Lavender is an aromatic member of the mint family native to the Mediterranean region, Northern and Eastern Africa and parts of India. It bears fragrant purple, white or blue flowers nearly all summer long and into autumn. The plant is a low-growing shrub with multiple stems and spikes of flowers .
History and Folklore
Some of the earliest recorded uses of lavender are by the Roman soldiers who used the wild-growing plant to perfume their bathwater and wash their clothes. Because of the association with clothes-washing, medieval English washerwomen were referred to as lavenders. The poorest of these women were reputedly also prostitutes, and so the word came to have a double-meaning. One anonymous 16th-century poet wrote:
In Spain and Portugal, lavender was traditionally strewn on the floor of churches or thrown into bonfires to avert evil spirits on St. John’s Day. In Tuscany, pinning a sprig of lavender to your shirt is a traditional ward against the evil eye .
Most lavenders prefer a warm, sunny spot with well-drained soil. Lavender is a plant that doesn’t like its “feet wet” so well-drained soil is of the utmost importance. It will tolerate some drought and heat quite well, however. Most lavenders will grow well throughout the Southwestern United States, but more Northerly regions may have trouble.
Plant your lavender where it will get full sun but be sheltered from harsh winds and not be in a drain path. Space the plants well apart to allow air circulation. It should be fed some compost the first year to get it started; After that, ignore it except for providing some protection from cold and wet. A thick layer of mulch after the first frost will protect the roots in areas where repeated thawing and freezing may stress the plant.
For the best fragrance and essential oil production, the soil should be nutrient-poor and alkaline.
Lavender is a good companion for fruit trees, rue and any plant that might be troubled by whitefly or that would benefit from bees and other pollinating insects lavender attracts.
Lavender grows reasonably well in pots and can be brought indoors in cold or wet weather. It doesn’t need a big pot. Just an inch or two wider than the root ball is sufficient. The important thing is that the pot drains well. Mix your potting soil with equal parts sand and put a layer of loose gravel in the bottom of the pot before adding your soil. This will encourage drainage. Water when the soil feels dry and try not to wet the leaves. Make sure your lavender plant gets plenty of sun.
Harvesting & Storage
For the best quality herb, harvest lavender flowers just as buds are beginning to open. Cut long stems and braid them into a lavender wand or hang them to dry individually.
Lavender is masculine in action and associated with Mercury in Culpeper’s Herbal . It is also associated with the element of air and the astrological sign Virgo.
It may be used as an asperging herb (to sprinkle water for purification purposes) and dried lavender sticks or wands can be burnt like incense.
It is also useful in spells to sharpen the mind, to encourage or strengthen pure love and to encourage fertility.
Lavender deters fleas and moths. Place sachets of lavender buds or lavender wands in cupboards and closets or stuff them into pet bedding to help deter pests from these areas. Also, put sachets of lavender in your dryer to scent your laundry. These can be reused several times.
The scent of lavender is relaxing and uplifting all at once making it great aromatherapy for stressed out or depressed individuals. Try adding some lavender oil to your bath or add it to a mild oil for a relaxing massage at the end of a hard day.
Stuffing a pillow with lavender buds may help insomniacs relax and fall asleep and soothes headaches.
Lavender is a good addition to wedding cakes because of its delicate flavor and its association with love and fertility.
To make lavender flavored sugar, layer dried lavender buds and sugar in a jar and let it sit in a dark place for about a month. Sift out the lavender buds and enjoy your sugar in delicately flavored cakes, custards, and tea.