Lavender has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It's also an attractive plant for borders, pathways and rockeries and quite easy to grow. Mim shares an extract of her latest book, Grow Your Own Medicine to inspire you to get some into your garden.
There is no smell quite as good as a field of lavender in bloom. (Except perhaps chocolate.) Lavender has been used as perfume, cosmetic, culinary herb and medicine for thousands of years. The word itself is derived from the Latin lavare, to wash or bathe, because lavender water is what the hygiene-conscious ancient Romans used to cleanse their bodies. Lavender’s sharp, unique fragrance lifts the mood and soothes the soul to this day.
At a glance
- How easy to grow
- Part used
- Goes well with
- For sleep: California poppy, hops or valerian; for calm: kava or passionflower
- Also known as
- Lavandula angustifolia (formerly officinalis), English lavender
- How to use
- Tea, tincture, capsule, essential oil, infused oil
- Climate zones
- Companion plants
- Cabbages, roses
Both the essential oil and flowers are used medicinally. Small amounts of essential oil are applied externally for headaches, skin conditions and in massage lotions for stress and anxiety. Tea or tincture made from the flowers is taken internally for the same conditions. Linalool is the naturally occurring substance in lavender that is calming for the mind and body, as it acts as a tonic for anxiety, a gentle sedative and an antispasmodic for the muscles and bowel. The oil can be applied as an antiseptic and insect repellent.
- Headaches, depression, stress, anxiety, insomnia, colic, flatulence.
- Using the essential oil, infused oil or cream: skin conditions, stings, burns, cuts, headaches, insect repellent.
- Essential lavender oil should never be taken internally. Avoid ingesting lavender during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
How to use it
- Tea, tincture capsule (see pages 33–36).
- The essential oil of lavender contains more of the active aromatic compound, linalool, than an infused oil. Adding a few drops of the essential oil (see page 39) to infused oil (see page 40) will enhance the benefits. Essential oil in an aromatherapy burner will help calm nerves. Neat oil can also help heal stings, bites and scratches, as can lavender cream (see page 41). Adding a few drops (essential oil) or a few teaspoons (infused oil) to massage oil or lotion is an excellent way to encourage full-body lavender healing. Likewise, adding some to the bath before bed will improve sleep quality.
Adding lavender's fragrance to clothes
Plant a clump of lavender bushes beside the clothes line so you can easily drape handkerchiefs and underwear over it, and they will get saturated with the scent of lavender. Cut twenty to thirty long stems of lavender flower, dry them, tie with purple ribbon and keep this posy in your linen and clothes drawers for year-long fragrance as well as pest control.
Growing your own
The best lavender grows in well-drained, chalky or alkaline soils. Plant in full sun and prune hard each year to prevent the bush becoming unattractive and leggy, which it will do eventually and will need to be replaced every few years. However, make sure you don’t cut into the old wood: prune to a couple of centimetres above. Lavender bushes need fertilising once a year and prefer to be under- rather than overwatered. Lavender attracts bees to the garden and repels moths and ants. Propagation is from cuttings.
An extract from Grow Your Own Medicine (ABC Books, 2011). Buy it here