Today we shall explore a plant that is dear to many of us as an immediate reality. There are many exotic flowers, herbs, spices, roots and woods which grow in distant lands which are difficult for many us to experience in a direct way but lavender is a plant which grows in many North American and European climates. This quiet and humble herb exudes a scintillating, fresh and pure aroma which seldom fails to touch the heart. It reminds one of simpler times when such elegant gifts of nature were used to enhance the lives of the common people by placing these aromatic stems in drawers and chests, to scent sheets and garments. It was a common ingredient in potpourris, lending color and aroma to house and home. Today we are also realizing the incredible value of this plant and its precious oil and the use of lavender for a wide of variety of aesthetic purposes is well known.
One of the most enjoyable literary pursuits one can engage in is to search for the mention of such venerable plants in books and stories. The contact with plants through the writings of those who have known and loved them is a great joy. It illuminates areas of our own experience and increases our love and appreciation of plants which are both familiar and precious. So I have included a few quotes that I thought you might enjoy.
"Aurelia went on with the business with calm equanimity, and made even profits every year. They were small, but more than enough for her to live on, and she paid the last dollar of the mortgage which had so fretted her father, and owned the old house clear. She led a peaceful, innocent life, with her green herbs for companions; she associated little with the people around, except in a business way. They came to see her, but she rarely entered their houses. Every room in her house was festooned with herbs; she knew every kind that grew in the New England woods, and hunted them out in their season and brought them home; she was a simple sweet soul, with none of the morbid melancholy of her parents about her. She loved her work, and the green-wood things were to her as friends, and the healing qualities of sarsaparilla and thoroughwort, and the sweetness of thyme and lavender, seemed to have entered into her nature, till she almost could talk with them in that way. She had never thought of being unhappy; but now she wondered at herself over this child. It was a darling of a child; as dainty and winsome a girl baby as ever was. Her poor young mother had had a fondness for romantic names, which she had bestowed, as the only heritage within her power, on all her children. This one was Myrtilla -- Myrtie for short. The little thing clung to Aurelia from the first, and Aurelia found that she had another way of loving besides the way in which she loved lavender and thoroughwort. The comfort she took with the child through the next winter was unspeakable. The herbs were banished from the south room, which was turned into a nursery, and a warm carpet was put on the floor, that the baby might not take cold. She learned to cook for the baby -- her own diet had been chiefly vegetarian. She became a charming nursing mother. People wondered. "It does beat all how handy 'Relia is with that baby," Mrs. Atwood told Viny.'
Wilkins, Mary E. : A Gatherer of Simples October, 1884
'But he took her hand, and they came by sunny alleys of boxwood to a great plane tree, bearing at wondrous height a mighty wealth of branches. A bank of soft, green turf encircled its roots, and they sat down in the trembling shadows. It was in the midst of the herb garden; beds of mint and thyme, rosemary and marjoram, basil, lavender, and other fragrant plants were around, and close at hand a little city of straw skeps peopled by golden brown bees; From these skeps came a delicious aroma of riced flowers and virgin wax. It was a new Garden of Eden, in which life was sweet as perfume and pure as prayer. Nothing stirred the green, sunny afternoon but the murmur of the bees, and the sleepy twittering of the birds in the plane branches. An inexpressible peace swept like the breath of heaven through the odorous places. They sat down sighing for very happiness. The silence became too eloquent. At length it was almost unendurable, and Ethel said softly: "How still it is!"
Barr, Amelia E. : The Man Between : An International Romance 1906
' Even Death himself, the great and terrible King of kings, though he may break the heart of love with agonies and anguish and slow tortures of separation, may break not his faith. No one that has loved will dream even death too terrible a price to pay for the revelation of love. For that revelation once made can never be recalled. As a little sprig of lavender will perfume a queen's wardrobe, so will a short year of love keep sweet a long life. And love's best gifts death can never take away. Nay, indeed, death does not so much rob as enrich the gifts of love. The dead face that was fair grows fairer each spring, sweet memories grow more sweet, what was silver is now gold, and as years go by, the very death of love becomes its immortality.
