Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lavandula angustifolia - English Lavender

Lavandula angustifolia - English Lavender, also called Common Lavender, True Lavender, Narrow-Leaved Lavender, Elf Leaf.  The species name angustifolia is Latin for "narrow leaf". The genus name Lavandula simply means lavender. Previously, it was known as Lavandula officinalis, Latin for "official lavender". This indicated it was the official medicinal lavender.  Lavender may have gotten its common name from the Latin "lavare", meaning ‘to wash’. 
English lavender is commonly grown as an ornamental plant.  It is popular for its colourful flowers, its fragrance and its ability to survive with low water consumption.  It does not grow well in continuously damp soil. It is fairly tolerant of low temperatures.

In addition to its use as an ornamental plant, the flowers and leaves are also used as an herbal medicine, either in the form of lavender oil or as an herbal tea. The flowers are also used as a culinary herb, most often as part of the French herb blend called herbes de Provence

Lavender essential oil is commonly used as a relaxant with massage therapy. It is used in products such as eye pillowslotions and bath oils, for the purpose of inducing relaxation. Both the petals and the oil are the most popular ingredients in handmade soap.  Dried lavender flowers and lavender essential oil are also used to protect clothing against moths, which do not like their scent.

The true origins of lavender are unclear, but its qualities for both fragrance and therapeutic properties have been recognised almost since the beginning of recorded civilization. When Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922, traces of lavender were found which still retained a slight scent 3,000 years later.  Lavender became a prized commodity for traders and soon spread east through Greece. Its early name of ‘spikenard’ was derived from the town of Nardus becoming the centre for lavender trade. There are many references to spikenard throughout the bible.

Lavender is thought to have been first domesticated in , highly prized and valuable for its antiseptic and therapeutic qualities, as well as a high quality perfume.  The Romans loved lavender and used it extensively in their elaborate bathing rituals, as well as for perfume, cooking and early therapies. The Romans brought lavender to England and were the first to grow it as a crop.

When the Romans left the British Isles, lavender was grown extensively by monks to provide a whole range of herbal remedies and Lavender soon became entwined in English folklore.  It was believed to protect one from the evil eye and a cross made of Lavender was hung on the door to ward off evil spirits.  The Spanish would only use the herb for churches and houses on festivals and special occasions, or to make bonfires on St. John's Day, when evil spirits are abroad. 

Its qualities make it a first choice for anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties, and it is one of the first natural antiseptics. In the 16th and 17th centuries during outbreaks of cholera and the plague, people tied bunches of lavender to their wrists so that they could put it up to their nose and breath through it to protect them from the stench.  Lavender flowers were used medicinally during the Middle Ages and know as "sticadore" one of the ingredients of "Four Thieves' Vinegar" (a concoction believed to protect users from the plague). In the Middle East, the Arabs made use of the flowers as an expectorant and antispasmodic. 

In the Middle Ages, Lavender was attributed with the properties of Love and considered by some to be an aphrodisiac.  It believed that being sprinkled with Lavender Water would keep one chaste. Ironically, for a time Lavender was also worn by prostitutes to 'advertise'.  Neopagans use lavender in spell work for invoking love, protection, sleep, longevity, peacepurification, and happiness.  It is also carried by those who wish to see ghosts.

Lavender prefers lots of sun but will tolerate a limited amount of shade.  Well-drained soil is essential, otherwise the foliage will yellow.  Lavender plants should be pruned back immediately after blooming to keep the plant compact and neat.  Older, woody plants can be cut back half way when new growth begins in spring if they are in need of rejuvenation, or to remove growth killed over the winter.  Lavender plants should be divided in the fall if needed.  Lavender can tolerate drought quite well, but water them a bit through really dry periods, preferably not over their foliage.  Very little fertilizer is needed.

The first recorded use of the word lavender as a color term in English was in 1705.

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