A potted history of lavender

I’m on a mission. One of the schools where I work wants to run a project to get the whole school gardening this year and because of the inevitable constraints of time and money I have decided to link this in with their history studies. Dreams of designing Dig For Victory allotments and Victorian Walled Gardens briefly floated through my mind but this year the children are studying the Egyptians, the Romans and the Aztecs. Mmm! Then I woke up and  smelt the lavender.

We have loads of the stuff growing at school. I love the fact that it just keeps on giving. It’s one of the feel good plants I plant in every garden. So beautiful. So useful. And it seems to have been growing in every period garden I’ve visited this year. So I did a bit of research……..It’s a wonderplant. The plant equivalent of Superman but without the odd taste in clothes.

The Egyptians used it in cosmetics and embalming. (Remains of it were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.) The Greeks put it on their feet. The Romans strew lavender in their bath water. In fact, the Romans used it for practically everything  – headaches, burns, sore throats, insect bites, washing walls, inciting passion and cleaning wounds, recognising its antiseptic qualities as well as its aromatic ones.

In the Middle Ages it was confined to monastic herb gardens until Henry VIII decided to ‘go off on one’ as my daughter so delicately describes it and then it moved into fashionable society to perfume linens or be mixed with beeswax to make furniture polish. Elizabeth I drank lavender tea to relieve migraine and Hildegard of Bingen (who was one of life’s multi taskers) spotted a use for it in treating headlice and fleas. What a girl!

French kings stuffed their cushions with it before they lost their heads and Renaissance glovemakers used it to perfume their wares. Seventeenth century herbalists hailed it a cure all and prices rocketed during the plague. Victorian ladies wore it in their cleavage to attract lovers.

My granny spread her pillowcases out on her lavender bushes and now I bake scones with it and stuff pillows with it to help my children get to sleep.

Job done. I’ll start a lavender farm at school.

To make a sleep sack….

Take a couple of handfuls of dried lavender flowers and the same of dried hps and use to stuff a small cotton pillow (about 15cm x 10cm). Put inside a pillowcase to aid sleep. If you make (or buy) a cotton sack with a velcro fastening it’s easy to refresh the contents.

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