Latin: Lavendula Angustifolia
Parts Used: Flowers
Energy and Flavors: Spicy, Fragrant, Mildly Bitter, Cool
Systems Affected: Lungs, Liver
Primary Biochemical Constituents: Volatile oils including linalool, lavendulyl acetate, borneol, camphor, limonene, coumarins, ursolic acd, flavonoids
Properties: Aromatic, Carminative, Antispasmodic, Antidepressent, Antibacterial, Analgesic, Promotes bile flow, Antiseptic
Cautions: Generally regarded as safe, however, avoid high doses in pregnancy as it is a uterine stimulant. In vitro, lavender is cytotoxic
DESCRIPTION: Lavender is a bushy, branching shrub, whose lower branches are woody, although the young stems are herbaceous. It grows to a maximum height of three feet. Stems and leaves are covered with fine grey hairs. The flowers are produced on terminating, wiry blunt spikes 6-8 inches long, and grow in whorls of 6-8 flowers, subtended by short pointed bracts. The calyx is purple-grey, tubular, with thirteen veins and five lobes, one of which is slightly larger than the others. The small purple-blue flowers have four stamens and a tubular corolla with two lips: the upper lip has two lobes and the lower lip three. Examination of the corolla with a hand lens shows a dense covering of stellate hairs and small shiny oil glands. It is most often identified by its fragrant, characteristic odor. Flowers June to September. Spike Lavender is shorter with broader, spatula-shaped leaves, a more compressed inflorescence, and narrower bracts. It produces three times as much oil, but the oil has a higher content of cineol and camphor, and so is considered less pleasing. French Lavender has narrower leaves and very small dark flowers, terminated with a tuft of bright leaflets. Lavender is native to Mediterranean countries and naturalized to most of Europe and the southern United States. It grows best in full sun in sandy soil at high altitudes. It is cultivated in temperate areas throughout the world.
Magical Uses: Lavender has longed been used in love spells and sachets. The scent of lavender particularly attracts men and can also protect against cruel treatment at the hands of ones spouse if worn. The flowers are burned or smoldered to induce sleep and peacefulness. Lavender is used in healing mixtures and carried to see ghosts and to protect against the evil eye. Lavender can also be added to purification baths.
Early Traditions: In ancient times lavender was used for mummification and perfume by the Egyptian’s. The botanical name Lavendula comes from the Latin lavare which means “to wash.” As far back as the middle ages lavender was used for its fragrance to freshen rooms, added to perfumes, and used In baths. In the Middle Ages lavender was used as a popular home remedy for stress, hysteria, menopausal problems, headaches, and even palsy, convulsions and fainting. It was also used to treat worms in children. In Arabic medicine, lavender was ued as an antispasmodic and expectorant. Perhaps first domesticated by the Arabians, lavender spread across Europe from Greece. Around 600 BC lavender may have come from the Greek Hyeres Islands into France and is now common in France, Spain, Italy and England. The ‘English’ lavender varieties were not locally developed in England but rather introduced in the 1600s right around the time the first lavender plants were making their way to the Americas. Queen Elizabeth I of England valued lavender as a conserve and a perfume. It has been said that she commanded that the royal table should never be without conserve of lavender and she issued orders to her gardeners that fresh lavender flowers should be available all year round! She also drank an abundance of Lavender tea to help ease her migraines and used it as a body perfume. Queen Victoria of England is most notable for making Lavender popular across England and it could be found, in one form or another, in every one of her rooms, as she used it to wash floors and furniture, freshen the air, and had it strewn among the linens. During the First World War, nurses bathed soldiers’ wounds with lavender washes. To this day, the French continue to send baby lambs to graze in fields of lavender, so their meat will be tender and fragrant.
New Mexico Herbal Traditions: In New Mexico the Spanish name was Alhucema. It was widely used for stomachaches, especially colic in babies. It was sometimes administered to mothers before their milk began to flow. A secondary use in New Mexico was to relieve gagging, coughing fits and nausea. The flowers were often burned in a bowl as a fumigant.
The modern therapeutic applications of Lavender are mostly related to the oil, which is considered the most versatile remedy in aromatherapy. The volatile oils in lavender contain more than 100 chemical compounds that calm the central nervous system and soothe the spirit. Herbalists often blend this herb with others such as valerian, borage flowers, lemon balm, and chamomile as a potent remedy for headaches, muscle spasms, cramps, depression, and digestive upsets. Lavender is taken as a tea or tincture or is used externally as an essential oil in baths, steams, and massage oils.
