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Versatile Lavender

Lavender is one of the most widely used herbs available and it seems like a little bit of a miracle worker. Even the Ancient Greeks used it for several afflictions which are not dissimilar to the way it is still used today. But did you know it was this good?

By Rachel BrownPublished 15 days ago 9 min read
Close up of Lavender in early bloom.

This colourful and aromatic plant is part of the mint family of plants – otherwise known by the green-fingered of you by the Latin name of ‘Lamiaceae’ or ‘Labiatae’. There are more than forty-five species and four hundred and fifty varieties and some of these are grown for their very specific uses.

Cast your mind back if you will, to around…

…well, about 77AD.

During this period a renowned Greek Physician wrote what was to be known as ‘the most successful botanical textbook ever written.’ in which he detailed uses for all parts of around six hundred plants. Dioscorides, through non-scientific approaches, determined that lavender could assist with cleaning wounds and burns, while also easing indigestion, a headache, or a sore throat. What he had unwittingly discovered was its antioxidant properties. It also contains anti-inflammatory components such as linalyl acetate and linalool and potentially even additionally has anti-fungal properties.

Many of these remedies remained in place throughout the eras with Ancient Romans continuing the use of lavender for its healing and antiseptic properties, while soldiers dressed their wounds with it. As time has continued holistic medicinal use for lavender continued. Queen Victoria would have a lavender-based formula made with which her furniture would be cleaned and polished, while also partaking in lavender tea to aid stomach issues – a remedy that is still thought to be useful. The Egyptians used it as part of their embalming process as well – perhaps because they thought it slowed the decomposition process, or simply because it smelled nice and calming.

Today its uses go even further. Many of the early uses discovered by the Greeks are still in place. Modern science has been able to break down the chemical values and show that the components of it may well lead to such healing properties. However, many of these uses are ‘holistic’ as Scientists say that there is not enough proven evidence to show that it helps in things like depression, high blood pressure, nausea, menstrual pain, or eczema, according to Medical News Today.

This being said, the quality and use of lavender depends on the type of lavender, the way it is sold (i.e. as an oil), and the time in which the flowers are picked. A study in 2021 apparently showed that when harvested at the start of the flowering season, lavender oil works very well to prevent several types of inflammation molecules from developing. (Everyday Health.com.) Additionally, it states that there is in fact, a positive holistic effect when used for people suffering from anxiety and depression, mood issues, and stress – which makes sense as it’s well known to have a calming effect that is good enough to induce sleep; hence why it is used in so many sleep aid remedies.

I think really what I’m trying to say, is that some people may see wonderful effects from lavender, while others may see less of an outstanding result. Indeed, I love lavender, but I am actually allergic to the physical plant – which is why I have an enormous one by my front door!

Lavender Oil...

A bottle of essential oil in a dish of lavender flower heads.

Essential oil should not be used directly on the skin! It should also NOT be drunk as it can be poisonous when ingested in this form. You must make sure you have the correct type of lavender if you wish to use it for internal remedies or culinary purposes – and this will never be in the form of the essential oil as this goes through a different process and is highly concentrated.

Mix essential oil with a carrier oil – there are many available, from coconut or avocado to almond and jojoba. Be careful that whoever you’re using the oil for doesn’t have an allergy to the carrier oil – people with nut and latex allergies may be limited on the type of carrier oil they can use.

It can then be massaged into the skin and is said to treat many things from blemishes and fine lines to skin inflammation. You can also use it on wounds to aid healing and prevent infection. Along with the carrier oil, the lavender essential oil can be used in a diffuser for a nice calming aroma, or to aid sleep, mood, and some effects associated with menopause. Remember that your experience of its usefulness may be different from others.

It is also a bug repellent you’ll be pleased to know, especially if like me, you’re not so keen on the citrus repellents.

Culinary Lavender...

A dish of shortbread and lavender biscuits with lavender flower heads artistically scattered.

You could potentially use pretty much any lavender from your garden – (not essential oil from a bottle! And not really advisable unless you know the variety and can check that it is edible) but it is best to make sure that you are using culinary lavender if you want to use it regularly in food or for tea. The flavour will be different as well, and you may find that normal lavender is too strong and maybe even a little like licking your nan’s best hand cream.

Culinary lavender typically is less aromatic and oily than the usual flowers. Typical culinary lavender is usually known as ‘true’ and covers most English varieties. Lavender is native to Northern Africa and the Mediterranean, but you can easily find English lavender plants in a variety of places. This type of plant is known in Latin as ‘Lavandula angustifolia’.

