English lavender, or Lavandula angustifolia, is not actually native to England but to the Mediterranean. Lavender is a favorite for its sweet, relaxing, floral aroma, and the flowers and leaves have a long history of use in traditional western herbalism. Dried lavender flowers can be added to potpourri blends, used in cooking or baking, and incorporated into body care recipes.
Lavandula angustifolia is the classic lavender that most people are familiar with. It can also be found on the market as Common Lavender, French Lavender (when it comes from France), True Lavender, or Lavender. This little grayish purple flower is known for its sweet floral aroma. The genus Lavandula is in the mint family.
Lavender is an aromatic perennial evergreen shrub. Its woody stems bear lavender or purple flowers from late spring to early autumn, although there are varieties with blossoms of white or pink. Lavender is native to the Mediterranean, but now cultivated in cool-winter, dry-summer areas in Europe and the Western United States.
The use of Lavender goes back thousands of years, with the first recorded uses by the Egyptians during the mummification process. Both the Greeks and the Romans had many uses for it, the most popular being for bathing, cooking, and as an ingredient in perfume. Lavender was used as an after-bath perfume by the Romans, who gave the herb its name from the Latin lavare, to wash. During the Great Plague of 1665, grave robbers would wash their hands in a concoction called Four Thieves Vinegar, which contained lavender, wormwood, rue, sage, mint, and rosemary, and vinegar; they rarely became infected. English folklore tells that a mixture of lavender, mug wort, chamomile, and rose petals will attract sprites, fairies, brownies, and elves.
As a spice, lavender is best known as an important aspect of French cuisine and is an integral ingredient in Herbs de Provence seasoning blends. Lavender may be used on its own to give a delightful, floral flavor to desserts, meats, and breads. The flowers can also be layered within sugar to infuse it with its distinctive aroma for use in cookies and scones.
A little lavender goes a long way! Start with a small quantity, say a teaspoon added to most recipes, or it will taste like perfume!