Tisserand says “Lavender is generally regarded as the most useful and versatile essence for therapeutic purposes.” He attributes its great usefulness to a balance between yin and yang energies. Its sedative nervine properties make it useful in treatment of depression, insomnia, migraine, hysteria, nervous headache, epilepsy, convulsions, and catalepsy. This, with its balancing properties make it useful for treating manic depression. Its sedative and tonic actions on the heart make it useful for palpitations, especially those related to anxiety: it also lowers blood pressure. It is carminative and stomachic, so useful for colic, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, especially if associated with nervous or emotional problems. It has a soothing effect on inflammation, so is of use for burns, dermatitis , eczema, psoriasis, boils, rheumatism, wounds, ulcers, blepharitis, conjunctivitis, cystitis, diarrhoea, and laryngitis. In any of these conditions where infection is a factor, its usefulness is enhanced by its antiseptic effect. Lavender oil has been found to inhibit or destroy several pathogenic bacteria (see below). Tisserand uses it to treat bronchitis, leucorrhea, and venereal disease. It is calming to the skin so is useful in skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, acne, and psoriasis. It is both cytophylactic (stimulates growth of skin cells), and cicatrisant (healing to wounds): these properties along with its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory functions make it especially useful for burns and wounds. It neutralises the poisons in most insect, snake and spider bites. It is used as a rinse for alopecia. It is apparently useful for sunstroke, although it is not effective as a sunscreen. Lavender oil is antispasmodic, so useful in asthma and bronchitis. The antispasmodic action also makes lavender oil useful for menstrual pain. In childbirth it is used to purify the air, and this imparts its calming effect to the mother; it also apparently helps expel afterbirth and makes for speedy delivery without increasing severity of contraction. It is useful during birth as a massage oil for back pain. It also releives rheumatic or muscular aches and pains and neuralgia when used in massage.
It is recommended for people who have active minds and a keen interest in spiritual phenomena: these people tend to absorb a great deal of spiritual energy that they can’t process fast enough. Thus they tend to be “high-strung” and suffer from nervous afflictions such as insomnia, headaches, visual problems, and muscle tension in the scalp and neck. Lavender essence works first to soothe and calm, then teaches how to regulate the influx of psychic energy and process it. Thus, the essence helps the person learn to use their great sensitivity in a way that doesn’t overtax the physical body.
Cooking With Lavender
Lavender is an incredibly versatile herb for cooking. In today’s upscale restaurants, fresh edible flowers are making a comeback as enhancements to both the flavor and appearance of food. Learn about Edible Flowers.
As a member of the same family as many of our most popular herbs, it is not surprising that lavender is edible and that its use in food preparation is also returning. Flowers and leaves can be used fresh, and both buds and stems can be used dried. Lavender is a member of the mint family and is close to rosemary, sage, and thyme. It is best used with fennel, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and savory.
English Lavender (l. angustifolia and munstead) has the sweetest fragrance of all the lavenders and is the one most commonly used in cooking. The uses of lavender are limited only by your imagination. Lavender has a sweet, floral flavor, with lemon and citrus notes. The potency of the lavender flowers increases with drying.
In cooking, use 1/3 the quantity of dried lavender flowers to fresh lavender flowers.
The key to cooking with lavender is to experiment; start out with a small amount of flowers, and add more as you go.
NOTE: Adding too much lavender to your recipe can be like eating perfume and will make your dish bitter. Because of the strong flavor of lavender, the secret is that a little goes a long way.
The lavender flowers add a beautiful color to salads. Lavender can also be substituted for rosemary in many bread recipes. The flowers can be put in sugar and sealed tightly for a couple of weeks then the sugar can be substituted for ordinary sugar for a cake, buns or custards. Grind the lavender in a herb or coffee grinder or mash it with mortar and pestle.
The spikes and leaves of lavender can be used in most dishes in place of rosemary in most recipes. Use the spikes or stems for making fruit or shrimp kabobs. Just place your favorite fruit on the stems and grill.
Flowers look beautiful and taste good too in a glass of champagne, with chocolate cake, or as a garnish for sorbets or ice creams. Lavender lends itself to savory dishes also, from hearty stews to wine-reduced sauces. Diminutive blooms add a mysterious scent to custards, flans or sorbets. Dried lavender blossoms used in perfumes and pot pourris.
NOTE: Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries, or garden centers. In many cases these flowers have been treated with pesticides not labeled for food crops.
Cunningham, Scott. (1995) Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Dover Publications. St. Paul, Minnesota
Tierra, Michael. (1998) The Way of Herbs. Pocket Books. New York.
Harrar, Sari; and Altshul O’Donnell, Sara. (1999) The Woman’s Book of Healing Herbs. Rodale Press Inc. Pennslyvania.
Moore, Michael. (1990) Los Remedios; Traditional Remedies of the Southwest. Museum of New Mexico Press. New Mexico.