The lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) is blooming. I step into the garden and breathe the sweet fragrance that brings memories of my grandmother, her soaps, her bath oils, the sachets she kept in her linen closets to discourage moths.
Ancient Romans and Greeks used lavender for soaps and bath oil, too, and burned it as an incense to the gods.
The Medieval Hortus Sanitatis explains that “The Mother of God favored lavender flowers because of their virtue in protecting clothes from dirty, filthy beasts.” She had “a great love of this herb for the reason that it preserves chastity. If the head is sprinkled with lavender water it will make that person chaste as long as he bears it upon him.”
Ironically, lavender was also considered an aphrodisiac.
Lavender is used to sooth troubled minds and bodies as medicine for hysteria and nervous palpitations. Perhaps this is why my grandmother kept it so close — she was often profoundly depressed, subject to the frustrations that many women suffered in her day. A teaspoon of lavender flowers in a pint of water can act as a mild sedative.
In her book, Your Essential Nature, Nita Morrow Hill writes, “Lavender speaks to totality of experience…to our willingness to immerse ourselves in life, love, and happiness as well as allowing the more negative spaces… It speaks to innocence (inner sense), a way of seeing the world as a child (without judgement) so that we can develop new perceptions about what things mean.”
In addition to being an antidepressant, lavender is used against hoarseness, headache, palsy, toothaches, sore joints, psoriasis, apoplexy, and colic, brewed into cordials that sometimes combine it with rosemary oil, cinnamon bark, nutmeg and sandalwood, steeped for seven days in wine. In China, lavender is used in a cure-all medicinal oil called White Flower Oil.
A combination of lavender, chamomile, and geranium oils can be applied to the scalp as a conditioner that is said to make the hair thick and lush.
Lavender flowers and leaves flavor vinegar and jellies, and can be sprinkled sparingly in salads. I once had a marvelous fish cooked with lavender flowers.
There are at least 20 species of lavender, among them English, Spanish, Portuguese, and of course French, grown in the “lavender Alps” and fields of Provence.