Le Gallienne, Richard : The Quest of the Golden Girl 1896
'Never was there so pretty a table of contents! When you open his book the breath of the English rural year fans your cheek; the pages seem to exhale wildwood and meadow smells, as if sprigs of tansy and lavender had been shut up in the volume and forgotten. One has a sense of hawthorn hedges and wide-spreading oaks, of open lead-set lattices half hidden with honeysuckle; and distant voices of the haymakers, returning home in the rosy afterglow, fall dreamily on one's ear, as sounds should fall when fancy listens. There is no English poet so thoroughly English as Herrick. He painted the country life of his own time as no other has painted it at any time.' Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 : Ponkapog Papers. 1904
After he had finished telling me his story, I felt just as I used to when Grandmother opened the "big chist" to air her wedding clothes and the dress each of her babies wore when baptized. It seemed almost like smelling the lavender and rose-leaves, and it was with reverent fingers that I folded the shirt, the work of love, yellow with age, and laid it in the box. . . .'
Stewart, Elinore Pruitt : Letters of a Woman Homesteader 1847
Today lavender is grown in a number of countries including France, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Australia and Tasmania. In the area where my mother lives(Port Angeles, Washington) lavender is now being cultivated on a semi-commerical basis as the soil and climate well suit its needs. In some localities the plant is cultivated on such a large scale that it can be harvested by large machinery but there are many places including Kashmir in India where the only means of obtaining the rich purple blossoms is to cut them by hand. There can be no doubt that there is a lot to be said for efficient mechanical means of cutting aromatic plants but there is also a lot to be appreciated about the ancient means of procuring the aromatic riches of the land. A great abundance of literature is available on lavender and many of you may have also had the chance to see the lavender harvest in France or other countries where the plant is grown. I have listed a number of good sites where you can further enrich your understanding of this wonderful plant and its essence. For your enjoyment I have obtained a nice selection of lavenders so that you can explore the subtle differences of oils obtained by different means of distillation/extraction and also from different locales. As always I encourage everyone to procure samples of oils so that they may find the essence that resonates with their heart the most. The lavender oils offered here are just a tiny representation of what is available from reputable essential oil companies but it is wide enough to give you some idea of the different qualities displayed by this charming plant.
True lavender (Lavandula officinalis) occurs as a small, sparsely branched wild plant in the north Mediterranean from Spain to Greece, where it grows wild or cultivated at medium altitudes (600 - 1500m) of mountain regions. It is cultivated as a garden ornamental in much of Europe. Smaller cultivations exist in Australia, England, Yugoslavia and Russia. However as sufficient concentration of essential oil is only produced in suitably hot dry climates, the bulk of production takes place in south east France where it is grown on a field scale usually at 700 - 1200 m altitude.
True lavender is an evergreen sub-shrub with much branched woody stems forming a dense hemispherical clump. All parts of the plant have the characteristic scent of lavender. Woody stems are 20 - 30cm long and densely covered in opposite, small, green, entire, linear leaves. Flowering stems are leafless and unbranched and rise well above the leafy stems up to 60cm in height. Flowers are small, bluish and 2-lipped and are easily separated from the spike-like terminal panicles.
Spike lavender (L. latifolia) is native to the Mediterranean, and is cultivated internationally, with France and Spain being the main oil producing regions. It differs from true lavender in that the woody stems are longer and branching making the overall size of the clump larger, from 30 - 80cm height. Young leaves are opposite, woolly, whitish, narrowly spoon shaped and not linear. Flowers are purple and not easily detached from panicles. All parts of the plant have a camphor-like scent. Pure L. latifolia produces essence de spic or huile d’aspic but this is now almost entirely replaced by the essential oil of the more widely cultivated hybrid Lavandin.
A hybrid of L. officinalis and L. latifolia is L. intermedia, called Lavandin with characters intermediate between the two. Lavandin is by far the most widely grown of the three commercial forms, especially in the south of France where it is cultivated at lower altitudes (400 - 700 m) than true lavender. Lavandin yields four times more oil per volume of plants than true lavender, but it is of inferior quality with a distinct camphor scent. It is therefore not used in fine perfumery but to scent soaps, air fresheners and the like. Lavandin is also the source of commercial English lavender.
Wild lavender and cultures of lavender and lavandins:
There are in France three "Lavender" growing wild:
From this one there are some "subspecies":
-Lavandula vera DC or Lavandula officinalis Chaix. It grows from 700-1800 meter altitude in the Haute Provence, France. The best quality comes from more than 1000 meter.
There are two natural varieties of the Lavandula vera: -variety "Fragrans", preferring dry ground with a lot of sun -variety "Delphinensis", preferring the fresh valleys and more from the sun protected places.
Naturally, in the altitude around 700-800 meters there is a contact with the Lavandula vera and the Lavandula spica, thus creating through the bees a natural hybrid form, known as "Lavandin".
