From cleaning wounds to repelling plague, lavender has a myriad of uses throughout the centuries. It’s now quite a common garden plant in the UK.
While it was ancient Arabia that first farmed the plant and distilled its oils, it was the Greeks and Romans that traded it into England.
The Romans even named lavender, after their word meaning ‘to bathe’, lavare. Those clean-living expansionists steeped bundles of the herbs in their bathing water. Extremely common in the Mediterranean regions, some species can spontaneously combust in the summer heat due to the volatile oils in the leaves. The seeds of these species only germinate after a fire.
The plant pops up in ancient history and the Bible alike. According to KatKnit, Cleopatra used its fragrance in her grand seductions. It’s even claimed the asp that killed her hid among her lavender bushes.
When God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Evil, they took lavender with them. Though given how many purposes it has, that was an intelligent choice on their part.
When a woman washes Jesus’ feet, the lotion she applies contains lavender (aka spikenard). His mother Mary hung his drying clothes on a lavender bush and apparently transferred his scent to the plant. It’s so popular in the Bible that Christians even made crosses of lavender to protect themselves from evil.
The Medicinal Uses of Lavender
The essential oil possesses antiseptic properties – according to Our Herb Garden, it can even “kill typhoid, diphtheria, streptococcus, and pneumococcus bacteria”.
In days gone by, people burnt bunches of dried lavender and left them to smoulder in sickrooms to help fumigate the room. Or you can buy sachets containing the dried herb to help keep pests away from your clothes. I’ve got some in one of my drawers!
This multi-purpose plant aids healing and even works as an insecticide. Abbess Hildegard of Bingen in 12th century Germany used it to kill fleas and head lice. She also mixed lavender with brandy and gin to make a migraine cure.
In Mediterranean countries, people avoided sunstroke by weaving lavender into their hats. It’s more likely the hats kept the sun at bay so they didn’t get headaches. But keeping lavender so close would be a nice way to spend the day.
I use lavender myself. It’s one of the 3 ingredients in my homemade facial oil, included to help reduce redness. I also use it in my homemade massage oil. It’s brilliant at taking the edge off a tension headache. But I wouldn’t use either of them to try and guard against the plague.
A Popular Scent
The Egyptians were certainly fans of lavender, using it in their funerals. When Howard Carter opened King Tutankhamun’s tomb, some of the dried flowers inside still had a smell.
Now, lavender appears in perfume. Bill Laws relates a tale from Marseille, in which four grave robbers plundered graves during a plague outbreak. They claimed they’d used lavender to protect them against contracting the disease. If you’re interested, their potion also contained rosemary, distilled vinegar, and cloves. Such a mixture is often called Four Thieves Vinegar.
I’d pay good money to see an advert for that at Christmas, possibly starring Brad Pitt.
But in 1709, Italian perfumier Giovanni Maria Farina moved to Cologne. He used the tale as inspiration and added lavender to his new scent, Eau de Cologne (Laws 123).
According to Margaret Baker, lavender “is said to make lions and tigers docile” (89). Though I’m not sure I want to be the one to try that one out. It does attract bees though so it’s great if you want a bee-friendly garden. Much like fuchsia, the plant is a fairy favourite.
L for Lavender and love?
Associated with the heart chakra, lavender has long been associated with love and romance. Tudor girls made lavender tea to help them see their future husbands. They’d drink it before bed, asking St Luke to bring a vision of their ‘true love’ in their dreams.
Girls in Alpine regions hid sprigs of the plant under the pillows of their beloved to help them think loving thoughts. It possibly explains why newlyweds stuffed lavender into their mattresses to help encourage marital bliss.
Though I can’t help thinking the scent would be more likely to encourage a good night’s sleep. And people who aren’t sleep-deprived are generally better-tempered, so…
Girls carried the plant to help ward off unwanted advances. But married women used it to help inflame their husband’s passions. And just to add further confusion, prostitutes also used it to snare customers. They believed the plant guarded against cruelty. That’s a lot of mixed messages from a single plant…
Mix it with mugwort, chamomile and rose to attract fairies, elves, or brownies on Midsummer’s Eve.
Or use it as a tea to increase your clairvoyance.
Hang it above your door to guard against evil spirits. Drive demons out of your children by adding lavender to their bathwater. Or add it to yours and just enjoy the experience (of bathing, not driving out evil spirits).
Use it in spells for boosting brain power or to encourage fertility. Add rosemary for the former for an extra oomph.
Mix it with basil, lemon balm, thyme, rue, and frankincense. Burn the mixture in your house (if you make incense) to protect your home. Or you can mix the oils and wear it as a scent. Just make sure you mix them in a base oil so you don’t end up with a chemical burn.
Whatever you do, it’s worth finding a way to bring this wonderful plant into your life! Whether you use the oil to repel headaches or use the dried herb to deter moths, it’s a fantastic plant to keep around.
Do you use lavender in your home, or grow it in your garden?
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