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What are those Lavender fields forever, and how do we use this herb?
Lavender is considered by most of us to be a quintessentially English sub-shrub, that we love to see and smell. But did you know that Lavandula is actually a Mediterranean plant that was brought over to Britain by the Romans? This was hailed as a great healing plant because it possesses antiseptic qualities. In fact it was used to make a washing fluid which kept clothes smelling fresh during Roman times. Indeed 'lavare' means 'to wash' in Latin.
compact variety, 'Hidcote' is often preferred and this gorgeous plant has been given the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). It is immensely useful as dwarf hedging and within borders where not only the blue/purple flowers are a summer delight, but the attractive silver-grey foliage is just as desirable.This aromatic beauty loves dry conditions and free-draining soil. It's a sunshine soaker-upper and never happier than in a hot summer when many other plants are wilting and flagging in the heat. Did you know that if left to its own devices, the basic species, Lavandula angustifolia, can easily reach up to 180cm tall? It is for this reason that the
plague victims!The natural oils found in lavender are used in hundreds of different 'calming' products including soaps, bath oils, aromatherapy oils, lotions and shampoos. The scent has been used for decades as a daily tonic and the herb has been used to treat ailments for centuries. It was even used to help heal
Here's a few interesting historic facts about lavender:
- Oil and alcohol extracted from the plant were taken by people during the 16th century to help ward off the Black Death or Bubonic Plague.
- Bunches of lavender were also sold in the streets during the time of the plague to help disguise the smell of dead and dying people.
- The flowers were often sewn into bed sheets to help repel bed bugs.
- During the 1920s, French chemist Rene Gattefosse managed to burn his hand and he allegedly plunged it into lavender oil instead of water. He was amazed how quickly this eased the pain and the healing process was must faster than usually expected.
- Lavandula and other herbs were often used in cooking in order to disguise the smell and taste of rotten meat.
- The grounds of medieval Merton Abbey (now in south Wimbledon) formed the centre of Britains lavender production before the Reformation. It was situated in order to be able to serve all Londons royal palaces.
And here's a few wonderful ideas for lavender use today:
- Keep some dried Lavandula flowers in your underwear drawer and in your wardrobes as it will keep moths away.
- Put a bowl of dried flowers in a bowl in a sunny window so the warmth of the sun can draw out the scent into the room. It's wonderful!
- Sprinkle lavender seeds and flowers onto your carpets and floors before vacuuming it will create the most wonderful room fragrance (far better than most scented vacuum cleaner sachets!).
- Try making tea from lavender flowers, it's good for headaches.
- Lavandula is also said to be great for the digestion.
- Use it in smoothies and in cakes. It gives them a delicately scented taste and it's good for you too.
Main species of lavender
English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, and all its various cultivars: This is the wonderfully fragrant plant which is commonly used for its oil and scent, including for commercial production. It's the most popular type for drying and used in sachets and decorations. There are many different cultivars bred for their smaller size and slightly different colours. All are loved!
French lavender, Lavandula dentata, and all its various cultivars. This is a highly decorative plant with a charming topknot which looks rather like rabbit ears! The scent is not so strong as English lavender but the appearance is stunning.
Lavandula stoechus is a Spanish variety and there are many different cultivars. It has a distinctive deep purple flower and upright flower petals. A lower growing plant which gives an excellent early show of flowers. It is a highly attractive plant that needs keeping in trim as it tends to get rather leggy. Not quite so good for culinary purposes. The scent is lovely, although not so strong as English lavender.
There are many different cultivars of this plant, all of which have been bred as speciality plants. They are all based on some of the three varieties above which are combined to give a range of different colours and leaf shapes. Check the scientific name of each cultivar which will give you a clue as to their originating species.
It's a great time to harvest this wonderful plant! Cut your flowers in late July and beginning of August to give you a lovey fresh crop. If you prune the bushes back by a third to a half in August, they will create plenty of new growth and this will prevent the stems from turning woody.