Lavender is a flower whose oil has been used for thousands of years in everything from perfumes to mummification in Egypt. Throughout history, lavender dots the legacies of the rich, the royal, the holy, as well as the average person. It has many uses, which no doubt ably influenced its popularity around the world.
In Ancient Egypt, lavender was saved for the Gods and the royals. References to it can be found in the hieroglyphs on Ancient Egyptian artifacts and structures proving that it was used not only as a perfume, but also for mummification. Some theorize that the Egyptians knew of lavender’s healing properties and may have used it to access various spiritual powers. There are also stories that Cleopatra seduced Julius Caesar and Marc Antony while wearing a lavender perfume.
Researchers have found evidence that the Romans used lavender oils for bathing and cooking. The pleasant aroma and lavender’s calming qualities brought appeal to everyone from the royals to the commoners. It has also been noted that Romans used lavender oils as an insect repellant, thanks to its strong scent.
Lavender is even mentioned in the bible. Known at that time as ‘spikenard,’ it is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke: “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.” Another common belief among Christians is that the lavender flower was taken from the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve.
The lavender flower was used during the 17th century plague in London to protect those wearing it on each wrist from getting ill. Grave robbers at that time knew they were especially susceptible to getting the plague by robbing the graves of those who were killed by the disease. To avoid the ill-fated death, grave robbers created a concoction known as ‘Four Thieves Vinegar,’ in which the main ingredient was lavender. Researchers have looked at the death rates of different demographics from that time and found that one of the lowest amount of casualties belonged to the grave robbers whose homeopathic lavender formula certainly protected them from the illnesses of their day. The French also used lavender to repel cholera. Glove makers during the 16th century infused their products with lavender and most did not contract cholera.
Lavender’s healing properties were well documented in Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles Hormones Végétales written by a French perfume maker by the name of René-Maurice Gattefossé in 1937. As the story goes, René-Maurice Gattefossé was in his lab when he gave himself a serious burn. The only thing he had on hand at that moment was the lavender essential oil, so he spread the oil onto his burn. He noticed that his burn healed much more quickly than it would have under normal circumstances and did not leave a scar, so he began to research the healing properties of lavender and many other essential oils. After publishing his findings in his book, medical researchers began looking into medicinal properties of essential oils, research that continues to this day.
Today, lavender is widely used in everything from homeopathic remedies to perfumes and incense. Scientists have found that lavender is an excellent weapon against infections, especially bacterial. Currently, there are sizeable studies being conducted to find the effect of lavender on cancer; so far, they have found it has reduced the size of breast cancer tumors in mice.