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Lavender is a hardy perennial in the Lamiaciae, or mint, family. The herb is a Mediterranean native. There are many species of lavendula which vary somewhat in appearance and aromatic quality. English lavender, L. augustifolia, also known as true lavender, is commercially valuable in the perfume industry and is a mainstay of English country gardens. French lavender, L.stoechas, is the species most probably used in Roman times as a scenting agent in washing water. The species L. officinalis is the official species used in medicinal preparations, though all lavenders have medicinal properties in varying degrees.
This fragrant, bushy shrub has been widely cultivated for its essential oil. The tiny, tubular, mauve-blue blossoms grow in whorls of six to ten flowers along square, angular stems and form a terminal spike. These flower spikes stretch upward beyond the 12-18 inch (3.6-5.4 m) height of the shrub, blooming from June to August. The blossoms are well liked by bees and a good source of honey. The needle-like, evergreen, downy leaves are a light, silver-gray. They are lanceolate, opposite, and sessile, and grow from a branched stem. The bark is gray and flaky. The herb thrives in full sun and poor soil. Ancient Greeks and Romans used lavender blossoms to scent bath water, a common use that gave the herb its name, derived from the Latin lavare, meaning to wash.
Lavender is best known and loved for its fragrance. The herb has been used since ancient times in perfumery. As an aromatic plant, lavender lifts the spirits and chases melancholy. Taking just a few whiffs of this sweet-smelling herb is said to dispel dizziness. Traditionally, women in labor clutched sprigs of lavender to bring added courage and strength to the task of childbearing. A decoction of the flower may be used as a feminine douche for leucorrhoea. The dried blossoms, sewn into sachets, may be used to repel moths and to scent clothing, or may be lit like incense to scent a room. Because of its fumigant properties, the herb was hung in the home to repel flies and mosquitoes, and strewn about to sanitize the floors. Lavender essential oil was a component of smelling salts in Victorian times.
The essential oil of certain lavender species has a sedative, antispasmodic, and tranquilizing effect. Lavender has been long valued as a headache remedy. It can be taken in a mild infusion, or can be rubbed on the temples, or sniffed like smelling salts to provide relief from headaches caused by stress. Lavender oil is antiseptic, and has been used as a topical disinfectant for wounds. In high
A 2002 report from Korea showed that aromatherapy massage with lavender oil and tea tree oil on patients undergoing hemodialysis for kidney failure received relief from the itching the treatment often causes.
Author Info: Clare Hanrahan, Teresa G. Odle, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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