Lavender has been grown for more than 2,000 years and is often used in medicine and cleaning agents for its pleasant scent. The name comes from the Latin word "lavare" or to wash. Its clean, fresh aroma is a favorite additive for perfuming clothing, bath water, rooms and the body. There are more than 30 species of lavender today. The plant can be grown in warm and cold climates.
Egyptians used lavender in cosmetics and in the embalming process. Ancient Greeks used lavender as a laxative and made scented soaps and bath additives with the plant. The Romans took lavender soap and oils into their massive public baths, and also used it for medications to ease stomach and kidney ailments, to disinfect wounds and relieve the itch of insect bites.
Lavender was strewn on the floor and walked on to keep the room sweet smelling during the Middle Ages. Lavender was grown in the gardens of many monasteries, and monks developed medications for a variety of maladies with the plant. Queen Elizabeth I loved the scent and used it in tea to relieve headaches. Women followed the queen's example and placed lavender in sachets to scent clothing. In France, King Charles VI added dried lavender inside seat cushions to freshen the air.
The Plague and Lavender
Lavender was used as an antiseptic in the 1600s and to protect against cholera. It was also used a protection against the Plague. Rats carried lice, which infected humans with the disease, and lavender repelled the lice.
Lavender and the Victorians
Queen Victoria had great affection for lavender. She and other women used it as perfume and in sachets. Lavender water was sprinkled on clothing before ironing. Walls were washed with lavender tea and furniture polish included the herb. Bedding was treated with lavender to get rid of bed bugs and lice.
Lavender was still used as an antiseptic as recently as World War I, but is not used medicinally today. Some use it as a home remedy to keep burns from blistering. The appealing scent is used in air fresheners and perfume. It combines well with oils and fats, is used to make ice cream and baked into cookies and cakes. It is a main ingredient in Herbs de Provence, a popular spice sprinkled on meats before cooking.
Lavender has a great history of folklore. According to University of California Davis, there is a legend that lavender did not have a scent until Mary used it to dry the clothes of the baby Jesus. The clothing left a clean scent on the flowers and it has smelled that way ever since. There are several references to lavender in the Bible, including when Judith enticed Holofernes before she killed him and Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with spikenard, another name for lavender. The plant is supposed to repel evil and was put in keyholes to stop ghosts from entering the house. Lavender oil is placed on the forehead to induce prophetic dreams. In the Victorian language of flowers, lavender means devotion and trust.