Many people appreciate lavender for its aromatic fragrance, used in soaps, lotions and sachets for scenting clothes, however, for years it has also been used for its antiseptic qualities. The name lavender comes from the Latin root lavare, which means "to wash." Lavender most likely earned this name because it was frequently used in baths to help purify the body and spirit.
This herb is also considered a natural remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to mood disturbances. Research has confirmed that lavender produces calming, soothing, sedative and healing effects. The historic use and recognition of lavender is almost as old as the history of man. As an herb, lavender has been in documented use for over 2500 years.
Lavender is oft mentioned in the Bible, not by the name lavender but rather by the name used at that time—spikenard. It is written that Mary took a pound of ointment of spikenard and anointed the feet of Jesus and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.
Lavender was used in ancient Egypt for embalming and cosmetics. In tombs, jars filled with ungents containing something resembling lavender were found. These ungents were used only by the royal families and high priests in cosmetics, massage oils, and medicines.
The Greeks learned much from the Egyptians regarding perfumes and the use of aromatics. The Greek physician Theophrastus wrote about the healing qualities of scents in his book "Concerning Odours/" Unlike the ancient Egyptians who anointed their heads, a Greek philosopher preferred to anoint his feet and lower limbs so that the aroma would envelope the whole body and gracefully ascend to the nose. The first written record of the healing uses of lavender appears to be that of a Greek physician in 77 AD. Lavender, he noted, when taken internally, relieved indigestion, headaches and sore throats. Externally, lavender could be used to clean wounds and burns or treat skin ailments.
Ancient Romans recognized lavender for its healing and antiseptic qualities, for its usefulness in deterring insects, and used it in washing. They also used the oils for bathing, cooking and scenting the air. Roman soldiers took lavender on campaigns with them to dress war wounds. It was also noted that lavender would help those with upset stomachs, kidney disorders, jaundice, dropsy and treating insect bites.
Queen Elizabeth, who loved lavender, used it in tea to treat her frequent migraines and as a perfume. (Lavender is one of the oldest perfumes used in England,) She encouraged the development of lavender farms.
Henrietta Marie, wife of King Charles I, who brought cosmetics to the English court, used lavender in perfumed soaps, potpourris, and water for washing and bathing.
King Charles VI of France had his seat cushions stuffed with lavender.
In the twelfth century Hildegard of Bingen noted that oil of lavender was effective in the treatment of head lice and fleas.
In 16th-century France, lavender was regarded as an effective and reliable protection against infection. Glove makers who were licensed to perfume their wares with lavender often seemed to escape cholera.
Seventeenth-century lavender was found in most herbals as a cure all. The great English herbalists all wrote about lavender. Great interest was generated and lavender street sellers appeared. Prices were high during the Great Plague of 1665, when lavender was thought to protect against this terrible disease.
Queen Victoria was a great enthusiast in the use of lavender. Lavender was very fashionable among the ladies. They bought it from street sellers who brought it up from Mitcham. Fresh lavender was dried and put into muslin bags for wardrobes, used to wash walls and furniture. Lavender was also used to repel insects, treat lice, as a perfume and a potpourri, in furniture polish and soap as a cure-all in household medicine cupboards.
During Victorian times, a London suburb called Mitcham was the center of lavender oil production. English lavender products became known all over the world. Lavender production in England nearly died out because of the pressure of increasing land values.
Rene Gattefosse, one of the founders of modern day aromatherapy, verified the healing and antiseptic qualities of lavender when he burned his head badly while working in his lab. He used lavender oil; the pain stopped and the burn healed quickly with no infection or scarring. Lavender oil was used to dress war wounds during the 1st World War as antiseptics were in short supply. Just before World War I, perfumers and the French government saw lavender production as a means of keeping people from leaving the area so they cleared the almond orchards and planted lavender.
Today it is used to induce sleep, ease stress and relieve depression. It is also used as a tea to make compresses for dressing wounds and to apply to the forehead to relieve congested sinuses, headaches, tiredness, tension and exhaustion.
As you can see, lavender has been used worldwide through the ages and is still used today for its many wonderful qualities.
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