Some amazing medicinal plants – lavender
In this series, we present medicinal plants from all the continents on Earth, this time featuring the beautiful lavender.
Genus: Lavandula. Species: L. angustifolia, L. stoechas, L. dentata, L. spica, L. latifolia, as well as other cultivars.
Lavender, English lavender, French lavender, Italian lavender, winged lavender, elf leaf, spike.
Lavender is native to the Mediterranean climate and is found from Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, in southern Europe, northern and eastern Africa, the Mediterranean, and southwest Asia to southeast India. Many members of the genus are cultivated extensively in temperate climates.
Lavender flourishes best in dry, well-drained, sandy, gravelly or rocky soils, and in full sun. It grows well on grassy slopes, in hot rocky landscapes, and needs little to no fertilizer and good air circulation. It grows best in soils with a pH between 6 and 8, although it can also grow in highly alkaline soils.
mythology & history:
The ancient Greeks called the lavender plant nardus or nard, after the Syrian city of Naarda. It was one of the holy herbs used in the biblical Solomon’s Temple to prepare the holy essence, and nard is mentioned in the Song of Solomon (4,14):
nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes,
and all the finest spices.
In ancient Roman times, the flowers were sold for the equivalent of a farm laborer’s monthly wages, or fifty haircuts from the local barber. The Romans gave the plant its name from the Latin verb lavare meaning ‘to wash’, as the flowers were used to scent bath water and bed linen and clothes were dried over lavender bushes to scent the cloth.
Lavender has long been used for its aromatic and healing properties, and during medieval times was thought to be able to ward off evil spirits. It has been used for centuries in herbal remedies, teas, cooking and perfumes, and was the main ingredient in the posies of flowers and herbs that were used to ward off illnesses like the Black Plague. The essential oil was used in hospitals during World War I. Its perfume comes from the oils in the flowers and leaves.
Lavender was introduced into England in the 1600s. It is said that Queen Elizabeth kept a lavender conserve at her table. It was used in teas both medicinally and for its taste. Lavender did not find its way into traditional southern French cooking until the turn of the 20th century. Today lavender recipes are in use in most parts of the world.
Lavender is a hardy perennial shrub in the family Lamiaciae, the mints. The tiny, tubular mauve-blue blossoms grow in whorls of six to ten flowers along square stems and form a terminal spike. These flower spikes bloom mostly in summer, and provide a good source of nectar for bees to make honey. The needle-like, evergreen, downy leaves are a light, silvery gray. They are lanceolate, opposite and sessile, and grow from a branched stem. The bark on the stems is gray and flaky. Lavender also grows easily from cuttings.
plant parts used:
Flowers, leaves and oil.
Lavender is grown commercially mainly for the production of its essential oil. 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.
Culinary lavender is generally English Lavender. As an aromatic, it has a sweet fragrance with a hint of citrus. It is used as a spice or condiment in pastas, salads and dressings, and desserts. The buds and leaves are used in teas, and the nectar is the essential ingredient of monofloral honey. Sachets and pot pourris of lavender deter moths and flies.
Rejuvenates the skin – its antiseptic and antifungal properties have been used to treat skin problems for centuries. Its balancing action helps clear acne, prevent tissue degeneration, calm psoriasis, and aid the formation of scar tissue. As it contains a high percentage of linalool, naturopaths also use it to promote the healing of wounds, cuts, burns, and sunburn.
Strengthens hair – keeps hair glossy and follicles strong through regular massages with lavender oil. It is known to balance scalp oils and rejuvenate the hair from root to tip. In fact, some studies found lavender to promote hair re-growth in cases of Alopecia Areata, a condition that causes patchy baldness.
Smooths cellulite – lavender improves circulation, tones the skin, prevents stretch marks and dispels fluid retention, thus helping with the appearance of cellulite.
Eases anxiety and insomnia – scientific research suggests that aromatherapy with lavender may be as effective in soothing the nervous system as some pharmaceutical relaxants. It promotes relaxation and improves sleep quality, and is even used by herbalists to ease mood swings and depression.
Relieves headache and pain – lavender is famous among aromatherapists as the oil of choice for pain relief. Gentle massage with lavender oil not only melts away body-tension, it is an effective way to relieve pain from headache, sore muscles, aching joints, rheumatism and sprains.
Helps clear respiratory disorders – eases muscle spasms, fights infection, dulls pain, and most importantly helps you sleep. It is extensively used for a number of respiratory problems including coughing, throat infections, asthma, sinus congestion, bronchitis, whooping cough, and laryngitis.
Aids digestion – our digestive systems have as many nerves as our brains, so it’s no surprise lavender calms the digestive system as it calms the mind. Both an antispasmodic and a sedative, lavender works well on a nervous stomach and cramps, as well as aids indigestion by stimulating the production of gastric juices and bile.
Boosts immunity – by lowering the flow of the stress hormone cortisol.
Is soothing and calming – research has shown that lavender has soothing and even slight sedative effects when inhaled, and more research is being done on its effect in alleviating anxiety and sleep disturbances. Products containing lavender are good for soothing and calming infants.
NB Essential lavender oil is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Due to its wide commercial cultivation and its hardiness, lavender is not under any threat, and grows in harsh climates where other plants do not do so well.
September 03, 2017
September 03, 2017
September 03, 2017