Monday, June 20, 2011
Lavender is rich in history and myth.
Lavender is an evergreen , perennial half-bush. Lavandula angustifolia is usually called English Lavender; it is about 1 m high with lightblue flowers, but there are other species with pink, violet or purple flowers. The origin of lavender is the western Mediterranean, where it still grows wild. By the Greeks the name Nordus is given to lavender, from Naarda, a city of Syria near the Euphrates, and many persons call the plant "Nard". The ancient Romans lounged in lavender baths. It is an ancient medicinal plant, and it gives a relaxing feeling if it is put into the bath water. The old name lavander comes from lavare, meaning to bathe.
In the Middle Ages was lavender often spread in the streets, and it was found in each herb garden. On the Greek island Patmos was wild lavender spread in the streets in front of the holy procession in the Easter-ceremonies. In the 1800-1900s people sewed small bags with lavender and put them into the lady-hats. This should prevent the ladies from fainting. (maybe because of their tight corsets!) Lavender was also familiar to Shakespeare, but was not a common plant in his time. In Spain and Portugal they still strew the floors of the church and house on festive occassions or to make bonfires at St. John's day.
Lavender belongs to the large plant family of mints. The plant is sun loving and need well-drained soil. The English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, has over forty named varieties, from pastel blue to dark violet varieties.The French lavender, Lavandula stoechas is especially used in perfume production. Butterflies love lavender. The beautiful butterflies and the sweet honey bees are always busy in the lavender patch. In various parts of France, Italy and England the plant is cultivated exclusively for its aromatic flowers - even as far north as Norway. It is also now being grown as a perfume plant in Australia. The essential oil is produced from the flowers and the flower stalks.
Lavender thrives well in pots and in the stone bed. It can take a very strong trimming and is easy to cultivate. It is popular as an edge-plant, often in front of the rose-bed or along the garden fence. Lavender can be trimmed after blooming or in the spring, before the plant starts a new growth. Lavender was already used in the 1500s to give scent for linen, and it is a good idea to plant lavender close to the clothes-line - and eventually put small pieces of cloth and socks to dry on the lavender bush. Both flowers and leaves are covered with small oil glands, and the strong aromatic scent stems from volatile oils. Flowers can be dried in bundles in an airy place and put into "breathing" pots. Keep them dry and dark. Lavender is not long-lifed in bundles. It is great for making potpourri, lavender bottles, lavender bath splash. With its heavenly fragrance is it considered the premier of all perfume. Lavender is harvested in Provence for soaps, oils, perfume and delicious tea.
Lavender tastes fantastic, lavender with strawberries and white wine or ice cream, smells like summer, tastes like summer. It is not a common spice, but it is characteristic of the cuisine of Provence. Lavender is a part of Herbes de Provence and is used in meat dishes instead of rosemary. The strong aroma is also fine as a spice in drinks and as giving taste on vinegar. Try to sprinkle fresh flowers over pine-apples with ice or grill lamb chops with lavender. Freeze the flowers in ice cubes or put them in the dough for the buns. It can also be used as an unusual and extravagant flavouring for sweets and to lend a unique character to home made jams and fruit jellies. It is also used to spice honey and cake-creams - and small leaves can be plucked from the stalks and put into meat.
Lavender's healing qualities grew through the centuries ever gaining the reputation of warding off the plague.
It has roots in ancient herbalists with its history of healing properties, glorious colours and enchanting perfume.
The effect of lavender is calming, refreshing, uplifting expansive, soothing etc. Lavender also alleviates motion-sickness. It is diuretic, calming in nervous illness in the stomach and is good as an inhalation for asthma-patients. Medicinal plants with an effective impact on the central nerve-system are often poisonous, but lavender is an exception. It impedes nervous tensions and nervous palpitation.
Today lavender is first of all used in lavender water and lavender oil. It is put into scented-pillows, scented bags and in potpourri.But it is also an effective herb for medicinal use. The oil is disinfectant and helps healing wounds and psoriasis. The oil contains 40 various substances; it might irritate the skin, but is at the same time increasing the afflux of blood to the skin, and it contains tannic acid, which makes it a good remedy against inflammation and wounds. The essential oil is used on insect bites, burns and blemishes. Rubbed on the forehead against migraine or upon the skin by rheumatic pain or neuralgia. Sprinking lavender oil on your pillow makes you fall faster asleep.
According to ancient belief you will be able to see ghosts, if you wear lavender twigs under your clothes. If lavender thrives well in your garden the girl in the house will not be married, for lavender thrives best by old maids. It was said to avert the eye of evil and was dedicated to the goddess of witches and sorcerers, Hecate. By burning the lavender the Devil could be kept at a distance. The plant is also said to have achieved its scent, when Virgin Mary washed the Infant Jesus' clothes and afterwards hung the clothes to dry on the plant. When she came to fetch the clothes, they had a clean and fine scent, and since then the plant has kept that scent. According to the flower language lavender is a symbol of mistrust.
Source: Geraldine Holt, Den store bog om krydderurter; Anemette Olesen, Danske klosterurter; Anemette Olesen, Krydderurter i haven.
photo: grethe bachmann