Thursday, 4 May 2017


“Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green, When I am king, dilly dilly, you shall be queen.” – English Folk Song 

Lavandula (common name, lavender) is a genus of 47 known species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is native to the Old World and is found from Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, Europe across to northern and eastern Africa, the Mediterranean, southwest Asia to southeast India. Many members of the genus are cultivated extensively in temperate climates as ornamental plants for garden and landscape use, for use as culinary herbs, and also commercially for the extraction of essential oils. The most widely cultivated species, Lavandula angustifolia, is often referred to as lavender, and there is a colour named for the shade of the flowers of this species.

The English word ‘lavender’ is generally thought to be derived from Old French lavandre, ultimately from the Latin lavare (to wash), referring to the use of infusions of the plants during the laundry process in order to make clothes fragrant. The botanic name Lavandula as used by Linnaeus is considered to be derived from this and other European vernacular names for the plants. However it is suggested that this explanation may be apocryphal, and that the name may actually be derived from Latin livere, ‘blueish’.

The names widely used for some of the species, ‘English lavender’, ‘French lavender’ and ‘Spanish lavender’ are all imprecisely applied. ‘English lavender’ is commonly used for L. angustifolia, though some references say the proper term is ‘Old English Lavender’. The name ‘French lavender’ may be used to refer to either L. stoechas or to L. dentata. ‘Spanish lavender’ may be used to refer to L. stoechas, L. lanata or L. dentata.

The ancient Greeks called the lavender herb nardus, after the Syrian city of Naarda (possibly the modern town of Dohuk, Iraq). It was also commonly called nard. The species originally grown was L. stoechas. Lavender was one of the holy herbs used in the biblical Temple to prepare the holy essence, and nard (or spikenard) is mentioned in the Song of Solomon.

The genus includes annual or short-lived herbaceous perennial plants, and shrub-like perennials, subshrubs or large shrubs. Leaf shape is diverse across the genus. They are simple in some commonly cultivated species; in other species they are pinnately toothed, or pinnate, sometimes multiple pinnate and dissected. In most species the leaves are covered in fine hairs or indumentum, which normally contain the essential oils.

Flowers are borne in whorls, held on spikes rising above the foliage, the spikes being branched in some species. Some species produce coloured bracts at the apices. The flowers may be blue, violet or lilac in the wild species, occasionally blackish purple or yellowish. The calyx is tubular. The corolla is also tubular, usually with five lobes (the upper lip often cleft, and the lower lip has two clefts).

The most common form in cultivation is the common or English lavender Lavandula angustifolia (formerly named L. officinalis). A wide range of cultivars can be found. Other commonly grown ornamental species are L. stoechas, L. dentata, and L. multifida (Egyptian lavender). Because the cultivated forms are planted in gardens worldwide, they are occasionally found growing wild as garden escapes, well beyond their natural range.  Commonly such adventitious establishment is apparently harmless at best, but in some cases Lavandula species have become invasive. In Australia, Lavandula stoechas has become a cause for concern; it occurs widely throughout the continent, and has been declared a noxious weed in Victoria since 1920. It also is regarded as a weed in parts of Spain.

Lavenders flourish best in dry, well-drained, sandy or gravelly soils in full sun. All types need little or no fertiliser and good air circulation. In areas of high humidity, root rot due to fungus infection can be a problem. Organic mulches can trap moisture around the plant base, encouraging root rot. Gravelly materials such as crushed rocks give better results.

Commercially, the plant is grown mainly for the production of essential oil of lavender. This has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, and can be used as a natural mosquito repellent. These extracts are also used as fragrances for bath products. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) yields an essential oil with sweet overtones, and can be used in balms, salves, perfumes, cosmetics, and topical applications. Lavandin, Lavandula × intermedia (also known as Dutch lavender), yields a similar essential oil, but with higher levels of terpenes including camphor, which add a sharper overtone to the fragrance.

Lavender is grown as a condiment and used in salads and dressings. The flowers yield abundant nectar, from which bees make a high-quality honey. Monofloral honey is produced primarily around the Mediterranean, and is marketed worldwide as a premium product. Flowers can be candied and are sometimes used as cake decorations. It is also used to make lavender sugar. Lavender lends a floral and slightly sweet flavour to most dishes, and is sometimes paired with sheep’s-milk and goat’s-milk cheeses. A recipe for Lavender Candy can be found here.

Lavender flowers are occasionally blended with black, green, or herbal teas. Lavender flavours baked goods and desserts, pairing especially well with chocolate. In the United States, both lavender syrup and dried lavender buds are used to make lavender scones and marshmallows.  Though it has many other traditional uses in southern France, lavender is not used in traditional southern French cooking. It does not appear at all in the best-known compendium of Provençal cooking, J.-B. Reboul's Cuisinière Provençale.

In the 1970s, a blend of herbs called herbes de Provence which usually includes lavender was invented by spice wholesalers, and lavender has more recently become popular in cooking. For most cooking applications the dried buds, which are also referred to as flowers, are used. Only the buds contain the essential oil of lavender, from which the characteristic scent and flavour of lavender are derived. Lavender greens have a more subtle flavour that is compared to rosemary. The greens are used similarly to rosemary or combined with rosemary to flavour meat and vegetables in savoury dishes. They can also be used to make a tea that is milder than teas made with the flowers.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that lavender is considered likely safe in food amounts and possibly safe in medicinal amounts. NIH does not recommend the use of lavender while pregnant or breast-feeding because of lack of knowledge of its effects. It recommends caution if young boys use lavender oil because of possible hormonal effects leading to gynaecomastia, and states that lavender may cause skin irritation and could be poisonous if consumed by mouth. Employ common sense and caution when using lavender and its products!

In the language of flowers, sprigs of non-flowering lavender denote purity and caution. Fresh lavender flowers mean “encouragement” and “fortification”. Bouquets of dried lavender flower spikes carry the meaning: “Silence and devotion” – widows often took bouquets of dried lavender to the graves of their dead husbands.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme,
and also part of the Food Friday meme.

No comments:

Post a Comment