Everyone is familiar with Lavender. It’s one of the most popular herbs and essential oils on the market today. It’s best known for its lovely aroma and is highly regarded for its ability to calm the nervous system. Many illnesses these days are stress related so Lavender holds a special place in both preventive health care and the treatment of tension related illnesses.
Some facts about Lavender you may already know and some that just might surprise you.
Lavender is a member of the Lamiaceae family and its genus is Lavandula. There are a few different suggestions about where the genus name comes (1 the Latin word lavo meaning ”I wash” in reference to a former use of the plant as an aromatic wash (2 from the Latin verb “lavare” which means “to wash” or (3 from the word “livendulo” which means “livid or bluish”. Currently there are over 45 different species with over 450 varieties. More lavender species/varieties have yet to be classified.* The most highly prized Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, commonly called English Lavender, is also sometimes referred to as “True Lavender”. This unfortunately gives the wrong impression that the other Lavandula species are not real lavenders. This is actually not true. All Lavandula species are real lavenders.
Lavender ~ A Short History
The use of Lavender goes back to Biblical times. Lavender is mentioned often in the Bible, not by the name lavender but by the name used at that time; spikenard. It’s written that Mary took a pound of ointment of spikenard and anointed the feet of Jesus and the house was filled with the aroma of the ointment.
The Ancient World
Lavender was used in ancient Egypt for embalming and cosmetics. The tomb of Tutankhamen was filled with ungents containing something resembling lavender. They were used only by royal families and high priests in cosmetics, massage oils, and medicines. Wealthy men would put solid cones of this ungent on their heads and let it melt so it would cover their bodies with perfume.
The Greeks learned much from the Egyptians regarding perfumes and the use of aromatics. The Greek physician Theophrastus (3rd century BC) wrote about the healing qualities of scents in his book “Concerning Odours”. Unlike the ancient Egyptians who anointed their heads, the Greek philosopher Diogenes preferred to anoint his feet and lower limbs so that the aroma would envelope the whole body and gracefully ascend to the nose.
Ancient Romans used lavender for its healing and antiseptic qualities, for its ability to avert insects, and for washing. The first written record of the healing uses of lavender appears to be that of the Greek military physician Dioscorides in 77 AD. He described the medicinal plants he collected from around the Mediterranean and provided information about their medical uses in a 5-volume work entitled De Materia Medica. Lavender was used internally to relieve indigestion, headaches and sore throats. Externally, lavender could be used to clean wounds, burns, treat skin ailments and dress war wounds. Lavender was strewn on the floor to sweeten the air, fumigate sick rooms and as incense for religious ceremonies. The De Materia Medica later served as the foundation for Arab physicians who took their medicine to Spain where it spread to the rest of Europe.
Lavender for Health
Rene Gattefosse, one of the founders of modern day aromatherapy, verified the healing and antiseptic qualities of lavender when he burned his hand badly while working in his lab. He used lavender oil; the pain stopped and the burn healed quickly with no infection or scarring.
Provence is now the world’s largest lavender producing region. Just before World War I, perfumers and the French government saw lavender production as a means of keeping people from leaving the area so they cleared the almonds orchards and planted lavender. Other producers are Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Bulgaria, Russia, Australia, Japan, Canada, and U.S.
Today it is used to induce sleep, ease stress and relieve depression. It can be used as a tea, compresses for injuries and for applying to the forehead to relieve congestion on sinuses, headaches, hangovers, tiredness, tension and exhaustion.
Lavender has been called the Queen of the Herbs and the Queen of essential oils. Here’s why:
Emotional and Energetic Properties
- Balances all body systems
- Reduces anxiety
- Helps control panic attacks
- Analgesic (Pain Relieving)
- Antifungal (Candida and dermatophytes)
- Antirheumatic (reduce swelling)
- Cicatrisant (skin/wound healing)
- CNS (Central Nervous System) sedative
- Tonic (healing on both body and mind)
- Wound healing (burns)
- Bath gels
- Essential oil
- Whole, dried flowers
Lavender for Love
Lavender lends itself to romantic gestures; a posy of lavender with breakfast in bed, a lavender and candlelight bath, heart shaped lavender cookies, or a massage with lavender scented massage oil. Bring romance into the garden by planting lavender on either side of a pathway, so that you brush against it as you walk. Or present that special someone with a lavender wand.
Lavender for Culinary Use
Culinary Lavender is an incredibly versatile herb for cooking. In today’s upscale restaurants, fresh edible flowers are making a comeback as enhancements to both the flavor and appearance of food. It is a member of the mint family and is close to rosemary, sage, and thyme. It is best used with fennel, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and savory.
Although most varieties of lavender can be used in cooking, some varieties are more widely used, such as Lavandula angustifolia, particularly 'Munstead'. These lavenders have the sweetest fragrance among all species of lavender, which creates flavor in cooking. The leaves and stems of lavender plants can be used for culinary purposes, but the flowers, in particular, give dishes a subtly sweet, citrus flavor.
