L is for Lavender

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

The color of its flower give lavender its name. The plant attracts bees and butterflies, its symbiotic relationship therefore of value to other garden plants. Alice Hoffman included an understanding of the magic of gardening in her novel “Practical Magic.” “There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.”

Izaak Walton associates its scent with cleanliness, who used it as a measure of “…an honest ale house, where we shall find a cleanly room, lavender in the windows…” Parkinson writes “Lavender is almost wholly spent with us, for they perfume linen, apparel, gloves and leather, and the dryed flowers to comfort and dry up its moisture of a cold braine.” Lavender was prized by our Regency and Victorian ancestors, and it is indeed used in cosmetics, soaps, perfumes, and for aromatherapy to this day.

Lavender oil repels insects and has antiseptic properties. Lavender is made into flowery teas given to bring calm and inner peace. Burning dried lavender sprigs provide a fumigant in a sickroom. A spritz of lavender on pillows or in the bath are said to help bring about sleep. Rubbing lavender oil into the temple is said to cure headaches, fatigue, and weakness, and the Mediterraneans prevented headaches caused by sun exposure by wearing lavender in their hats.

A lavender oil massage is said to help loosen stiff joints and stimulate paralyzed or palsied limbs. Gerard in his 1597 Herball mentioned taking lavender mixed with oil to treat palsies. Victorian snake-oil salesmen continued to market a mixture called “Palsy Drops” which included lavender, rosemary, cinnamon bark, nutmeg, sandal wood, and spirits. Some believe rubbing lavender oil into balding scalps stimulates hair growth, and it was offered as a remedy for snake bites.

However, consuming too much lavender causes stomach upset and even narcotic poisoning.

Lavender is included in love spells and rituals, and it is said to attract money. For sleep divination, interested people place lavender sprigs under their pillows before bed. Folks in the Middle Ages believed its fresh scent provided some protection from the Plague. In Spain and Portugal, folks throw lavender onto bonfires on St John’s Day to ward off evil spirits. In the language of flowers, lavender means either devotion, enchantment, or distrust. When given as a gift, it offers new opportunity.

Lavender can be candied and used as breath mints. Its flower heads lend a floral taste to recipes such as lavender shortbread and scones. (Yum.) It is crafted into wreaths and swags for scented home décor.

One of the Pokemon incarnations included a graveyard called Lavender town around which several urban myths revolved. Lavender Brown studies witchcraft at Hogwarts with “Harry Potter” in J.K. Rowling’s series. A popular lullaby goes “Lavender Blue, dilly dilly, lavender green. If you were king, dilly dilly, I would be queen.” Perdita in William Shakespeare’s “The Winter Tale” lists the plant among many plants “given to men of middle age.” Gatsby’s room was decorated in lavender color and scent in the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel “The Great Gatsby.”