Historical Facts about Lavender

Historical Facts about Lavender

The history of lavender, or should I say the history of 'the use of' lavender, dates back over 2000 years!!! Yes, over 2000 years ago.

The Lavender oil used for calming and to induce sleep was first documented by the Romans in 77 A.D. for repelling insects and soothing insect bites. This first written record of lavender usage was written by Greek military physician, Dioscorides, who served under Emperor Nero. Dioscorides describes the medical uses of the herb in his 5-volume work entitled "De Materia Medica" (btw Gavin, Hardy LECTURE of October 18, 2017 says "VETERINARY usages suggested by Dioscorides 'DE MATERIA MEDICA’ tells us that the Romans were more mindful of animal welfare than the Greeks”). Our physician DIOSCORIDES talks about the specific Geographical locations or habitats from where plants were most effective medicinally.

The name of lavender is said to have started with the Romans, and translated from the Latin verb "lavare", which means "to wash".  The Greeks are said to have called it "Nardus" after the city of Naardus in Syria, near the Euphrates, and many just referred to is as "Nard", which could be a simplified version of "Spikenard" which refers to the lavender flowers' shape.  (There is another aromatic herb also called 'Spikenard' that grows in China, Nepal, and India.).

In the Bible itself is said to mention "Spikenard", and Mary is said to have used lavender on baby Jesus, and to anoint Jesus' body for burial after the Crucifixion.

Going back to Ancient times, ancient Egyptians used the lavender flower for embalming, and in cosmetics. Jars containing unguent traces (a salve or ointment used to sooth and heal) that had elements resembling lavender, were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Highly valued, only High Priests and those of royal blood were said to use lavender in medicines.

Lavender (when ingested) is said to relieve indigestion, headaches, and even sore throats.  It was used to cleanse external wounds and burns, and was carried by Roman soldiers to treat war wounds. Aromatically, it was strewn about floors to sweeten the air, was used in the form of incense for religious ceremonies, and Romans heavily perfumed themselves with it. In Ancient Rome, lavender was recognized for its healing and antiseptic properties. It was already used as a form of bug repellent and was also used for the personal care and as an air freshener and environment purifying.

In the Middle Age, lavender’s popularity waned a bit.

The herb was mostly used by Monks and Nuns.  It was because of monasteries that the lore of lavender was preserved.  An edict by the Holy Roman Empire in 812 AD, charged monks with growing vegetables, medicinal plants, flowers, and trees.  Lavender was grown at Merton Abbey, which became the center of lavender production for England. Hence, Lavender would see a renaissance in Tudor England.  King Henry VIII 'dissolved' monasteries, so lavender became more of a fixture in personal gardens, usually the gardens of 'ladies of the manor'.  It was often grown next to the rooms where laundry was done, and washed items were laid on top of lavender to dry and absorb the plants lovely aroma.

Queen Elisabeth was a fan of lavender and used it in a tea to treat her frequent migraines.  

King Charles VI of France was also a lover of the aromatic herb and had his seat cushions stuffed with it.

In 16th century France, Lavender was regarded as an effective protection from infection.  

In the 17th century, lavender was found in most herbal medicines and was given the distinction of being a cure all.  A prevalent medicine, great interest developed for lavender, and street vendors popped up everywhere. Prices skyrocketed in the year 1665 when the Great Plague happened. Lavender was said to protect against it.

During Victorian times, lavender had become a quite fashionable aromatic. With ladies especially.  They would put the dried flowers in small muslin pouches that would be placed in wardrobes, and between sheets.  Young women of courting age would place it in their cleavage to lure prospective suitors.  Queen Victoria was a great admirer of lavender, and appointed an official purveyor, known as Miss Sarah Sprules, "Purveyor to the Queen".  It was also during the Victorian Era that a small suburb of London known as Mitcham became the center of lavender oil production.  English lavender products became known all over the world.

In the US, the Shakers grew lavender commercially.  Because of it's extreme popularity, in time lavender would become a victim to over usage.  It would see a loss of popularity in the early 20th century, when it became associated with "old ladies".

In modern times, lavender gained an all new popularity via aromatherapy. Rene Gattefosse, a founder of modern day Aromatherapy, confirmed the healing and antiseptic properties of lavender through personal experience. After burning his hand severely, he used lavender oil to treat his wound.  His pain subsided, and the healing was quick leaving no scar behind.

Today, the largest producer of lavender is Provence, France and Bulgaria.  

The Romans can be thanked for that as they were the ones who first brought the plant into both areas.  They are followed by other Countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, United Kingdom, United States, Australia, South Africa and China.

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