Category Archives: Herbs In History and Folklore

History, Legends and Folklore of Herbs Used In Essential Oils

Lavender History And Legends (Lavandula-angustifolia)

Lavandula Angustifolia

1. Lavandula angustifolia (lavender or English lavender, though not native to England; also common lavender, true lavender, narrow-leaved lavender, Elf Leaf, Nard, Nardus, Spike and Pyrenean lavender ), formerly L.officinalis, is a flowering plant in the family Lamiaceae, native to the western Mediterranean, primarily the Pyrenees and other mountains in northern Spain.

 History:

The origin of Lavender is believed to be from the Mediterranean, Middle East and India. Its history goes back some 2000 to 2500 years. Lavender is a flowering plant of the mint family known for its beauty, its sweet floral fragrance and its multiple uses. There are many species of these aromatic, evergreen, shrubby, perennials, all with small, linear leaves and spikes of fragrant, usually purple or blue,  two-lipped flowers.

Its late Latin name was lavandārius, from lavanda (things to be washed), from the verb lavāre (to wash). The English word lavender is generally thought to be derived from Old French lavandre, ultimately from the Latin lavare (to wash), referring to the use of infusions of the plants. The botanical name Lavandula as used by Linnaeus is considered to be derived from this and other European vernacular names for the plants. However it is suggested that this explanation may be apocryphal, and that the name may actually be derived from Latin livere, “blueish”.

The ancient Greeks called Lavender nardus, after the Syrian city of Naarda (possibly the modern town of Dohuk, Iraq)  and was commonly called Nard (‘nerd’ in Hebrew) .  The species originally grown was L. stoechas.  Lavender was one of the holy herbs used in the biblical Temple to prepare the Holy Essence and Nard, or ‘spikenard’ is mentioned in the bible in the ‘Song of Solomon’ among other places.

In the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) 4:13-14, the bridegroom sings of nard or spikenard:

Song of Solomon 4:14 (ISV Version)(4)

13 Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates,
     with choice fruit, henna with nard,
14 nard and saffron,
    calamus and cinnamon,
    with all the trees of frankincense,
    along with myrrh and aloes, and all the finest spices

Song of Solomon 4:13-14 (KJV Version) (4)

13 Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,

14 Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices

*Here is an interesting tidbit: All the spices listed in verses 13 and 14 were used for perfume.

It depends on which version you read whether the word spikenard and nard are used as far as I can tell they are the same plant; Lavandula. The names Nard or Spikenard are also found in Matthew, Mark and John of the New Testament.

The Greeks discovered early on that lavender if crushed and treated correctly would release a relaxing fume when burned.

During Roman times, flowers were sold for 100 denarii per pound, which was about the same as a month’s wages for a farm laborer.  The Romans also used Lavender to scent their baths, beds, clothes and even hair. It was the main ingredient of the perfume nardinum (old latin, náladam), derived from the Hebrew שבלת נֵרד (shebolet nerd, head of nard bunch), which was part of the Ketoret used when referring to the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. It is also referred to as the HaKetoret (the incense).

The oil was known in ancient times and was part of the Ayurvedic herbal tradition of India as well as obtained as a luxury item in ancient Egypt and the Near East.

 Legends:

  • Other historical uses include embalming corpses, curing animals of lice, taming lions and tigers, repelling mosquitoes, snuff flavoring, and as an ingredient in special lacquers and varnishes.(5)
  • During the Middle ages it was considered an herb of love and was used as an aphrodisiac. It was also believed that a sprinkle of lavender water on the head of a loved one would keep the wearer chaste.(5)
  • Roman superstition persisted that the asp (a dangerous viper) made his nest in lavender bushes which drove up the price of the plant and made it necessary to approach it with caution.(5)
  • Legends prescribe that when Adam and Eve were exiled they took lavender with them from the Garden of Eden, as it was thought to provide safety against evil.(6)
  • Legends continue to perpetuate the theory that lavender from the Garden of Eden contained no significant scent until Mary, mother of Jesus laid his clothing on the bush to dry.(6)
  • In ancient times, bundles of dried lavender were given to women in labor for squeezing during contractions as the fragrance released was known to calm the pain and facilitate an unencumbered birth.(6)
  • Lavender posies or sachets were given to couples as marriage gifts to bring good fortune and peace to the newly formed household.(6)
  • Plague Doctor Costume
    Plague Doctor Costume

    Use of lavender was highly revered during the Great Plague of London in the 17th century, when individuals fastened bunches of lavender to each wrist to protect themselves from the Black Death.(7)

  •  Later lavender became the main constituent in posies during the black plague to ward off the evil pestilence and mask the stench of decaying carrion.(6)
  • During the great bubonic plague, glove makers would scent leather with lavender oil, as this was known to ward off the plague.(8)
  • Thieves who made a living stealing from the graves and the homes of Plague victims concocted a wash known as “Four Thieves Vinegar,” which contained lavender, to cleanse and protect themselves after a night’s work.(2)
  • Legend also has it that the entire town of Bucklersbury completely escaped the plague due to it being the centre of the European Lavender industry.(9)
  • Lavender was used to wash clothes, and clothes were often laid out to dry on lavender bushes. This practice gave washing women the moniker “Lavenders.”(7)
  • During the First World War, it gained widespread use for its antiseptic properties. Lavender washes were used to bathe soldiers’ wounds. Soldiers also had it as an essential in every soldier’s burn kit.(7)

Today Lavender continues to be cultivated across its countries of origin as well as Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America. Its widespread presence is understandable due to its beautiful flowers, its alluring scent and its extensive uses in oils, teas, potpourri, and food, whether it is fresh, dried, or tinctured Lavender is an amazing plant.

Lavender Swaying in the Wind
Lavender Swaying in the Wind

Reference Materials:

1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavandula_angustifolia

2.  http://en.wikipedia.org

3.Lavandula angustifolia – Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-087” by Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen – List of Koehler Images. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

4.   https://www.biblegateway.com

5.  Lavender: History, Taxonomy, and Production

6.  USE & LORE » The Herb of Peace, Purification, Sleep and Longevity. » Temecula Lavender Company.

7.  http://herbs.lovetoknow.com/Lavender_Flowers

8.  http://www.all4naturalhealth.com/history-of-lavender.html

9.  http://petergeekie.hubpages.com/hub/The-Plague-a-liitle-story-of-essential-oil-power

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