Lavender, a natural sleep enhancer and so much more besides

Lavender farm at Kami-Furano
Lavender farm at Kami-Furano

Lavender- a brief history

If you've ever driven past fields of cultivated lavender, as I have, both here close to the South Downs of England, and also in the sunny southern fields of France, then you'll know how beautiful and pleasing it can be. The pale purple flowers gently rustling in the summer breeze, the air alive with the gentle buzz of bees, and the dancing flight of butterflies.

The word Lavender comes from the Latin word Lavare - to wash- but it has been used throughout recorded history. In 1923 when Tutenkahamun's tomb was opened 3,000 years after it was first sealed, traces of lavender were found that still retained a slight scent.

The Romans are credited with bringing lavender to Britain. They loved to bathe in lavender scented water. The soothing perfume calms and relaxes and has long been used to aid restful sleep. Roman bath-houses were noisy, communal affairs where people came together to chat and laugh as they soaked away the stresses and strains of the day. I expect the scent of lavender was a welcome addition!

In folk-lore, lavender came to be associated with purity and fidelity. A popular test was to put a sprig of lavender into a girl's left hand. If the flowers didn't shrivel, then she was declared to be chaste. Similarly, lavender placed in a man's right shoe was thought to guarantee his faithfulness, and sailors' wives would bake cakes with lavender in them to ensure their husbands fidelity during the long months away at sea. Bunches of lavender were often woven into the shape of a cross to ward off evil spirits, and these would be hung over doorways.

The Victorians were big fans of lavender, and even to this day, many people still associate it with lace and old ladies, which maybe why it fell out of favour to some extent, in the twentieth century.

Lavender in the 21st century

These days lavender is enjoying a real revival in popularity. Modern technology has come together with traditional ideas and techniques, and a wide range of quality lavender based products are now available. Here are just some of the ways this old-fashioned treasure is being given a new twist:

  • Lavender oil is available as a pillow spray. The scent of Lavender has a big reputation as a relaxant and sleep enhancer, so I guess a lavender-scented pillow is a good place to start.
  • Horse and dog washes scented with lavender are good for calming animals, and also offer some resistance to flies, fleas and ticks
  • Lavender scented shampoo, soap, talc, and bath products. These are all traditional uses, but brought right up to date with the addition of such modern ideas as bath bombs, and flower heads included in the soaps and salts.
  • Lavender bags - great for scenting drawers and closets. Lavender is a traditional moth and insect repellant as well as having a pleasant scent
  • Lavender Essence - the natural antiseptic and healing properties make this a winner when dabbed on insect bites, stings, cuts, spots and bruises
  • Lavender as a cooking ingredient. The fresh flowers can be crushed and in cluded in cakes, or used to decorate icing and other toppings.
  • Lavender and wheat heat pads - these useful bags can be bought or made at home, then heated in the micro-wave to place on aching joints and muscles
  • Lavender pot-pourri - scent your room with this pleasing selection of dried, aromatic flower buds
  • Lavender massage oil - soothing and calming. A great way to relax those muscles
  • Lavender scented candles - wind down for bed-time with this subtly perfumed product


English lavender in a n Oxfordshire garden by Ken Irwin
English lavender in a n Oxfordshire garden by Ken Irwin
Freshly cut lavender flowers by Lexipexi
Freshly cut lavender flowers by Lexipexi
Lavandula.Multifida photographed by Laitche, courtesy Wik commons
Lavandula.Multifida photographed by Laitche, courtesy Wik commons

Growing lavender in your garden

Species and Varieties

There are more than 50 species of lavender, and they come in a variety of sizes and the colours vary through pink to purple. The great thing is that they are a good plant for neglectful gardeners like me, as they will tolerate minimal attention quite well. They are also quite a neat, well-behaved plant, and always a pleasure to cultivate. Here are some of the better known varieties:

English Lavender (Lavandula.angustifolia)

This type grows to a height of around 45cm to 75cm (1½ft to 2½ft) with a similar spread. Over time these lavenders form mounds which  looks very attractive when groups are planted together. The flowers appear in late Spring and keep coming right through to late summer. .

Lavandin or Dutch Lavender (Lavandula.x intermedia)

The stems of Lavandins are longer than English Lavender. They have a height and spread of about 90cm (3ft), which makes them useful as low hedging.


These lavenders are half hardy. The distinctive leaves  have deep "teeth" up their entire length, which accounts for their Latin name. The flowers have an unusual shape and  long stems, which can appear straggly in a smaller garden.

Making your own lavender bags

Making home-made raspberry and lavender lemonade

More by this Author

Comments 42 comments

Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Amanda, I never before thought that Lavender, or Lavanda in Spanish, came from "lavare"! I feel like slapping myself on the wrist, silly me!

We've got plenty of it here in the land of Spain, and it is a sight indeed, when the fields are full with it in bloom. The smell I like, but it's not my favorite one. Instead, its color does things to my heart :)

Oh, and it IS quite sturdy, you really have to have a SERIOUSLY lousy brown thumb to kill it! Laugh!

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi Elena, I drive my kids mad telling them how words from different languages link together, but I'd never thought about where the word lavender might come from until I started researching this hub!

I agree with you about the smell to some extent. I would never wear it as a perfume, but I do like it in candles and bath bombs. And the sight of a field of lavender is a joy to behold!

diogenes 7 years ago

Another beautifully constructed article, Amanda. I pass a large lavender bush every time I go out. It is absolutely thick with bees and butterflies today. It's scent seems much stronger, too, in order to attract them I suppose.

I am going to try some in the bath now in order to feel like Ceasar! The duckie will have to go.

2patricias profile image

2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

We both like the smell of lavender when one opens a linen cupboard!

