Lavender for the Soul
As rosemary is for the spirit, so lavender is to the soul
From the ancient Egyptians filling tombs with its heady perfume to the Arabs, Greeks and Romans utilising its medicinal qualities, lavender has long since been a part of nature’s rich medicine cabinet. Traded all along the spice route in centuries gone by, its oils and flowers made their way across Europe to monastery gardens, the courts of kings and queens and everyday folk to scent bed linen and ward away evil spirits. Used during the Plague for its antibacterial properties to guard against the spread of infection, throughout history, lavender has been the ‘go-to’ herb for stimulating and calming, uplifting and relaxing, to cure ills and heal burns, to aid insomnia and even alleviate depression. Its magical properties never fail to amaze me. Steeped in folklore, it was used to summon the faerie folk on Midsummer’s Eve. It has even played its part when it comes to love. It is said that Cleopatra herself used lavender as part of her charms to seduce both Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar. A herb of both love and strength, it was believed to drive away lurking demons but perhaps my favourite lavender tale of all, is the story of young maidens using it to remain chaste, carrying sprigs about their person to guard against unwanted advances.
Nowadays its purpose is far less spiritual perhaps but no less powerful – sewn into scented bags and tucked in wardrobes to deter moths and flies, to soothe in hot baths or to aid restful sleep as a pillow spray. I’ve lost count too of the numbers of recipes I’ve come across where lavender has been used to flavour cakes, jam or ice cream – a small amount working its magic on ordinary ingredients. Lavender remains one of the most recognisable and prolifically grown herbs in gardens large and small.
Moving to a derelict farmhouse a few months ago, we were staggered to uncover amongst knee high grass and overgrown weeds that we had a whole field of it planted in the garden behind the house. Slowly but surely as we weeded and strimmed, the beauty of rows upon rows of this seemingly commonplace garden herb became more and more apparent. As June approached, the field bloomed with a gradual tonal sea of deep purple and blue hues. To be honest, it felt like we had moved to Provence, not rural Hampshire. Harvest time arrived and each sprig was cut by hand, bunched and hung to dry in the shed. Hours of breathing its heady perfume as we picked rendering us like dandelion clocks floating in the breeze. I am not sure we have ever slept so well. Wreaths and wands were made. Even now, jars of dried lavender await their turn to be transformed into pillows and bath salts ready for winter’s dark evenings. Memories of our first summer here, brushing my hand across the lavender as I followed my girls racing down the rows on their way back to the house, will stay with me forever.
With the house a veritable wreck, lavender has indeed soothed the soul when lack of running water, no heating and a leaky roof have made for hard days living on a building site with a young family. So as we bid farewell to the last of the summer’s sun and sink into autumn’s embrace, waiting for next year’s blooms to grace the field once more with their purple perfumed spires, it seems the perfect time to remind myself to stop and daydream awhile as I sip a soothing cup of lavender tea and allow its warmth to wash over me. Maybe its healing powers really do contain magic after all...?
Try harvesting the last of any lavender in the garden to make your own tea. Push the flowers up from the base of each spike and allow to dry in a cool dark place before placing in a jar to preserve its perfume. Boil a kettle of fresh water and add a heaped teaspoon of lavender flowers to your pot. Pour the water over the flowers and allow to steep for a few minutes. Add honey to taste if desired. Lavender tea can be used to aid digestion, as a tonic for headaches or just for those days when you feel a little world weary. It makes an ideal blend with dried camomile flowers as a sleep inducing tisane.