Abundant in the agricultural expanses of the northern hemisphere and Northern Africa, the powdery, mauve coloured petals of the lavender plant have become synonymous with restfulness, tranquillity and calm. Its fragrance is among the most distinctive and recognisable in the plant world – earthy and citrusy, it rouses and soothes, lifting the senses while calming the mind.
In the Song of Solomon, lavender is listed as being one of the herbs used to prepare the holy temple, and while various theories exist as to the origins of its name, all of them lead us back to the Romans, who used lavender in everything from cooking, to cleaning and medicine. Some believe its roots lie in the Latin word lavare, meaning to wash, and giving us some indication of its primary usage; while others tend more towards the idea that its name derives from livere, meaning blue-ish.
These days lavender oil enjoys popularity worldwide thanks to its antiseptic qualities and its effectiveness in tackling sleeplessness and skin conditions. A powerful anti-inflammatory, for centuries it has been administered in the treatment of wounds, swelling and insect bites. While attentive grandmas the world over still insist on bagging up its dried petals to use as a sleeping aid. Its culinary uses are also plentiful, and lavender brings a fresh, herbal note to sweet treats and pastries, ice cream, granita and cocktails. Lavender’s most natural culinary bedfellow however is honey, whose sweetness offsets the sharper notes that lend lavender its distinctive flavour. It’s little surprise, either: lavender pollen is often at the heart of honey. Being popular with several species of bees, it is planted to help promote bee populations in areas where they are under threat. Eating honey produced by local bees can also help to stave off hayfever and other related allergies.
However you use it, there’s no escaping the draw of this abundant plant, that has dazzled onlookers since time immemorial with its purple light, and treated passers-by to the heady aroma of its flowers.
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