These "Lavandins" have intermediar properties of their "parents" and are habitually sterile.
The first plantations of "Lavandins" came from transplantations of wild ones to adapted fields,but only in 1925 the technique of cloning was developped and enabled the apparition of several clones.
There is a very important reason for this "cloning" because the yield can be 2-5 times higher compared with Lavandula vera.
The first succesfull clone was the Lavandin abriale (made by prof. Abriale), and had a huge succes from 1930 on, replacing most of the transplantations.
(Image Christiane Meunier)
At one time 2/3 of the surfaces were planted with abrialis, before
(Image Christiane Meunier)
a plant disease "fatigue" appeared and the abrialis was partly replaced by the Lavandin super. Lavandin abrialis was almost completely left behind later by the Lavandin Grosso. (from 1975 on)
In fact, Lavandin abrialis represents less than 10 percent of the production in France.
Lavandin grosso. This clone was developped by M. Grosso, from Gault (Vaucluse).
This clone is robust and productive and became very popular from 1972-1975 onwards. Lavandin Grosso represents 3/4 of the cultivated production areas, and in certain regions more than 90 percent (Plateau de Valensole).
The yield of Lavandin grosso is three times greather than the Abrialis clone.
Chemically, Lavandin super and Lavandin abrialis are closest to the original Lavandula vera.
There are other lavandin clones, less known: the 41/70, Special Grégoire, 33/70, Sumian etc…
The clone method was also used with the Lavandula vera, thus creating the clones "Matheronne" and "Maillette", the Maillette is most widespread, specially in the Eastern countries and thus replacing the original Lavandula vera. The Matheronne lavender variety has many advantages in culture and yield, but produces an essential oil that is not very soluble and therefore difficult in perfume use. The culture of this variety is almost abandoned.
Some lavender varieties are cultivated solely for the use of the dried flowers, not for the distillation of essential oil.
Around 1985-90 3000 hectares of lavande fine were cultivated in France (most Lavande fine and Maillette), 12000 hectares were cultivated with lavandin (3/4 Grosso, a little lavandin abrialis and lavandin super.
…Spike or spike lavender, Lavandula latifolia, resembles true lavender, but grows somewhat taller (80 to 90 cm).
The colour of the flowers is grayish rather than bluish. The volatile oil contained in the flowers possesses an odor reminiscent of lavender, but harsher, more camphoraceous.
The quality of lavender essential oils…
"...talking about quality...
even the mention: conformation to the French Pharmacopeia is not a guarantee:
The French Pharmacopeia contains only some essential oils.
This is for instance what it mentions about lavender:
Essence de lavande
...from Lavande officinale: Lavandula vera D.C. Lavandula officinalis,
The essence contains a proportion of esters "exprimes" in linalyl acetate
35 and 55 p 100.
liquid pale yellow.....
Now, the finest lavender officinalis harvested in the Haute Provence at more than 1400 m have up to 70 percent linalyl acetate, this would discard them from the quality mentioned in the French Pharmacopeia.
Any perfume industry in Grasse is able to "make" a lavender oil from synthetic products, without traces of natural lavender, conform to the given "standards", and to the Pharmacopeia. This "Lavender" oil will not be counter indicated for medical use, but the real one, not conform to the "standards", will!.............."
"Distillers located at high altitude produce oils of higher ester content, not only because of the fact that high-altitude, wild growing plants contain more esters, but also because of the fact that high altitude distillation means lower-temperature boiling. Consequently, the distilled oil is not exposed to 100 degree C. hot steam, but perhaps only to 92 or 93 degree C. Even this small decrease in temperature means that the hydrolysis of the natural linalyl esters take place at a much slower rate. A rapid distillation at slightly reduced pressure (high altitude) may thus produce an oil with nearly all the natural linalyl esters."
Completed by Debbie Notaro, Master Gardener, WS Ver., Sept. 2003
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE:
(Any reference to traditional medical use is provided for cultural interest, not as a recommendation for treatment of disease)
What’s in a name? Let me tell you! There is no shortage of information on Lavender. So great is its use, either in product names, in the perfuming industries or flowers that if you type the word lavender on any search engine you will find approximately 80,000 sights using the word. Just in comparison, type in Thyme, Sage, Oregano, Jasmine or Basil and they will trail far behind. Only roses trump lavender sources on the internet.
We derive the modern name from the Latin lavare meaning to wash or bathe and livendula; livid or bluish, and officinalis meaning medicinal; hence, the binominal nomenclature, Lavandula officinalis.
