While a bouquet of red roses may be the staple gift for Valentine’s Day, there are plenty of plants that are ideal for those wanting something a little bit different. Lavender is just one great example, with its sweet fragrance and colourful flowers that represent purity and devotion.
Native to the Mediterranean, lavender is grown commercially for its essential oils, which can be found in everything from medicine to makeup, and has made its way into backyards and cottage gardens across the world. In fact, lavender is so easy to grow that it often grows outside its typical climate and has been declared as a weed in Victoria since 1920!
Faiths and Cultures:
Lavender was first used 2,500 years ago in Ancient Egypt and has played an important role across cultures ever since. In fact, lavender perfume is one of the oldest used in England and, according to the Treasury of Botany, lavender oils were commonly used in the 1600s by porcelain painters and by painters to make varnish.
Lavender is thought to come from the Latin lavare, meaning ‘to wash’, because the Romans added lavender to washing water for its fragrance and its ability to exfoliate the skin.
When it comes to medicine, lavender has been used to treat almost everything from head lice to depression. Research into the effectiveness of lavender in treatments suggests that lavender oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, and is used in alternative medicine to treat insect bites, burns, and migraines, or as a compress to treat muscle pain and blisters. The oil also repels fleas, which may be why its use in gloves was effective against the Plague as it deterred fleas that carried the disease. In fact, lavender oil makes a great natural repellant against mosquitoes, too.
Lavender oil is also commonly used in aromatherapy to stimulate appetite and treat cradle cap (a mild form of dermatitis that affects the face and scalp of young children and infants) and bronchitis. Plus, lavender oil is popular for analgesic and calming properties and can be used on the skin to combat insomnia. However, lavender oil can cause contact dermatitis as a result of an allergy, so it’s best to speak your doctor before using lavender products for the first time.
As a member of the mint family, it makes sense that lavender has a wide application when it comes to cooking. The flowers, also called buds, are typically used in sweet dishes, including everything from jam to teas, and can be paired with lemon or honey to enhance the flavour while adding a taste of mystery. It’s also important to use the right variety of lavender, and English lavender, with its especially sweet fragrance, is the most popular variety for cooking. The buds can also be used dried or fresh, but it should be noted that the flavour intensifies as the buds dry, so recipes should be adjusted accordingly.
The greens, made up of the leaves and stems, have a similar flavour to rosemary and are often used alongside rosemary in savoury meat and vegetable dishes. There are also a range of lavender concoctions you can try, including lavender lattes, lemonade, and cocktails.
Why not show your special someone just how sweet they with one of these dessert recipes:
If you’re looking to introduce lavender to your garden there are a few things you need to do to help them flourish. First, you should find the variety that’s best for your garden. English lavender is great for cooler climates (which is why it’s called English lavender) and struggles in humid conditions, whereas French lavender, also known as Spanish lavender, prefers hotter climates but is less hardy.
When it comes to lavender, finding the perfect spot for your new plant is also crucial. Pick a spot with full sun and protection from winds, and use soil that is well-draining. For a stronger fragrance, an alkaline and chalky soil is best.
Plus, lavender can be planted as edging for walkways or just to add a splash of colour. Lavender flowers vary in colour from white or pink all the way through to blue-gray or violet and contain lots of nectar, which attracts bees like the Blue Banded Bee, an Australian native!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Longe, J. L. 2005. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Farmington Hills, Mich: Thomson/Gale.