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Lavender - Summer's Precious Jewel

by Barbara Payne(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 91 - August 2003

Observing the variety of colour, form and aroma of summer flowers can enhance outdoor relaxation. One beautiful example is lavender, Lavandular. The word 'lavender' (from the Latin lavare – to wash), conjures up all kinds of images – a multi-faceted jewel of nature. Lavender has enjoyed a good reputation and has been celebrated for thousands of years by various civilizations. The poem, 'The Eve of St Agnes', by John Keats, immortalizes just one of its uses:

"And still she slept an azure lidded sleep
In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender'd."

This was my childhood introduction to lavender. My mother made little gauze bags, which I filled with dried lavender. This not only repelled moths in the linen cupboard, but would scent the household bed linen deliciously and, probably, promote quality sleep due to the sedative qualities of Lavandular angustifolia.[1]

My first attempt at aromatherapy, forty years later, was using lavender oil. I did not know then about quality, cultivation, safety, production or any of the other issues involved in the world of essential oils. I just knew using lavender made me feel better.

There are many concerns surrounding lavender, regarding clinical trials, validity of empirical knowledge, production and, in some cases, adulterations. Let us then concentrate on the positive.

Why is lavender so popular? It is aesthetically pleasing and, because it is varied in form and colour, will integrate with any garden. It has a strong, floral aroma, which is slightly musky. Lavender is used medicinally, cosmetically, culinarily and aesthetically. One can utilize lavender fresh, dried or by the oil, which is commercially extracted by steam distillation.

Fresh Lavender

Picking lavender to make a product is very rewarding. Apart from placing it in a vase for its beauty and fragrance, there is also the prospect of pressing it for winter-time pictures. I use fresh lavender in cooking, for example in lavender and citrus scones[2], and lavender florets sprinkled into a delicate china tea. This is excellent for alleviating sore throats and headaches:

"Lavender is of a special good use for all the griefs and pains of the head
And brain that proceed of a cold cause…"

Fresh lavender can be used to make lavender sugar, which is made by layering sugar and lavender flowers alternately in a jar until the jar is full. Seal for two weeks, then sieve. If kept in an airtight jar, the lavender sugar will last for months and can be used for sprinkling on strawberries or on sweet pies.

Dried Lavender

Remember when making teas, dried products have no water content and, therefore, tend to be stronger. Pot pourri can always benefit from lavender, and bound bundles of dried lavender are excellent for keeping inside shoes and wardrobes to dissipate any odours and make a sweet smell. Muslin squares holding a tablespoon of dried lavender can be tied with string to make bath bags, which hang on the hot tap. The hot water will release the essential oils in the plant material and make a wonderful relaxing ambience.

Lavender Essential Oil

Essential oils are secondary metabolites produced by plants, useful to the plant in a variety of ways, due to their complex molecular structure. They act as insect or herbivore repellent, pollinator attractors, in some cases a vapour shield against strong sunlight and root territory agents, and can also protect the plant against micro-organisms and bacteria. Under the microscope, lavender specimens appear to have wall to wall crystal-like blisters, each holding essential oil. When the membrane on these is ruptured, the oil is released. This can happen from the heat of the sun, squeezing the leaves or the heat of steam distillation in the still. Man has learned to exploit the healing qualities of these oils:

"The therapeutic properties of lavender essential oil are described as antiseptica, seditiva, cardiaca, hypnotica, diuretica, analgetica, antigrippe, broncodilantia, biostimulantia, among others."[4]

This means that the most popular essential oil is also one of the most valuable for our needs. You may find the following helpful:

  • For minor burns: 10 drops of lavender in a bowl of iced water and soak burn until cool, or apply neat oil;
  • Cleaning sick rooms and floors: 5 drops lavender per bucket of water;
  • Room and clothes sprays: 10 drops per pint of water in a spray bottle. Shake before use;
  • For pain in joints or to perfume skin: 15 drops lavender in 50 mls grapeseed Vitis vinifera oil, or plain lotion;
  • Headaches: 2 drops of neat oil of lavender on temples;
  • Chesty coughs: see above under pain in joints;
  • Insomnia: 1 drop of lavender on the pillow.

Do try this precious jewel of herbs and enjoy it – you will not be disappointed and may discover yet more attributes to this gem.


1. Potter LM. Sleep Electroencephalogram (ECG) and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) In Subjects Exposed To Ambient Odour. University Medicine. England. 1996.
2. Payne B. The Aromatherapy Fragrance Garden. Positive Health 67:19. 2001.
3. Culpeper N. Culpeper's Complete Herbal. Magna Books. Leicester. 1992.
4. Brud, Wladyslaw et al. Biological Activity of Essential Oils and Its Positive Applications. 11th International Congress of Essential Oils, Fragrances and Flavours 2:13-23. 1989.


Battaglia S. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. The Perfect Potion (Aust) Pty Ltd. Australia. 1995.
Bown D. The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Herbs. Dorling Kindersley. London. 1995.
Grieve MA. Modern Herbal. Tiger Books International. London. 1994.


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About Barbara Payne

Barbara Payne taught clinical aromatherapy in various hospitals in the North of England, for School of Health, University of Hull, and was principal of an IFA and IFPA accredited college of clinical aromatherapy, for many years. She served as an inspector and examiner and was Chair of Education for the ISPA, (now IFPA). Barbara had regular interviews with BBC radio and appeared on national television occasionally and lectured annually for the RHS. Having contributed to Positive Health over many years, Barbara has now decided to retire from her PH Expert Regular Column after Issue 154 in Jan 2009. She can be reached on Tel: 01482 835358;


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