Have you ever wondered how lavender came to be such an important part of the herbal world? Well let me drop a little lavender history on you…
A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and believed to have originated in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and India, lavender use goes back at least 2500 years. It was used in ancient times for everything from chasing away evil spirits to perfume, but it was most commonly noted for its cleaning properties. In fact, the word lavender is derived from the word “Lavare” which means “to wash” in Latin, and this makes sense since it was a favorite bath ingredient for both Greeks and Romans. Its use in cleaning later extended to the home as well, where lavender was often strewn about the floor in castles and hospitals as a disinfectant and a deodorant. Clothing was often washed using lavender and women in France who took in wash were known as “lavenders.”
In the 1st century, its healing properties started to reveal themselves. The Greek physician Dioscorides wrote that taking lavender internally helped to relieve indigestion, headaches and sore throats, as well as being an effective wound cleaner. St Hildegard of Bingham, a respected botanist and herbalist (among many other talents) documented lavender’s attributes in her book Physica, noting “...its smell clears the eyes since it contains the power of the strongest aromas and the usefulness of the bitterest ones.” She recommended cooking lavender with honey and water and then drinking it at a lukewarm temperature to “soothe the pain in his or her liver and lungs and makes his or her thinking and mind pure.” It is claimed that she was the first to distill lavender water. After a while, lavender gained a reputation for being something of a cure-all-- able to cure everything from colds to paralysis (and even ward away evil spirits), and while some claims are of course questionable, its antiseptic and healing benefits continued to be documented and was used as late as World War 1 for wound cleaning and healing.
In addition to its healing properties, lavender has long been used to aid in sleep or reducing anxiety. Charles VI of France slept with lavender in his pillow in order to get a good night sleep. Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria were both lavender enthusiasts, with Elizabeth requiring fresh lavender throughout the palace and Victoria adding lavender to her garden and using it to wash floors and keep linens smelling fresh. Victoria had her own lavender provider who kept her well stocked in lavender water and essential oils -- and was bequeathed the title: “Purveyor of Lavender Essence to Her Majesty the Queen” (“Lavender”). I imagine that they both benefited from the relaxing effects that lavender provides as well!
Our ancestors saw the magic of this amazing herb and as more studies are done, science is backing them up. An NIH study in 2016 found that lavender oil does indeed promote skin healing and a 2013 NIH study found that “there is growing evidence suggesting that lavender oil many be an effective treatment of several neurological disorders.” Other studies show that the linalool found in lavender has been shown to reduce anxiety in studies with mice (see the article from the April OLA newsletter). Lavender provides us with such an abundance of gifts for which we can be grateful. How generous Mother Nature is!
"Herbs: Culinary, Medicinal, Aromatic (Secrets And Human Happiness)." Google Books. N. p., 2020. Web. 29 Apr. 2020.
Waring, Phillipa. Lavender: Nature’s Way to Relaxation and Health Google Books. N. p., 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2020.