A good-tasting plant is known to have vibrant flowers rather than grey-looking ones. If you don’t want to have your own plant, you can buy culinary lavender fresh and dried online or at some really good markets. You’ll almost certainly find an extensive range at a lavender farm.

Used sparingly it can add a wonderful forest-like flavour to biscuits and cakes. It can be strained or steeped in a variety of ways for everything from syrups to tea to cream. It goes well with lemon and is often used in savoury dishes including chicken and lamb.

A quick look on the internet will show you just how much can be done with this amazing herb. It’s worth experimenting and enjoying it – if it works to help headaches and stomach issues then it could end up being an essential part of your food cupboard. It may simply be something enjoyable, and different, and we all like something different now and then.

Grow Your Own...

A basket of lavender in a field.

Not very green-fingered? No worries – once established lavender can grow well in most places no matter how much it is neglected. I have known it not to do so well in damp shady areas but other than that, it’s a really easy plant that needs hardly any tending through the year. I pretty much let my plants get on with it – and have been complimented by many an Amazon deliverer!

Lavender will grow where you’ve had trouble growing anything else – if the area is damper and shadier I would suggest adding a little sand to the soil to allow it to drain. Buy a ready-started small plant rather than attempting to grow from the seed as this is a completely different story and is sometimes rather less successful.

Plant February to July depending on the weather. Trim your plant's flower stems back but always leave some green. Don’t go back to the wood as it may not come back the next year. This can be done late in the summer. Bees LOVE lavender and mine is covered until the very last flowers are dying off or the weather is too cold, so I do tend to leave my trimming until much later than a program like ‘Gardeners World’ might tell you, however this has never caused an issue and my plants always come back as thick as ever the next year.

You can also trim back immediately after the first flush of flowers. This is useful if you’re using your lavender for crafts as you can cut them at their prime when they are full of the rich, fragrant oil. Bunch them and hang them upside down for a couple of months until dried. Meanwhile, this early cut will encourage your plant into a second flush about mid-summer. They don’t usually tell you that in the gardening books and programs, but I have done it and again, my plants were fine and beautifully thick with flowers each flush.

Make a Hot / Cold Lavender Pouch...

A pretty arrangement of lavender flowers on linen.

While your first flush of lavender is drying you could make a hot and cold aromatherapy pouch. I’ve made little square ones as hand warmers and also long ones to hang across my head when I have a migraine – these ones sit in the freezer until I need them, and the joy is, that they are both made the same way.

Basically, cut out a piece of fabric the size that you want plus a little extra for sewing. Either with a machine or by hand, sew it most of the way around (right sides together) before turning it in the right way. Measure some rice (around 70g for a small hand pouch – depends on how full you want it.) and mix in some lavender before pouring it into the pouch. Give it a little squeeze to release the oils and this will tell you if you have enough lavender in.

Sew up your hole and et voila! Be sure to use non-metallic thread and fabric so that you can heat your bag in the microwave. Don’t overheat as you’ll begin to cook the rice and then the pleasant aroma may be less so in the next few weeks. Your pouch may feel a little damp the first few times of heating and that’s okay. Alternatively, bung your pouch in the freezer to get nice and cold to put on aching areas like the head. Placing it on the back of the neck when cold can also help relieve tension headaches and other pains.

Enjoy your lavender and whatever you decide to do with it. See, I said it was versatile didn’t I? ***

A bit about me and a thank you...

This is an article from my most recent magazine that I write for the people who attend my Tai Chi classes. It has evolved somewhat over the years and is getting bigger each edition. It's currently bi-monthly.

I love researching and writing, but I also love just adding that bit more detail and trying to answer the questions that someone might have when they read about something. I often read an article and finish with more questions than I begin with. I also enjoy interacting with people so do feel free to comment on this or let's have a discussion!

I also write about things a little more on a personal level. After a long wait, I was finally diagnosed with ADHD last year, and yes it's a real thing. One thing I've discovered is that by openly talking about subjects like anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, and other invisible conditions - is that it has led many of my class members to open up about their own issues. Some of the guys I've spoken to are ones I would never have expected, so it shows that you just never know. So, some of my writing and podcasts also cover these subjects and how to stay on top of them. (or try to!)

As a Tai Chi instructor, long-time martial artist, and musician, I have a great interest in meditation, mindfulness, and the power of the Arts and nature along with our bodies in general.

If you enjoyed this article I'd appreciate you leaving a little pledge- in fact, it would absolutely make my day because it helps me continue writing and researching - and hopefully helping. :) xx

A close up photograph of the front page of my most recent magazine


About the Creator

Rachel Brown

I research extensively and have too much to say about a vast number of subjects because I'm interested in everything. Life is too short not to be amazed by how awesome this world actually is.

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