Lavender is not just a color but a glorious plant enjoyed by people for centuries. Serenely colorful, fragrant and easy to grow lavender was first domesticated ( I never think of plants as such but alright) by the people of Arabia. It slowly made its way around the world coming to the Americas in the 1600s. It is hard to know where to start or stop this discussion as lavender has entered our lives and those before us in so many ways.
First the plant. Lavender is part of the mint family with close ties to rosemary, sage and thyme. The most common type of lavender is Lavandula angustiflolis Vera or Old Fashion English Lavender. As a perennial this shrub like plant will bloom in the summer and increases in size each year. Its small dark lavender flowers grow in whorls around its stem. Small hairy pointed leaves collect the sun. It is within these hairs the essential oils ( oils made by nature not manufactured) are carried. Rabbits and deer do not care for lavender, however bees and butterflies love it.
Lavender grows best in well drained, gravely, sandy soil. (Wow do I have that.) It does not care for fertilizer or mulch as too much moisture will be held and cause root rot. Lavender also requires good air circulation and full sun. As you can see, lavender fields are true works of art.
So what has caused this worldwide admiration for lavender? This plant can play many natural roles in your life. It may be used in gardens, landscapes, as a culinary herb, as an essential oil, and for medicinal purposes.
Historically lavender has been documented as long ago as 2,500 years. The Egyptians, Phoenicians and Arabians used its essential oil as perfume. Shrouds used in mummification were dipped in lavender water. The Romans gave lavender the root for its name, lavare – to wash as the lavender was used to scent the water in the Roman baths. Lavender was also used by the Romans as insect repellent and in smoking mixtures. The Romans may have been onto something thinking of lavender as an insect repellent. Much later in London during the Black Plague people would tie bunches of lavender to each wrist to ward off the disease. We now know the plague was spread by fleas which the lavender may have repelled. The Greeks felt lavender was a cure-all, curing everything from insomnia to insanity. A bit like ketchup. During the Renaissance lavender was scattered on stone floors as a disinfectant and deodorant. In the United States lavender water was used during WWI to bathe soldier’s wounds. It was the Shakers, a celibate religious group from England, who began to commercialize lavender after moving to the United States and Canada. Today a great many lavender products are produced world-wide but not by the Shakers. Being celibate ended the order in no time.
Today lavender’s essential oil is considered antiseptic, an astringent and an analgesic. Many perfumes, bath oils, salves and balms are lavender based. Loaded with nectar the bees spend a great deal of time making lavender honey which is delicious and at times used to coat uninfected wounds.
Gastronomically, lavender has a very sweet floral flavor with a hint of lemon. It is considered a condiment in salads and dressings. The flowers can be candied and used to decorate pastries, and cakes. I had a piece of lavender cake at a wedding, delicious. Scones, marshmallows and chocolate are especially good with lavender. When cooking with lavender it is said to go best with fennel, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage and savory. The French like to have their lambs graze in fields of lavender to make the meat fragrant and tender.
Aromatherapy makes good use of lavender which is said to help you relax and sleep. Potpourri is often packed with lavender. I remember a time when mothers wanted to put bags of lavender in their son’s hockey skates. Not a bad idea but the boys would never stand for it.
Old Mission Peninsula has its own Harbor View Nursery and Lavender Farm run by Bret, Sonja, Hannah and Cody. As with many agricultural endeavors on the Peninsula the farm has been family owned and operated since 1993. A little bit of everything can be found here. There are a variety of plants, lavender products, a Rieser favorite – mulch, and a lot of learning to be had.
Here are the uses for lavender and one cautionary warning listed on their website.
I love my three lavender plants. I dry the flowers and mix them with the dried wildflower pedals I collect from my yard. I put this collection in a large glass bowl on my coffee table for the winter. It is a reminder that the snow and cold really isn’t most of the year. I also have bouquets here and there throughout the house. They just make me smile.
If you are visiting the Peninsula to enjoy the local wine tasting or to visit the Old Mission Lighthouse, do stop by Harbor View Nursery and Lavender Farm or order through their website. (As a disclaimer, I am not part of this operation, I just love the farm and hope you enjoy it too!)
Do check out their website at: http://www.harborviewlavender.com/About-Us.htm
Grab some lavender and make it part of your life in as many ways as you can.