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Suffolk herbs: Lavender, Nature's soother

PUBLISHED: 17:54 30 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:38 20 February 2013

Suffolk herbs: Lavender, Nature's soother

Suffolk herbs: Lavender, Nature's soother

Lavender is one of our best-loved herbs, with a wide range of uses ranging from medicinal to culinary. Ed Berger traces its history

Lavender is one of our best-loved herbs, with a wide range of uses ranging from medicinal to culinary. Ed Berger traces its history

Lavandula angustifolia, or lavender, thrives in sunny borders in well drained soil, producing 15-20cm spikes of fragrant blue flowers in June and July. Relished for its soothing aroma in scents and soaps, lavender has been used for centuries as a disinfectant and deodoriser, as well as medicinally for treating skin conditions, indigestion, nervous tension, insomnia and even depression.
The ancient Greeks called lavender nard because it grew around the ancient Syrian city of Nardu, in the Bible it is called spikenard, whilst its Indian name translates as broom of the brain for its ability to clear away mental sluggishness. The English name lavender comes from Latin lavare meaning to wash from its traditional use as a cleansing antiseptic.

Medicinal use
The great 17th century English herbalist Nicholas Culpepper recommended lavender for all the grief and pains of the head and many of its traditional uses for nervous problems have been supported by scientific research, for instance in reducing anxiety and enhancing mood, sleep, relaxation and mental response times.
As a digestive remedy, lavender tea is specifically used for nervous stomach because it reduces stress a major cause of digestive disturbance, relaxes the muscle spasms responsible for gas and bloating, as well as stimulating the production of digestive juices. If taking lavender as a tea, use just to teaspoon of the flowers infused in a cup of just boiled water. Any more will taste rather bitter.

Lavender essential oil
In the 1920s, the French perfumier Rene-Maurice Gattefosse burned his arm whilst at work in his laboratory. He plunged his arm into the nearest cold liquid to hand, which happened to be lavender essential oil. The pain was relieved immediately and the burn healed rapidly and apparently without scarring. Thereafter Gattefosse studied the therapeutic effects of essential oils and published the first book on their uses in 1928 called Aromatherapie.
As an antiseptic and pain reliever, a few drops of lavender essential oil can be applied directly to spots, infected cuts, minor burns, insect bites and fungal infections. Applied to the temples, it can relieve headaches and when diluted in a carrier oil is an excellent warming rub for rheumatic pain, muscle strains and neuralgia. In fact, lavender essential oil has a central place in any natural first aid kit because of its wide range of uses.

Lavender spikes are harvested on a dry morning early in the flowering period, hung in bunches till dry and then the flowers stripped from the stems. There are more than 30 different species of lavender, although Lavandula angustifolia (meaning narrow-leaved) is preferred for therapeutic use.

Avoid lavender if pregnant or breast feeding. Always test neat essential oil oil on a small area of skin to check for sensitivity. Never take the essential oil internally or apply directly to the skin of children who are less than two years old.

  • Lavender baths are a wonderful way to relax. Pour 500ml boiling water over 1oz flowers, infuse for 10 minutes, strain and add the infusion to your bath. Or put a handful of flowers in a cloth bag and hang beneath the hot tap as the water runs, or add a few drops of essential oil to the bath water.

  • Although lesser known as a culinary herb, lavender has been used to flavour vinegars, oils, honey, chocolate and is an ingredient in herbs de Provence.

  • Traditional lavender pillows for insomnia are made by sewing a handful of dried flowers into a small cotton bag, which is then put inside the pillowcase. Placed in cupboards they scent clothes and will deter moths.

Ed Berger has been practising herbal medicine for 12 years and lives in Suffolk. He is also course director of herbal medicine for the College of Naturopathic Medicine.
To discuss any aspect of herbal medicine, herb garden design or to arrange a consultation please contact Ed on 07931 797148 or

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