With thirty-nine species of Lavender in the world today, the flowers from this plant have been used in many cultures for their culinary, medicinal, decorative, and aromatic capabilities. Lavender is found within the family of mint Laminaceae or Labiatae. The flowers vary in color, size, and scent. Although Lavender plants are now cultivated on a global bases, these plants are native to southeastern India, the Mediterranean region, and all of Africa.
A perennial, the Lavender plant is a bushy shrub featuring aromatic flowers that rise well above the green foliage. These plants are hardy, adapting to changes in weather quite readily. Preferring a sandy or stony growing medium that is well-drained, Lavender is resistant to heat, wind, deer, and most pests. Growing in varying shades of violet, blue, and lilac, Lavender plants feature delicate florets clustered on long, slender stems. These sweetly scented flowers are somewhat spike-like in appearance. Lavender symbolizes purity, femininity, elegance, tranquility, grace, and peace.
The most popular kinds of Lavender include French, Spanish, and English varieties. French Lavender plants are used primarily for decorative purposes. Spanish Lavender delivers a strong yet delicate scent that has long been used by the ancient Romans and Greeks as a bath-water fragrance. This type of Lavender grows well in hot, humid climates. Considered the “true” Lavender variety, English Lavender features a long-lasting, heavy aroma. It is commonly cultivated to obtain its essential oils for cosmetic, medicinal, and culinary reasons. The oils are typically extracted from the florets using the steam distillation process.
The word Lavender originates from the Latin word meaning “to wash”, lavare. The name is appropriate for this delicate flower that was commonly used in bathing waters throughout history. Ancient Greeks took a wide approach with this colorful, scented flower and used it to scent the air as well as their bathing waters. They also used Lavender for cooking and medical purposes.
In ancient Arabia and Egypt, Lavender was used in the mummification process and as a perfume. It has been said by ancient historians that Cleopatra seduced both Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar with the aromatic fragrance of Lavender flowers. Ancient Romans often used Lavender to deliver aromatic scents to their clothing, beds, and bathing water, as well as to deliver healing to the ill. Lavender, which has been referenced in the Bible, was considered a holy herb and was used to prepare a mixture referred to as the Holy Essence.
During Medieval times as well as those of the Renaissance, Europeans scattered Lavender florets across their stone floors in an effort to deodorize the area and to ward off disease. Used to scent bathing waters as well as for a body perfume, the oils from these flowers became quite a fashionable commodity for all English ladies, including Queen Victoria. When used to steep tea, Lavender is credited with soothing capabilities that infuse a renewed sense of well being as well as chasing migraines away. Brought to the United States during the 1600s, English Lavender became popular for its many uses. It was popularly used as an antiseptic in washes to heal wounds. Eventually, it found its way into modern aromatherapy practices.
Today, Lavender is frequently used as an ingredient in cosmetic products due to its many capabilities, most of which have been backed up through the results of studies undertaken to explore them. Its antiseptic and antibacterial qualities come into play when added to formulas designed to calm the sting of insect bites and minor burns. The aromatic properties of Lavender essential oils are highly valued not only for their ability to add unique notes to fragrances, but also for their ability to soothe migraines and induce the ability to relax and sleep.
The anti-inflammatory, decongestant, and restorative capabilities of Lavender essential oils have led to their inclusion in skincare formulas intended to ease the symptoms associated with various skin problems including dermatitis, eczema, acne, and psoriasis, as well as minor issues associated with temporary irritation. In fact, the antiseptic and antibacterial qualities found to be characteristic of this particular type of essential oil also help to soothe and heal minor skin rashes. Essential oils of Lavender are often included in shampoos and conditioners in order to soothe the scalp and control dandruff outbreaks.