If you polled an audience for their opinion on the scent of lavender, you might get a split vote. Personally, I think that is because many people are only exposed to highly processed, concentrated potions. Regardless of where you sit on the lavender fan scale, there must be something to this herb that the Romans called lavare (“to wash”) and the Greeks called nardus (after Syrian City Naarda).
Here are the 10 things that we discovered about this ancient plant.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), a member of the mint family, does grow in the wild, but given the global demand for its flowers there is a large agricultural industry at 80-90 metric tonnes/annually (although production has decreased by over 50% in the last decade).
- The Mediterranean environment is perfect for the cultivation of this plant that loves dry, rocky soils and warm, arid climates. Slightly acidic, the bugs do not like lavender allowing for agriculture without the use of pesticides and fertilisers.
- Lavender essential oil is extracted as a byproduct when the dried flowers come in contact with scalding steam (steam distillation). A single acre of planted lavender produces “300 to 1,800 pounds of dried flowers (12 to 15 pounds of essential oil – about 2 gallons)” *
- Continuing the theme of “to wash” lavender often found in products such as perfumes, soaps, shampoos, cosmetics and creams.
- Lavender has some medically tested benefits that include reduced hair loss, eased anxiety and the ability to shrink canker sores.
- However, there are also many antidotal lavender uses that are yet to be proven such as relief from itching (eczema), insomnia, depression, colic, nerve pain and others.
- Lavandin, which might be considered a gardening mistake, resulted from crossing two lavender strains (there are 30 species) with the herb aspic. The benefits of lavandin from a commercial standpoint are obvious as the plant can grow at lower altitudes starting at 200 metres and the flowers produce more essential oil per tonne. However, purists do not consider lavandin to be “true” lavender.
- Inventive chefs and bakers infuse sauces, cakes, ice creams, soups, and honey with lavender flavour and colour.
- Think of lavender and picture Provence? Not so fast! Bulgaria, not France is the top country for lavender production as of 2014. France’s production used to top out at over 50% of global production, but it has been falling in recent years due to diseased plants. Despite declining production, the agro-tourism industry is holding steady with plenty of visitors along les Routes de la Lavande.
- Lavender is not one of the flowers in the wedding anniversary chart. However, in Provence lavender wands (or fuseaux) were often included in dowries in the middle ages as it was thought to be an aphrodisiac – the herb of love. As a bonus, mites and other critters do not seem to like the scent so they stay away from the linen closet.
Check out our handmade lavender wands here. Made of 100 stems of 100% pure French lavender these will last forever. Lavender fuseaux make excellent hostess gifts.
** Vase photo credit: Lua Williams, Canmore