Lavender has been popular for its sweet scent since the time of the Romans when it was added to the bath water for its perfume. Later it was used as a strewing herb and, as an oil, lavender cured burns and wounds.
English lavender, lavandula vera, is a lovely, aromatic, evergreen shrub growing 1—3 ft (30—9 I cm) high. The main stem grows in a crooked fashion with flaking bark and from this the other stems grow stiff and straight. The grey-green leaves are narrow and the fragrant flowers grow in spikes on long stems which stand out high above the plant. Other lavenders in the species have the same habit of growth, some with deep purply blue flowers, some with pink or white. The white lavender is not a very hardy plant. No other lavender has such an intensely aromatic yet delicate scent as the English lavender. Lavender is grown commercially on a large scale for the oil which is obtained from the flowers and that of the English lavender is considered far superior to the other lavenders.
In the home lavender is widely used, laid amongst clothes and linen as a perfume and moth deterrent, in potpourris or on its own set in little bowls to fill the room with scent. It can be used for flower arrangements either fresh or dried.
Lavender will grow best in light, sandy, well-drained soil and a dry, sunny position. It can be propagated by seed or more quickly by cuttings. Cuttings can be taken in August and set into a cold frame in sandy soil or under a cloche, and planted out the following autumn. Lavender should be pruned after flowering to keep the bushes a good shape and encourage sturdy growth.
Lavender for drying is gathered when the flowers are in full bloom in late July or August. Pick them on a dry day, cutting the long stems. They are then dried and stored in the usual way.
Lavender is well known as a remedy for headache, migraine and nervousness. It can stimulate the circulation and is helpful in cases of nervous exhaustion. It is used to relieve neuralgia and insomnia, and will revive those who feel faint or dizzy.
Lavender is usually taken in the form of oil but lavender tea is a pleasant fragrant drink. For migraine, headache and nervous disorders a small glassful can be taken hot last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Taken at night, it is sleep inducing.
* To make lavender tea: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of fresh flowers. Cover and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Lavender tea can be used as a mouthwash. It will strengthen the gums and is a remedy for bad breath.
Lavender oil can usually be purchased at a chemist (pharmacy) or a simpler version made at home.
* To make lavender oil: Pour 1 cup of almond or sunflower oil into a glass jar and add a handful of fresh lavender flowers. Cover with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and stand the jar in the sun for 3 days. Strain off the oil and repeat the process, adding a fresh lot of flowers. Continue until the oil is strongly perfumed, perhaps 2—3 weeks, then strain into screw- top bottles. For migraine and dizziness 5 drops of oil can be taken on a lump of sugar.
Externally, the oil is a useful remedy for mild burns. It can be helpful in cases of congestion, rubbed on to the chest, and can soothe aching muscles.
Lavender has a lovely soft fragrance and is used in many beauty care products, soaps and talcum powders. Lavender toilet water is refreshing, cooling and slightly antiseptic. Bathing the forehead and temples with lavender water will help to overcome fatigue and exhaustion. Lavender water can be obtained from the chemist (pharmacy) or it can be made at home.
– To make lavender water: Put 3 handfuls of dried lavender flowers into a wide-necked screwtop jar and add 1 cup of white wine vinegar and ½ cup rose- water. Leave the mixture in the dark for 2—3 weeks and shake the bottle frequently.
An infusion of fresh flowers can be used to tone The skin once a day.
* To make lavender flower infusion: Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 4 teaspoons of lavender. Cover and leave until cold. Strain into a screwtop bottle and use within a few days. Dip cotton wool pads or balls in the lotion and press lightly over the face.
The infusion makes a pleasantly fragrant hair rinse. Shampoo the hair and rinse well in plain water. Finally rinse the hair several times over with warm infusion. It stimulates growth and leaves the hair shining and soft.
You can make an effective and sweet-smelling hand lotion to keep the hands soft and fragrant.
To make a hand lotion: Add sufficient lavender oil to scent ½ cup of glycerine in a bottle. Shake the bottle vigorously each time before using.
For a refreshing bath, add a strong infusion of lavender flowers to the bath water.
* To make a lavender bath: Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 2 handfuls of dried lavender and leave until lukewarm. Strain and add to the bath water.
Lavender flowers can be mixed with other herbs for a facial steam to improve a dull-looking complexion and tone the skin.
* To make a facial steam: Mix lavender with lime flowers, chamomile and sage and place 2 handfuls of this mixture in a bowl. Pour on about 4 cups of boiling water. Cover the head and bowl with a towel and steam the face for up to 10 minutes. Wipe the face thoroughly with cotton wool pads or balls and splash with cold water.
To make lavender-scented soap take 12 tablespoons grated pure, unscented soap and place in a bowl fitted over a pan of simmering water, stir until melted. Mix in 2 tablespoons lavender oil, I tablespoon clear honey and a few drops of blue or violet colouring. Pour into shaped, oiled moulds and leave until set.