that contains among other constituents linalyl acetate, linalol, geraniol, cineolo, limonene and sesquiterpenes.
essant, rubefacient, anti-emetic, and nervine.

Indications:  lavender is a recognized treatment for the following conditions and symptoms: restlessness, insomnia, abdominal complaints, rheumatism, and loss of appetite.

Therapeutics:  Lavender can be used externally for a variety of treatments. Aromatherapists use it as a tonic in inhalation therapy to treat nervous disorders and exhaustion. Herbalists treat skin ailments, such as fungal infections, burns, wounds, eczema, and acne with lavender. It is also used externally in a healing bath for circulatory disorders and as a rub for rheumatic ailments.

Use dried lavender in bath teas. Make an infusion by brewing a 1/4 of a cup or so in a bowl covered with boiling water for about 20 minutes. Then strain and add to the bath. You can also mix with chamomile half and half or mint, or a little of all three using the same method.

Make an easy herbal eye pillow for heating or cooling and placing on your eyes by mixing 1/2 cup flax seed and 1/2 cup lavender and placing in a simple sewn muslin square

Lavender increases the brain waves associated with rest and relaxation, it is second to none for aiding the removal of stress which are often accompanied by headaches, and when combined with passionflower and valerian make for a good nights sleep.

Rub the oil on an aching tooth and it will relieve the aching,

Taken internally, lavender acts as a digestive stimulant and may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of migraine or toxic headache. In these cases, it combines well with feverfew and ginger

Dried Lavender flowers are still used today to perfume linen, their powerful, aromatic odour acting also as a preventative to the attacks of moths and other insects. In America, they find very considerable employment for disinfecting hot rooms and keeping away flies and mosquitoes who do not like the scent. Oil of Lavender, on cotton-wool, tied in a little bag or in a perforated ball hung in the room, is said to keep it free from all flies.

Horses can benefit from the tail and mane being scented with Lavender water, it helps to keep away nuisance flies when the weather is hot.  The same Lavender water is useful to rub on human skin, as it keeps away midges in the flying insect season.

Contraindications. Do not take when pregnant. May increase the depressant effects of sedative or hypnotic drugs. May also provide an allergic reaction on the skin, especially if dermatitis is present.

Preparation and dosage:
Infusion –
pour a cup of boiling water onto 1 to 2 teaspoonful’s of the dried herb and leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes, drink three times a day.

Oil – use in an oil burner, or stuff a pillow with the fragrant dried flowers to help relaxation. Oil can also be used directly on the skin but test for allergic reactions first.

Additional comments & Folklore:  In Pliny's time, blossoms of the Nardus sold for a hundred Roman denarii.  Lavender or Nardus was called Asarum by the Romans because it was not used in garlands or chaplets.   It was formerly believed that the asp, a dangerous kind of viper, made Lavender its habitual place of abode so that the plant had to be approached with great caution.

Not only are insects averse to the smell of Lavender, so that oil of Lavender rubbed on the skin will prevent midge and mosquito bites, but it is said on good authority that the lions and tigers in Zoological Gardens are powerfully affected by the scent of Lavender Water, and will become docile under its influence.

The name of Lavender comes from the Latin word ‘lavare’ meaning ‘to wash’.  It was used as a ritual bathing herb in ancient Rome. Biblical references and folklore have mingled together over the years, and it was believed that Adam and Eve took lavender with them when they were banished from the Garden of Eden,   as this legend goes, lavender later received its perfume distinction when Mary laid the baby Jesus’ clothes upon a bush of it to dry.

Lavender was later regarded to ward off evil, and in medieval times a cross made of lavender hung over the door provided a safeguard against disease and evil in general.   During the 17th century in London, it was suggested that a bunch of lavender be tied around the wrist to protect from the Great Plague.  To the credit of our ancestors, lavender really did provide protection from evil in that it did appear to guard against disease.

Lavender has been linked to the plague. For this bit of lavender folklore, there are several conflicting versions, but when combined they may actually make sense. Whether it is called Marseilles Vinegar, Four Thieves Vinegar or was invented by Richard Forthave, the concoction was said to protect people from catching the plague. While the recipe varied from location to location, lavender was a common ingredient – perhaps to mask the scent of less-pleasing ingredients like garlic and vinegar.

The folklore behind the name Four Thieves Vinegar has two different versions. One has four thieves upon capture admitting the brew allowed them to burgle the houses of plague victims without catching the dread disease themselves. Upon capture, they offered to trade their recipe in exchange for leniency. In a slightly different version of the story, the thieves had been captured prior to the plague outbreak. They invented the vinegar when they were sentenced to bury plague victims.

It is worth noting here that vinegar itself is not an antiseptic, although being an acid (acetic acid) it can remove some stains and dirt.