Lavender is blooming like crazy. I was supposed to go to a lavender farm up north yesterday, but circumstances prevented me at the last minute. They have more than 23 varieties of lavender… 23! I was going to tour the farm, walk through their lavender labyrinth, and take lots of pictures to share with you, but alas, you’re going to have to be content with yet another stock photo. Don’t worry, though, I’ll get up there and share the experience and pictures with you when I do.
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) is a versatile plant which yields a versatile essential oil. It’s grown in many areas around the globe. England, France, Bulgaria, and India are the most common sources when we’re talking about essential oils. Not only is it grown in many different countries, it’s also grown at a variety of altitudes. Note: Only the high altitude ones are labeled; that means if the name or description doesn’t mention altitude, the plants used were not grown at a high altitude.
Why is all of that important? Because the soil, weather, climate, and altitude where the lavender is grown affect the overall product. The first thing you’ll notice is that they all have a different scent to them. Those differences in scent are a result of each having a different phytochemical (plant chemical) makeup – which makes sense if they’re each grown in different soil conditions with different amounts of rain and sunshine, and any number of other variables.
If the lavender’s high in a phytochemical called linalool, like some English Lavender is, it’ll smell a bit spicier. It’ll also have stronger antibacterial effects. If it has a lower linalyl acetate level, like some English Lavender (including some with high linalool levels), it will be less good at helping you relax. But if you have, say, a Bulgarian Lavender with high levels of linalyl acetate, it’d be a great oil to relax or go to sleep with. That’s a lot of difference, right? But wait… there’s more.
If you have a high altitude (>1400 meters) French Lavender, especially if it was also distilled at high altitude, be prepared for a more vibrant smelling oil. That’s because being grown, harvested, and distilled at high altitudes preserves more of the volatile components of the plant within the oil. Oooo… that sounds like an oil you just gotta smell, doesn’t it? I know I wanna get me some.
Before you run out and buy any old high altitude Lavender, you need to know that altitude alone isn’t a panacea. I’ve smelled some high altitude Lavenders that were rather flat and muted. Meh. This could be due to many things including the actual altitude it grew at, the soil conditions, the weather that year, and the altitude it was ultimately distilled at.
My point with all this is to say the more a company tells you about the plants that were distilled to make the oil, the better informed decision you’ll be able to make as to whether you want to buy that oil.
A better question would be what isn’t it good for. The plant itself can be used in cooking, medicine, and self-care.
Here are a few uses for the essential oil:
Try blending lavender essential oil with:
Cooking Trivia: Lavender is used as a flavor enhancer in cooking, but it’s also a great flavor in its own right. You can use it in sweet dishes (lavender shortbread. Mmmmmm…) or savory ones (lavender vinaigrette, anyone?) but you want to make sure you only use buds from Lavender angustifolia. The other species can be bitter.
Name Trivia: The word lavender comes from the French word ‘lavare’ which means to wash. In centuries past, when baths were somewhat infrequent, lavender was used to scent clothes and bed linens.
Dead Trivia: In ancient Egypt lavender was used in the mummification process. Maybe it kept them healthy and calm on their underworld journey? Or maybe it was more practical and kept bugs away from the corpse? I haven’t found an explanation for why it was used, but it’s kinda fun trying to guess.
Why do you think they used lavender when making a mummy? Let me know in the comments.