The History of Lavender stretches back to the early days of civilization. There is evidence that the ancient Egyptians used lavender oil in their mummification process.
It’s likely that knew of lavender’s healing properties and may have also ascribed some spiritual powers to it too. But there is no doubt those responsible for preparing the pharaohs for the afterlife appreciated the pleasant aroma of this special plant.
Some believe that the perfume that was used to anoint Jesus as mentioned in the Bible was lavender oil. There are many legends surrounding the history of lavender, including one that claims that lavender was brought from the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve.
The term “lavender” is probably derived from the Latin word “lavere” meaning “to wash”. This may be due to the fact that the ancient Romans are known to have added lavender oil to the water in their famous public baths. Another possibility for the origin of the word is that women would spread their freshly washed clothes on the lavender bushes, allowing them to absorb that wonderful smell as they dried.
It’s not clear at what point in the history of lavender that people discovered the healing power of lavender essential oil. Soldiers in the Roman army carried lavender oil to clean wounds suffered in battle and promote healing.
During the Great Plague of the Middle Ages in Europe, some criminals who looted the belongings of plague victims were rarely affected by the disease themselves. When caught, the robbers credited their health to cleansing with “Four Thieves Vinegar” after their “work” was done. Legend has it that they were released after sharing that the secret of their “Vinegar” was lavender oil.
There are many mentions of lavender in documents from the Middle Ages. Monastaries and convents were places where rudimentary research into medicinal herbs was common. Outside these cloistered communities lavender was thought to have aphrodisiac properties, or alternatively to keep one chaste.
In the early 20th century a French perfumer named René-Maurice Gattefossé was working in his laboratory and experienced a serious burn. He treated the it with the substance nearest at hand – lavender essential oil . Gattefosse noticed that the wound healed much more quickly and with less scarring than would be expected without the treatment. This led him to research aromatic oils and their healing properties. He published a book on his findings – Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles Hormones Végétales in 1937. The book was later translated into English, bringing us the term “Aromatherapy”. Lavender played a major role in leading to this area of scientific research.
Lavender essential oil is still the most popular oil in aromatherapy . The aroma is very calming and relaxing and it is often used to treat insomnia. Many commercial air fresheners contain lavender and it is a common ingredient in household products products, including cleaners that take advantage of its antiseptic properties. Many lavender soaps, lotions, creams and other products are hand made by small scale cottage manufacturers.
Lavender grows wild in many Mediterranean countries from Spain to North Africa, so the history of lavender is a part of the history of the region. From Italy, to Greece, to the Holy Land and Egypt, lavender was used by commoners and royals alike.
The history of lavender cultivation goes as far back as the Middle Ages in Europe, but probably much farther in the Mediterranean countries. There is mention of lavender in a royal pleasure garden in Paris in the 1300’s. It was probably cultivated in England around the time also, but definitely during late 1400’s to early 1600’s when herbs and herb gardens were popular. The peak of this popularity occurred during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603).
Today lavender is cultivated all over the world. There are lavender gardens and farms from Australia to England, from Asia and Europe to the United States. It is grown for personal herbal use, landscaping, and large scale essential oil production.
There are few plants in the world that can claim a history like the history of lavender. The plants and their wonderful produce have healed and pleased many for centuries. It’s popularity seems to be continually growing and likely will for generations to come.