Lavender has been in recorded history for over 2500 years and therefore is rich in history, folklore and superstition …so let’s start at the beginning.
The story of how lavender was to have acquired its scent goes something like this: Adam and Eve were said to have taken lavender from the Garden of Eden. At that time it was without a scent. Legend has it that it remained that way until one day Mary laid the clothes of baby Jesus on one of the bushes to dry. Miraculously, when she removed the garments lavender is said to have been left with its intoxicating scent. I am not sure if this story is true, but I thought it was a nice story and a nice way to begin to tell you about the history
and folklore of this herb.
It is in Mesopotamia, the current country of Iraq, where it is said civilization itself began, that Lavender is believed to be native. The Arabians were the first to domesticate it. History shows that lavender was thought to have been introduced to France through the Greek Islands of Hyeres sometime around 600AD and to England and the United States sometime between 16th and 17th centuries. A strict sectof Shakers introduced lavender to the US and Canada. They developed herb farms upon their arrival from England, and were the first to grow it commercially.
*In antiquity, herbs in general were highly sought after mostly for their medicinal uses. Usually the power held by those who claimed to have the knowledge of their magical healing effects was very great. Many herbalists of old were connected with the spiritual world, both of a deity of the time and the superstitious, which sometimes lead to witchcraft and sorcery. Lavender is referred to as the “good witches” herb, as it was useful in averting the “evil eye”. It is claimed to make ‘the evil spirits quake at the scent of it’. Christians believed that if you stuffed keyholes with lavender it would keep ghosts from entering your home.
Folk medicine's use of simple herbal remedies is based on word of mouth tradition that is probably from as far back as prehistoric time. In fact, very early trade routes to the Middle and Far East were established in great part for traders and explorers in search of herbs and spices. The Egyptians and Phoenicians used the herb in their mummification
practices. They used the oils to preserve the skin and intestines and the flower for masking the odor of decay. The Egyptians and Chinese were among the first to invent the still and perfected the technique of distilling the essential oils.
*From the time of ancient Greeks and Romans until about the twentieth century, it was widely used to fend away or cure a huge variety of ailments… In 60AD the Greeks harvested Lavandula stoechas to be used as a laxative and stimulant suitable for chest complaints. Romans treated upset stomachs,dressed wounds and insect bites with it. The Greeks and Romans began the practice of scenting their baths and soaps with lavender. For centuries, lavender was used as a ‘strewing herb’ as it was tossed onto floors of castles and hospitals for its use as a deodorizer and disinfectant. It was placed between clothes and linens as a fragrant repellent of moths and mosquitoes.
Other uses in later centuries were for headaches, hysteria, nervous palpitations, hoarseness, sore joints, as well as coughs. Hildegard of Bingen, was a German nun, who lived from 1098-1179, had this remedy for headaches.
During 1630 the Great Plague swept through Toulouse, France. A story tells that four thieves ransacked the city without contracting the disease; when finally caught, a judge decided to commute their death sentences, if they revealed the secret ingredients to the mysterious decoction that gave them immunity from the disease. The formula now known as the “The 4 Thieves Vinegar” was a combination of thyme, lavender, rosemary and sage steeped in vinegar. One hundred years later the disease struck again in Marseilles. Herbalists then added garlic as the fifth ingredient. In the 19th century a French distiller of vinegar patented the formula and marketed this elixir to nuns, priests and doctors. “Drink some on an empty stomach in the morning, rub your temples with it and go out in tranquility to visit the sick.”
In the 20 century lavender lost its place in the healing world, but continued to keep its stature and gain importance as a main ingredient in the perfume, craft and potpourri industries… This leads us right to romance…
"It is said that Cleopatra used ‘this overwhelming and bewitching scent to seduce Julius Ceaser and Mark Antony’. Now, I know that if you are a serious history buff you are asking yourself, if the scent was given to the plant at the time of Jesus, how could she have used it? Well, that is why they call it folklore! Roman superstition suggests that the asp
made his nest in lavender bushes…Only those who knew how to avoid the asp’s venomous strike could harvest the plant. It was widely reported the asp that killed Cleopatra was actually found under one of her lavender plants. Crafty growers at the time used this ‘superstition’ to mystify the herb and it only served to drive up the price!"
Edible Uses: Condiment; Tea.
