Lavender, the scent of summer
Posted on 17th June 2020 at 06:34
With many people spending much more time outside than usual – whether in their gardens or out walking – we’ve noticed how many of them are appreciating things they would never normally notice. Or, more accurately, never have time to notice as they rush around in their busy lives…
Having waxed lyrical about the delights of Elderflowers a couple of weeks ago – and been heartened by the number of people who actually make Elderflower cordial – we thought we’d focus on another seasonal delight today. And, this time, no potentially messy cooking is involved. Hurrah, by those who normally do the clearing up!
It’s another sign that Summer really is here, with even the least horticulturally inclined person being able to easily identify it. Lavender.
While it’s thought of as a quintessentially English plant, Lavender originally comes from the Mediterranean. Hence, its love of sunshine and free draining soils. Not forgetting its resistance to drought. And, with the dry Summer we’ve been having, it’s easy to see why Lavender is such a welcome addition to any garden.
With evergreen leaves – usually silvery grey or greeny grey -it’s an attractive plant all year round; although most people only tend to think of it in the Summer. The time when Lavender is at its best, with lovely – and long lasting – flower spikes, ranging from every hue of purple to pink and white.
Not only is Lavender beautiful, but a rich source of nectar for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. And, for us humans, its flowers dry easily allowing its scent to be enjoyed all year round. However, it doesn’t stop there, with Lavender having a huge range of herbal and culinary uses.
Lavender is a rich source of essential oils which are easily extracted using stream distillation. In other words, passing steam through a vat containing Lavender flowers and leaves. Yes, it really is that simple! However, with the amount of Lavender needed to produce even a small amount of oil, not one that’s practical to do at home.
With its long history and many traditional uses, it’s not surprising that Lavender has been the subject of much research. While over 40 different compounds have been identified, two account for the majority of the essential oil extracted. Linalool, which provides about 51% of oil, and Linalyl Acetate, another 35%. Interestingly, both of these substances are found in many other essential oils, although not in such great amounts. These include Spearmint, Cypress, Ylang Ylang, Tangerine and Cinnamon.
As well as giving Lavender its own unique scent, they also have a number of interesting properties of their own. More about this in a minute. In addition, recent research has found that they may also have an anti Cancer affect, which has prompted much interest and led to further investigations.
What can Lavender by used for?
Lavender is well known for its generally calming and sedative affects. It can be used during the day, to help reduce Stress or Anxiety, as well as at night to help Sleep. And there are so many ways it can be used. In a burner – our favourite way to use it, with its perfume gently wafting round the room – on a handkerchief – or pillow – or drunk as a tea. More about using it as a tea – or tisane – in a minute.
Its relaxing affects also make it perfect to use in massage oil, to help soothe and relax tired muscles. Or, alternatively, a few drops can be added to a bath for a relaxing soak. Even better, add some Epsom Salts – or Sea Salt – to the bath, both of which contain high levels of magnesium, which is lost during sweating and strenuous physical exercise.
Lavender can also help with Headaches, both to relieve the pain and reduce Stress levels, which may be playing a part (!). It can be inhaled from a burner or a few drops massaged directly into the temples. Unlike many other essential oils, Lavender can be safely used neat on the skin, making it very easy to use.
Lavender is also well known for its antiseptic and healing qualities. Along with its soothing pain relieving abilities, Lavender has long been used for cuts, grazes and burns. Not only does it speed healing but can also help reduce scarring. It can even be used on older scars; to soften the scar tissue, as well as to reduce their size.
Lavender can also be used to soothe rashes and for insect bites, as well as acting as a general bug repellent. In all these cases, it can either be applied direct to the skin – on the pulse points as a bug repellent – or mixed with water in a spray bottle and used as a more general spray.
And here’s a use you may not have thought of. Lavender oil was given in capsule form to those diagnosed with Depression in research in 2009 and found to give similar results to anti depressants. However, a word of caution. Due to their concentrated nature, essential oils should NEVER be taken internally without specialist advice.
Research has also found that Lavender can help reduce mental decline and Alzheimer’s Disease, by reducing oxidative damage to the Brain. Along with its generally calming affects, it can also help to generally improve the mood while assisting restful sleep. With Insomnia and night time waking being common in Dementia and Alzheimer’s cases, Lavender can help provide some useful support.
Finally, Lavender’s relaxing qualities make it helpful for digestive problems, particularly those with a nervous element. In other words, an unsettled Stomach, Indigestion, bloating, wind or Colic. Gently massaging a few drops on the abdomen can do wonders, particularly for grizzly babies.
How to use Lavender
We’ve already mentioned some of the ways in which Lavender essential oil can be used. In a burner, directly on to the skin, in the bath or diluted in massage oil.
It can be used as a tea – or tisane – using Lavender flowers and / or leaves picked straight from the garden or when dried. Simply put a few Lavender heads and / or leaves in a teapot and let it “brew” for a few minutes. It can then be drunk hot or cold. If you’re drinking it cold, keep it in the fridge until needed and then dilute with water to taste.
Lavender can be used in cooking to give a subtle flavour to many cakes, sweets and biscuits. We’ve even seen it added to chocolate as well as strawberry and gooseberry jams!
And here's a counter intuitive fact about Lavender flowers and leaves. Not surprisingly, the flowers contain the highest amount of essential oil. However, the amounts are greatest as the flower seems to be going “over”, so is starting to fade, rather than when it’s “new.” Usually, you’d assume the opposite. That a “new” flower would contain more essential oil. As with all herbs, they are best picked first thing in the morning, when it’s dry, not after a shower or heavy dew.
The leaves can be picked from early Spring – as soon as the fresh new growth starts to appear – and can be used for the rest of the growing season. If using dried flowers, then use a smaller amount and adjust to taste.
Lavender can be used to make a tea – or tisane – along with other herbs in your garden. Again, it’s down to personal taste but we’ve found it works particularly well with fresh Mint or Lemon Verbena.
And, finally, don’t forget a very traditional use for Lavender. Lavender bags, to keep clothes and linen drawers smelling sweet and fresh. The dried flowers can also be sprinkled on the carpet and left for a while, before hoovering them up to quickly freshen up the whole room.
Finally, a quick word of caution. As with any essential oil, if you’re pregnant, breast feeding or taking medication always check before using it; even on the skin. And, as we’ve already said, NEVER take Lavender internally without taking specialist advice first.
With over 400 different varieties of Lavender we really are spoilt for choice, so there’s bound to be at least – or many (!) – suitable for you and your garden. Even if you don’t use the flowers, there’s nothing quite like sitting near the bush on a warm summer day, with the fragrance wafting in your direction and the hum of happy bees!
As always, the choice is yours.
Picture by unknown author
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