Lavender is a flowery perennial bush indigenous to the mountainous regions of the countries bordering the western Mediterranean Sea. The rolling hills of Provence France are also widely known for extensively cultivating these aromatic flowers; however, Bulgaria, Russia, and Croatia are also major producers of essential oil as well. In the United States, lavender is grown commercially in an increasing number of regions from the Pacific Coast, CA, AZ, TX, and in a variety of Mid-Atlantic states on the East Coast. Lavender gets its name from the Latin word "lavare" ("to wash") and has historically been revered for its fragrance derived from the flowers. The aroma can be fresh and herbaceous, soft and floral, and even bittersweet depending on the variety. This “nose herb” is beautiful and resilient, while offering valuable healing properties. Lavender is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-infectious, and of course widely known as a calmative. The more you learn about lavender the more you will love discovering creative ways to incorporate lavender into your lifestyle!
Tracing back 2,500 years, lavender has been well liked and used by many different civilizations. In ancient Egypt, lavender was popular for its refreshing oil used for mummification. Phoenicians used lavender in cooking and bathing, while Arabian women valued lavender oil to luster their hair. In ancient Greece, lavender was used to cure insomnia and back pain. Greeks also enjoyed anointing their feet with lavender oil. Throughout the Bible lavender is mentioned by its name used at the time, “spikenard,” which originates from the Greek name for lavender (“naardus” after the Syrian city name Naarda). For example, in the Gospel of Mark, the writer mentions, “While he [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head."
By Romans times, lavender had already become a prize commodity. For instance, lavender was sold to ancient Romans for 100 denarii per pound, comparable to a full month’s wages for a farm laborer. Romans frequently used lavender oil to scent public baths and as a perfume for their body and hair. Roman soldiers even used lavender for fighting infections and healing wounds. Lavender, both in its fresh and dried form, remained in high demand during ancient times.
As lavender spread westward, European history is filled with stories of lavender use. Medieval and Renaissance laundry women were known to place lavender in the linens, drape clothes to dry over lavender shrubs, and wash clothes in lavender water. During the Great Plague in London in the 17th century, it was suggested that a bundle of lavender fastened to each wrist would protect the wearer against the deadly disease. Throughout the 17th century the healing properties of lavender increased in recognition for problems like headaches, nerves, insect bites, infections, and snake bites. Interwoven throughout European royal history are examples of lavender associated with cleanliness, healing, and prestige. For example, lavender tea became quite popular around the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England who used it to mitigate her migraines. Charles VI of France demanded lavender-filled pillows wherever he went to help him sleep and relax. Queen Victoria had a fondness for the aroma, even to the extent of rubbing furniture, gloves, and leather goods with lavender.
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