One cannot really separate Provence from images of purple lavender fields, the heavenly lavender scent in the air and the distinctive taste of lavender infused dishes. Lavender is an herb rich in history and culture. Long prized for its scent and healing properties, it is also one of the most beloved plants in the garden. Ranging in colors from vivid sun-soaked indigo to a subtle violet-white, it evokes within a sense of calming and rest through its heady and unmistakable aroma. Lavender is rich in aromatic molecules called esters, which are antispasmodic, pacifying, and non toxic, while other molecules give it its antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory powers. One of the most consistent of the many therapeutic attributes of lavender oil is respiratory relief.
With its magnificent hues and beguiling aromatic perfume, lavender has had its place in the hearts of men and women almost since the beginning of time. In ancient Rome lavender was recognized for its healing and antiseptic qualities, its ability to deter insects, and for washing. The name of lavender comes from the Latin word "lavare" meaning "to wash", and was used as a ritual bathing herb in ancient Rome. Biblical references and folklore have mingled together over the years, and it was believed that Adam and Eve took lavender with them when they were banished from the Garden of Eden. As that legend goes, lavender later received its perfume distinction when Mary laid the baby Jesus' clothes upon a bush of it to dry. Lavender was later used to ward off evil and in medieval times a cross made of lavender hung over the door provided a safeguard against disease and all evil. During the 17th century in London, it was believed that a bunch of lavender tied around the wrist protected one from the Plague. That belief might have been partially true, as the Plague was spread by flies who are repelled by lavender.
Lavender has always been associated with love. In Tudor times, a maiden wanting to know the identity of her true love would sip a brew of lavender on St. Luke's day while murmuring: "St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me; In my dreams, let my true love see me". Alpine girls tucked lavender under the pillows of their lovers in hopes of turning their thoughts toward love and romance. Once married, newlyweds would put bunches of lavender under their mattress to ensure the marital passion.
Today, lavender still is associated with love and healing. In the First World War when modern antiseptics were depleted, the public was asked to gather up garden lavender so the oil could be used to dress war wounds. Lavender is an antiseptic, as well as an herbal remedy. Wrapped in cushions, dried flowers can help to induce sleep and ease stress or depression. It can be brewed into a tea and used to relieve headaches, sinus congestion, hangovers, tiredness, exhaustion, and tension. True romantics still know the value of lavender, and many have been swayed by the gift of this wonderful plant.
Lavender is a relative of mint and native to the Canary Islands, North and East Africa, the Mediterranean, Arabia, and India. Lavender flowers yield abundant nectar, which yields a high quality honey. They can be candied and are used as cake decoration or to flavor sugar, called "lavender sugar". French chefs in Provence have been incorporating lavender into their cuisine for many centuries. It lends a floral, slightly sweet and elegant flavor to many dishes, from ice cream to roast chicken.
Lavender's aroma is rich and camphoric sweet, with an herbaceous floral note. It is a truly magical plant and those who have ever been enticed and seduced by its sweet heady perfume become enamored for life. A walk through a field of blooming lavender is a stroll that is never forgotten.