NOTE: Do not eat flowers obtained from florists, nurseries, or garden centers. In many cases these flowers have been treated with pesticides not labeled for food crops. Organic dried flowers are the best to use.
The key to cooking with lavender is to experiment; start out with a small amount of flowers, and add more as you go. Adding too much lavender to your recipe can be like eating perfume and will make your dish bitter. Because of the strong flavor of lavender, the secret is that a little goes a long way.
Lavender gives a floral, slightly sweet flavor to most dishes, and is sometimes paired with sheep's milk and goat's milk cheeses. For most cooking applications the dried buds (also referred to as flowers) are used, though some experiment with the leaves as well. Only the buds contain the essential oil of lavender, which is where the scent and flavor of lavender are best derived.
The French are known for their lavender syrup, most commonly made from an extract of lavender. In the United States, both French lavender syrup and dried lavender buds make lavender scones and marshmallows.
Lavender sugar is easy to make at home. Bruise dried lavender flowers and add them to superfine or confectioners sugar. Store in an airtight jar until used. Use a sieve to remove flowers before use. Add the scented sugar to cakes, meringues or other sweets for a delicate flavor.
Add about 2 tablespoons dried lavender blossoms (buds) to about 1 cup of high quality sea salt and store in a tightly sealed jar. Allow the salt to sit for at least two days before using. Use as a rub for meats.
Here’s a great recipe for your enjoyment!
Lavender Tea Cookies Recipe
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Yield: 2 dozen cookies
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
1 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Lavender Frosting (see recipe below)
In a mortar, grind lavender flowers with the pestle.
In a medium bowl, cream together ground lavender flowers, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon extract. Add flour and salt; mix until combined (dough should be soft but not sticky). Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until dough is firm. Prepare Lavender Frosting; set aside. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Remove dough from refrigerator.
On a lightly-floured surface, roll dough approximately 1/4-inch thick with your rolling pin. Cut into desired shapes with your favorite cookie cutters and place onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on wire cooling racks. When cool, frost with Lavender Frosting.
1 cup powdered (confectioners') sugar
2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender flowers
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
Optional: Lavender food coloring can be added to the frosting mix.
In a small plastic bag, combine powdered sugar and dried lavender flowers. Let stand at least 1 day before using. When ready to use, sift the mixture into a medium-size bowl; discarding lavender flowers.
Add milk and corn syrup, mixing well. Additional powdered sugar or milk may need to be added (enough milk to make frosting easy to spread). Spread on baked, cooled cookies.
Lavender for Skin Care
Lavender is one of the most popular herbs and oils for skin care. You can trust lavender essential oil with virtually anything skin related. It’s nourishing to all skin types, is soothing and promotes healthy skin. Lavender is such a gentle powerhouse that it can be used topically with amazing benefits. It’s safe to use with children and it’s strong enough to use on adult discomforts. You can use lavender in most, if not all, of the aromatherapy blends you make because it’s recommended for all skin types. It’s balancing for oily skin and soothing for dry skin!
Here are a couple of recipes that you can make at home using lavender.
Make an oatmeal face mask.An oatmeal face mask that includes lavender oil can be used to revitalize skin after a day in the sun. Mix 1/3 cup powdered buttermilk with 1/4 cup cornmeal, 1 cup oatmeal, and 1/3 cup of dried lavender. Then, add two tablespoons of this mix with 1/4 teaspoons of honey and two drops of lavender essential oil. Add water as needed to form a thick paste.
- Mix the mask until you've formed a thick paste.
- Apply the mixture to your face. Make sure to work it into your pores.
- Leave the mixture on for a minute. Wash it off with lukewarm water.
- Place two tablespoons of lavender and two tablespoons of oatmeal in the muslin bag.
- Fill a bathtub with warm water and toss the bag in.
- Soak in the bath for as long as you want.
As an internal remedy, lavender can be a solution to a lot different issues. One thing that is very important to remember is do not take essential oils internally. Lavender essential oil is gentle but it’s still very strong and, like all essential oils, could be toxic when not used properly. Please consult a qualified health professional or an experienced, certified clinical aromatherapist before using any essential oil internally.
Lavender for Inflammation
Lavender is one of the best herbs taken internally for all sorts of inflammation. A strong lavender tea is an excellent example because in addition to the anti-inflammation, it uplifting to your spirit, doesn’t kill gut flora, calms the nerves, and the infusion is hydrating!
Lavender as a Tonic
The best time to use lavender as a tonic is when you are experiencing a high level of anxiety. Your nerves are frayed or you are facing a situation that has you on edge; public speaking, going on a first date, catching some sleep before a huge exam, nervous stomach ache, fear. Taking lavender internally as a tea or as a tincture is a healthy way to fight the tension.
Lavender is truly an herb that has something for everyone. From powerful healing properties, to the gentle affection of love, lavender is up to the task.
*United States Lavender Growers Association