Leaves, petals and flowering tips - raw. Used as a condiment in salads, soups, stews etc[2, 15, 183]. They provide a very aromatic flavour and are too strong to be used in any quantity[K]. The fresh or dried flowers are used as a tea. The fresh flowers are also crystallized or added to jams, ice-creams, vinegars etc as a flavouring. An essential oil from the flowers is used as a food flavouring.
Essential; Hedge; Incense; Pot-pourri; Repellent.
The essential oil that is obtained from the flowers is exquisitely scented and has a very wide range of applications, both in the home and commercially. It is commonly used in soap making, in making high quality perfumes (it is also used in 'Eau de Cologne'), it is also used as a detergent and cleaning agent, a food flavouring etc[21, 46, 57, 171, 238] and as an insect repellent. When growing the plant for its essential oil content, it is best to harvest the flowering stems as soon as the flowers have faded. Yields of 0.8 - 1% of the oil are obtained. The aromatic leaves and flowers are used in pot-pourri and as an insect repellent in the linen cupboard etc[14, 18, 20]. They have been used in the past as a strewing herb in order to impart a sweet smell to rooms and to deter insects. The leaves are also added to bath water for their fragrance. The flowering stems, once the flowers have been removed for use in pot-pourri etc, can be tied in small bundles and burnt as incense sticks. Lavender can be grown as a low hedge, responding well to trimming. There are several varieties, such as 'Hidcote Variety', 'Loddon Pink' and 'Folgate Blue' that are suitable for using as dwarf hedges 30 - 50cm tall.
Chemistry and Pharmacology
Lavender flower contains 1.5–3% volatile oil, of which 25–55% is linalyl acetate, 20–38% linalool, 4–10% cis-b-ocimene, 2–6% trans-b-ocimene, 2–6% 1-terpinen-4-ol, <2% 3-octanone, 0.3–1.5% 1,8-cineole, 0.3–1% a-terpineol, 0.2–0.5% camphor, and 0.1–0.5% limonene; tannins (5–10%); coumarins; flavonoids (luteolin); phytosterols; and triterpenes (Bruneton, 1995; Leung and Foster, 1996; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).
Lavender oil is produced by steam distillation of the freshly cut flowering tops and stalks of the shrub.
The typical constituents of lavender oil usually fall into the following range:
Linalool 29 - 46%
Linalyl Acetate 36 - 51%
1,8-Cineol 0.1 - 2.2%
Caryophyllene 2.5 - 7.6%
Terpinen-4-ol 2.7 - 6.9%
Ocimenes 2.5 - 10.8%
Lavandulyl Acetate 3.4 - 6.2%
(Aqua Oleum, 1993)
The content of linalyl acetate increases with altitude at which the plants are grown.
Production yield for lavender oil is 1.4 - 1.6% of fresh plant material, depending on production method and origin, and for lavandin oil 1 - 2.5%.
Generally, wild-growing, high altitude lavender plants produce the finest, most expensive quality oil, this is largely due to the fact that the flowering tops of these plants cannot be harvested by machine.
(iii) Current production and yields
The yield of oil varies considerably from season to season, as the age of the bushes and weather affect both the quality and quantity of the oil produced. Approximately 50 kg of fresh flowers with 15 cm stalks will yield about 30g of oil. One hectare of lavender in its prime could yield in a favorable year 35 - 45 kg oil, but an average of 11 kg would be a reliable estimate (ADAS, 1980).
Propagation is undertaken by a selection of young shoots about 15 cm long from healthy plants in early spring. In commercial practice, bushes are seldom retained after the fifth year, and to maintain a supply, some planting must be done each year.
(iv) Constraints on production
High quality lavender oil is obtained from plants grown at medium altitude and Mediterranean temperatures. Lavandin oil can be grown much more widely, even in the UK (as English lavender), but is of lower quality.
(v) Markets and market potential
Main applications of lavender oil are for perfumes, after-shaves and fragrances for cosmetics and toiletries.
Lavandin oil is more likely to be used where lower cost ‘rougher’ fragrances are required, for example in soaps, detergents and household products, also used as a flavouring agent in food and drinks.
Spike lavender oil can be used in the production of fine varnishes and lavenders. (Lawless, 1995)
Lavender absolute is a dark, green, viscous liquid of very rich, sweet-herbaceous, somewhat floral odor; in dilution it bears a close resemblance to the odor of the flowering shrub. Its woody herbaceous undertone and coumarin-like sweetness duplicate the odor of the botanical material far better than does the essential oil. The absolute is sweeter but less floral than the essential oil, and the two materials can form a very pleasant combination. However one cannot replace the other in compounding.