[ The Lure of Lavender: Intro ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company
The Lure of Lavender Shadow Header
Lavender is probably one of the best loved botanicals in the world. It's little wonder when the herb has been touted for the ability to bring good luck, to attract and keep true love from straying, and to "comfort the braine." An indulgence that once cost a month's salary to the average Roman citizen, this legendary herb is now abundant in many aspects of modern life and liberally sprinkled throughout literature.

The lavenders, which are composed of nearly 40 different species in the mint family, are perennial, woody, shrub-like plants that bear whorls of flowers atop
spikes that range in color from blue to mauve. Most people are familiar with common garden varieties grown as ornamental plants, such as the hardy Lavandula angustifolia, or English lavender. Although etymologists offer varying theories as to how this herb received its common name, it is generally accepted that lavender is named after the Latin verb lavare, which means, "to wash." This is likely a tribute to the fact that the ancient Romans and Greeks were fond of using the herb to scent bath water and body oils.

[ The Lure of Lavender: Reap and Sew ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

a. growing lavender

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region and flourishes on the hillsides of Southern Europe, while various cultivars and hybrids are cultivated elsewhere. The vibrantly colored fields that grace the slopes of the Rhone Alps in France is a spectacular sight that most people are familiar if only in pictures, although the plant also occurs naturally throughout India, Africa and even the Canary Islands. In The Complete Herbal of 1652, herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote of lavender that, "Being an inhabitant almost in every garden, it is so well known, that it needs no description."

In North America, growing lavender can be a challenge unless it is given a chance to become well established early in the growing season, especially in areas that experience harsh winters.

Generally, lavender prefers light, well-drained soil and a generous supply of sunshine. The herb may be started from seed in late spring, or propagated from hardwood cuttings or layering in late summer. In the ornamental herb garden, lavender looks best if given a bit of pruning in early spring to enhance its shape, but take care not to cut back any old wood to ensure future seasons.

While the leaves of the plant may be harvested for practical use, it is the flowers that are most prized. Traditionally, the flowers are collected just before fully opened, slowly air-dried and used to scent sachets, dream pillows, linen closets and dried floral arrangements. The flowers are also widely used in soapmaking, perfumery and in natural cosmetics. The blossoms are distilled to obtain a highly fragrant essential oil.


[ The Lure of Lavender: Scents and Delicate Sensibilities ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

b. a "loverly" look back

If you were to stroll through a London market in the early 1900s, you would inevitably hear the flower girl pitching her wares to the crowd with, "Here’s your sweet lavender; sixteen sprigs a penny that you’ll find my ladies, will smell as sweet as any.”

A similar scene was characterized in the 1964 film adaptation of the musical My Fair Lady and in the Broadway version that took the stage nearly a decade earlier. Perhaps lavender played a role in the romance that eventually blossomed between the story’s main characters, the spirited young Cockney girl, Eliza Doolittle, and the proper phonetics specialist, Professor Henry Higgins.

In Victorian England, it was widely held that carrying lavender could lure a lover, and that dowsing your lover’s head with lavender water would ensure fidelity. In our story, however, such overture was not necessary since Henry professed his love for Eliza with the realization that he had grown accustomed to her face—and the comprehension of her independence from him.

Another persistent belief of the era was that the asp—a term erroneously used to refer to a number of venomous snakes—preferred to make its nest among lavender bushes. However, this was largely a myth promoted by peddlers to justify fetching a higher price for collecting the flowers.

But that’s not where Victorian melodrama involving this herb ends. Since lavender had been used for centuries to counter hysteria, melancholy and other forms of nervosa, it was considered indispensible wherever fine, delicate ladies were gathered. Indeed, if a maiden should find herself faint and on the brink of collapse, a handkerchief dampened with spirits of ammonia placed under her nose would have facilitated her revival. Also known as smelling salts, the stirring aroma of this classic antidote to sudden swooning was tempered by the calming influence of lavender. Evidence that the practice of relying on the raw herb to keep the knees steady is provided by the late 18th century Scottish dramatist and poet, Joanna Baillie, who once wrote, “I'm sure if I had not put lavender on my pocket handkerchief, like Mama, I should have fainted away.”

< lavender flowers are
harvested just before
they open fully

[ The Lure of Lavender: Sachet your night away ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company

sachet the
night away >

[ The Lure of Lavender: Practical Uses, Old and New ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

c. some practical uses:
old & new

Throughout the Mediterranean region, lavender was traditionally used to ease toothache, palsy, stiff joints, bruises, sore throat, headache and lung congestion, among other things. It was commonly added to after dinner cordials to enhance digestion. Once a popular strewing herb to help mask the effects of poor sanitation, lavender was later used to make “sick rooms” more pleasant. During World War II, the purpose for which the herb was christened was resurrected by hospitals that used the essential oil to disinfect surgical instruments and to wash walls and floors.

Today, lavender herb and essential oil are widely used in aromatherapy to induce relaxation, ease tension headache and reduce stress and insomnia. The diluted oil or an infusion (strong tea) made from the flower buds are applied topically to help improve symptoms of eczema and psoriasis. Lavender is also added to bath water and to foot soaks to sooth the soul and tired feet.

Of course, lavender remains popular in perfumery and is a featured ingredient in many personal care products for hair and skin, including skin lotions, shampoos, hair rinses and shaving creams.

An advertisement for Yardley Lavender Soap is testimony that lavender-scented soap is just as sought after today as it was in the past: The soap that’s kept women in hot water for 200 years—and they’ve loved every minute.


[ The Lure of Lavender: In the Kitchen and Bath ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

d. lavender in the
kitchen & bath

Lavender flowers impart a mildly floral flavor to foods, pairing especially well with dark chocolate and cheese made from goat’s milk. The buds are used to decorate frosted cakes or are candied as a stand-alone confection. They are also used to flavor vinegars, syrups, wines, herbal teas, jellies and baked goods. In Spain and in France, a light, golden honey is collected from bees that dine exclusively on lavender flowers, which contributes a slightly woody flavor to the sweet gourmet nectar.

If you’ve never tried cooking with lavender flowers before, you’re in a for real treat! Here are a few simple recipes to get you started…

lavender & vanilla syrup
Swirl a few tablespoons of this syrup in with some strong coffee, a dash of milk, and some ice in a blender and you've got an herbal latte that can't be beat. view the recipe >

lavender brownies
An exotic addition to your brownie fix. Lavender will add subtle floral notes to your brownie mix. Enjoy! view the recipe >

lavender shortbread cookies
An exotic addition to your brownie fix. Lavender will add subtle floral notes to your brownie mix. Enjoy! Also featured in our Crazy for Cookies Newsletter view the recipe >

lavender foot scrub
Soothe your aching feet and surround yourself with the relaxing aroma of lavender. Long after your tired feet have been refreshed by this scrub you will continue to enjoy a delicate lavender scent. view the recipe >