Appreciated since ancient times and now cultivated all over the world, lavender is a perfumed plant and a beautiful color that has several uses, from cosmetics to perfume for the home. But how many varieties of lavender are there? And what are their properties? So here’s everything you need to know about this fragrant plant!
The history and cultivation of lavender
Who wouldn’t like to find a beautiful field of lavender in front of them and admire its landscape and scent? The mind immediately runs to the beautiful lands of Provence, its original land, but lavender is a plant very well known and appreciated in Italy, where it is cultivated for various reasons; officinal, cosmetic and herbal.
Lavender has been known since ancient times for its properties and its strong but delicate fragrance. In ancient times lavender was used as a disinfectant and as a detergent for personal hygiene and since the Middle Ages its extract was used to wash and disinfect floors.
The ear of lavender, in ancient times, was considered a very powerful amulet against demons and misfortunes and was also used as a kind of good luck charm that could bring prosperity and well-being. In Irish tradition, on their wedding day, young brides hid a small bag of lavender inside their garters as a good luck and auspicious symbol.
According to another legend handed down from the gloves of Grasse, in Provence, the lavender oil used to perfume the skins, was able to protect man from the plague. But the beliefs about lavender come from farther away; the ancient Egyptians, for example, used lavender to prepare balms and ointments that were used for mummification. Legend has it that when Tutankhamon’s tomb was discovered, it smelled like lavender after centuries!
Even the Greeks greatly appreciated the lavender flowers, which were used to embellish the virgins that were given to the gods in sacrifice. To spread it throughout Europe were the traveling monks and soon became the plant symbol of lovers, who began to exchange as a sign of affection.
Later, lavender began to be used as a remedy to treat certain diseases and to flavor food, to season tea and salads, prepare jams and decorate desserts, such as mousses and ice cream. The ancient herbal wisdom soon discovered that from the flowers of lavender could be obtained a powerful distillate scented and beneficial effects.
Even the name lavender has a curious origin and derives from the word “wash”. This is because this term referred to the baths of lavender that were used to do thanks to the powerful cleansing action of this plant. In 1800, the essential drops of lavender were used to perfume laundry and prepare compounds that were used to perfume the environment and linen, just as you do today with the scented bags that are used in drawers.
Today, lavender is used to prepare various cosmetics, such as creams and soaps, which not only have a strong aromatic power, but also have a great disinfectant, antiseptic and healing power. Lavender oil is also considered an excellent soothing remedy against insect bites and burns.
HOW TO GROW LAVENDER
Unlike what you might think, cultivating lavender on your own is not an operation so impossible to put into practice, even if it takes patience and attention. This plant is an evergreen herb that blooms in summer with narrow, elongated green leaves. Its flowers are grouped in spikes and have a purple color that is now known by all as “lavender color”.
There are several varieties of lavender and almost all have good resistance to cold and are used to decorate and perfume the garden. Lavender can also be grown in pots, depending on the size of the plant and as long as its growth is always under control. The height varies from 20 cm to one metre.
Heat is not a problem for lavender, although to grow healthy and lush this plant needs a sunny and ventilated position. It does not need to be watered too often, to avoid stagnation at the level of the roots, and does not need fertilizers, although the addition of these substances will undoubtedly ensure flowers of a more intense color during flowering.
Any type of soil is suitable for growing lavender, although limestone is preferable, while pruning is essential to ensure a cyclical rejuvenation of the plant and allow it to increase the amount of flowers produced. A little trick, which perhaps not everyone knows, is to plant lavender in the middle of roses, plants that can protect it from pests and lice.
If you like gardening and want to try your hand at the genre, you can try cuttings in spring, before flowering. To do this, it is sufficient to take a small branch of lavender, about 10 cm long, which must be buried, together with peat and sand, inside a small pot which must be kept in the shade for at least two weeks, keeping a regular watering while waiting to be planted in the following spring.
THE DIFFERENT VARIETIES OF LAVENDER
We said that there are different varieties of lavender. Here are the most common ones:
Toothed: it has light flowers and an aroma of resin. It cannot withstand the cold and should be grown in pots
Finnata: it has blue-lilac flowers and is resistant to cold
Angustifolia: better known as “English lavender”, it is very fragrant, has floral ears and is perfect for low hedges
Lanata: it has white leaves with a layer of hair and very large ears of corn
Latifolia: has large silvery leaves and can grow up to 90 cm.
Stitches: has purple flowers and does not withstand the cold very well
There are also several hybrids, called Sinks, which are grown much more than pure species to produce essential oils, these plants have very large stems and flowers and the best known type is the Lavandula Spica.
THE PROPERTIES OF LAVENDER
The most widely cultivated species of lavender in Italy is Lavandula Officinalis, rich in beneficial properties and widely used for the care of beauty and the person. The essential oil obtained from this plant is a real portent against sunburn and inflammation of the skin, just a few drops are enough, pure or diluted in a vegetable oil, to ensure a feeling of freshness and benefit to the skin.
Lavender essential oil is also considered a good anti-stress remedy. For this reason, lavender oil is often used for relaxing massages, to dissolve the muscles of the body, or added together with salts in the bathtub, for a regenerating and relaxing ritual.
Lavender oil is also indicated as a remedy for headaches; a few drops on the temples are enough to verify its benefits. Herbalists also recommend lavender oil to treat colds; in this case, just add a few drops of it to the bicarbonate to prepare natural smokes.
In aromatherapy, lavender is widely used, especially in the preparation of remedies that combat insomnia. For this reason, floral water is prepared, which is vaporized and sprayed inside the house or directly on the pillow. Floral water is also recommended in case of rheumatic pains; to soothe them, it is recommended to act with a massage in the affected area.
For lovers of herbal teas, here with the flowers of lavender you can also prepare a good infusion with soothing and relaxing properties. The flowers can be combined with those of lemon balm, lime or chamomile, or you can use them yourself to increase the diuretic effect. The recommended dose to prepare a good infusion is one teaspoon of dried flowers per cup for about 250 ml of water.
The flowers can also be used as natural perfumers. At the end of the season, lavender is harvested and its flowers are dried for various reasons. With the scented flowers of lavender you can make many small perfumed bags for linen, or you can place a handful of flowers inside a diffuser and let the aroma spread throughout the house scenting with a pleasant scent.
SIDE EFFECTS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS
Even when it comes to natural products, when it comes to flowers, herbs and medicinal plants, it is always good to be careful to know in depth all the properties of the plant in question, especially if you intend to serve them for internal use, then in the form of decoctions and herbal teas, but also if you use lavender as a cosmetic product.
Essential lavender oil, for example, can cause some side effects, such as dermatitis and irritation, and intestinal or drowsy disorders. In case of high dosage you may experience vomiting and headaches and in this case consult your doctor is absolutely necessary. During pregnancy and while breastfeeding, the intake of lavender is contraindicated.
In all other cases, go to your herbalist’s office and always consult the advice of an expert, who will be able to advise you in the best way and explain in detail all the properties and remedies of lavender.