Lavender is an ancient
floral scent and was cultivated by the Egyptians in the sacred walled garden at
Thebes. They harvested and dried the flowers by burying them in terracotta crocks.
The perfume of lavender accompanied them through life, in herbal preparations,
ointments, massage and cosmetology. It remained with them to the tomb through
the ritual of mummification. When the perfume urns in Tutankhamen's burial chamber
were opened in 1922, the scent sealed in 3000 years before "to scent the
desert and the dead" was lavender.
The Egyptians incorporated lavender oil into the wax used for dressing their hair
into a cone, as often depicted on ancient hieroglyphic figures. The oil kept head
lice at bay and perfumed the wax. During the course of the hot Egyptian day the
wax would slowly melt further releasing the perfume.
The word "lavender" is thought to have been derived from the Latin word
"lavare", meaning "to wash", since the Romans made a habit
of perfuming their baths with lavender. Over the centuries the Greeks and Arabs
continued using the flowers as an expectorant and antispasmoic.
Lavender was probably introduced to Europe around AD 800, herbal knowledge being
maintained by the Monks who laid out extensive and specialised gardens in their
The fragrance and use of lavender became very popular during the Middle Ages when
herbalists used lavender oil to wash their bodies, and to sprinkle around their
houses and clothes to combat the great Plague. It is not surprising to note that
those involved in herbalism were one of the few groups of people to survive this
infectious, deadly disease.
During the industrial revolution of the 18th century much of the rural population
of England and Europe had to move into cities to work in factories. It was during
this time the "lavender flower lady" would supply bunches of lavender
to the urban dwellers, by walking the city streets with cries of "lavender,
sweet lavender, who'll buy my sweet lavender – 2 blooms for a penny".
Lavender oil was
used most successfully during World War I and II to treat infections and wounds
encountered on the battle fields and is still a valuable aid in the treatment
of insomnia, burns, skin conditions, infections and many other ailments.
Lavender was certainly one of the first garden plants imported by immigrants to
Australia, New Zealand and colonial America during the 19th century where it was
valued for its medicinal and aromatic qualities. Even today no Australian garden
is really complete without at least one lavender bush.
Lavender continues to have a strong traditional appeal and remains in huge demand
by the perfumery industry. The refreshing, cooling and sweet fragrance of lavender
is timeless. Make lavender a part of your life too!