Both of us grow it in our gardens - it seems to thrive here in Sussex.

Not too happy for the current fashion to put lavender in food...

This is an interesting hub, with loads of detail - well done.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi Bob, In order to feel like Caesar, you probably need to to share your bath with a rowdy crowd of fellow Romans! I suppose the Roman bath-houses were the fore-runner of our modern hot tubs and jacuzzis. Quite a social occasion by all accounts. Lavender is very soothing in the bath though. A friend of mine bottled essential oils for a living, and she always came home yawning on the days when she bottled lavender.

RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

I had a small patch of lavender in a well protected corner of my yard in MT...lasted 3 summers....then dodo that I am didn't cover it in Augst one year and before end of Sept/gone

and where we are now, Bay Minette, Al? gorget it/will not grow...sandy dirt ful of salt and way too much heat...where we are going? to the sonoroan desert/eventualy? I never tried it...I try to stay indigenous in the desert...I love it so! but Amanda this article rocks!!! it should go to Birds and BLooms!! It is first rate!!

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi 2Pats, you know I never realised you ladies were based in Sussex! I should have guessed from your comments on my Brighton hub, but for some strange reason I'd always thought of you as being from Oxfordshire. Most odd! I have lavender in my garden, and it thrives even though I'm a very casual gardener. I love the scent of it as you brush past, and it certainly seems to attract the bees. I think the whole lavender in food thing is a bit strange, too. It seems like a new idea, but apparently it has a long tradition.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi RNMSN, you've certainly moved around! I hadn't thought of how lavender might fare in more extreme climates, but I imagine that the indiginous species of cactii and succulents would always do better in a desert, or arid environment, and I expect they're quite spectacular, too. You should post some pictures in a hub!

BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

Hi Amanda, lovely photographs, especially the first one. We have never been far from lavender and my wife loves to grow it and then use the cuttings for making lavender bags.

Nice to hear about the history of lavender as well and understand a little more of where it comes from.

ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

My garden Lavendar has got too large. I need to replace it with a dwarf variety. It is great for attractimng bees and butterflies and helps keep the aphids away from my roses.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi Brian,

You're certainly in the right part of the world for lavender. It's lovely to see it growing in the fields in France. Lavender bags are brilliant moth repellants and make great gifts.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi Ethel, We had the same problem with our original lavender bush. It got really leggy and hung over the path, so in the end we dug it up and started again with a smaller variety. The bees do love it, and it's great to see bees in the garden.

Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Amanda, I have never seen a lavender field and from these photographs I am obviously missing a treat. I love lavender. I wonder if it grows up here at altitude. I will have to look into this. I love basking in lavender salt baths and reading a novel, though I have yet to afford your recommended LeGuin and it wasn't at our library :(. Soon!!!

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Lavender is quite hardy, or at least I've always found it so. Mind you, I've never lived higher than the South Downs, and they're pretty gentle compared to your mountains. I'm sorry I haven't got around to fulfilling your hub request BTW. I'll have to get my brain around it sometime soon!

Plants and Oils profile image

Plants and Oils 7 years ago from England

A great hub - we seem to have had some similar ideas!

emohealer profile image

emohealer 7 years ago from South Carolina

An excellent hub, just when I think I know about lavender there is more. Maybe it is where I live, but I have quite an herbal garden and unlike everyone else here, mine does not seem to thrive. Beautiful pictures of lavender fields. Thanks!

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi Plants and Oils, I just checked out your hub on the same subject. I wish I'd seen it first, but I guess it's always good to come at a subject from several angles! Please feel free to post a link to your hub here in the comments.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi Emohealer, my garden never seems to do as well as I would like, but the lavender thrives, and I grow rosemary, mint, thyme, basil and parsley although with varying success. I wish I had greener fingers (sigh!) Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Writer Rider 7 years ago

Lovely hub! I need to get some lavender pillow spray.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Writer Rider. It's good to see you here!

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Lovely, yes. I have lavender in closets and drawers, and a spray for my pillow. Lavender and sandalwood are two of my favorite scents for the home. Great hub, A.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi Teresa. Yes, sandalwood is also a good scent around the home. Thanks for stopping by, it's always good to see you here!

Plants and Oils profile image

Plants and Oils 7 years ago from England

Well, if you insist! And add yours to mine, also? It's a great companion.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Plants and Oils, I've placed the link now.

Plants and Oils profile image

Plants and Oils 7 years ago from England

I've seen it, thank you.

Writer Rider 7 years ago

Thanks, it's great to read your stuff.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

It must be delightful passing a field of lavender. I tried growing it in Houston but it did not seem to like the humidity. Maybe I'll give it another try sometime.

I laughed at some of those old folk tales about lavender. If only it was that easy! LOL

Kim Garcia 7 years ago

Great Hub Amanda!! I love lavender too! It's benefits are many, and it is a natural relaxer as I love making lavender tea. Thanks for this post. Peace ~ K

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

I love Lavender - and always have a bottle of the essential oil at home. I didn't know there were different types though!

Loved reading about its history - great pics too!

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi Peggy, yes wouldn't it be great if you could keep a man's attention just by dosing his desserts with lavender. Ah well..

Hi Kim, I've never tried lavender tea, but I read somewhere that it was a favourite of our Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century, so it has a long and honourable tradition!

Hi Shalini, thanks for visiting. Lavender is a really useful essential oil, though the scent always makes me quite sleepy. I quite like the idea of it being used in ancient times, and the old traditions are great fun too!

knell63 profile image

knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy

Great hub, loved it, the hotel I do a turn at has loads of it. Liked the word links as well, lavare is also to wash in Italian, hence Lavanderia is the laundry.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

I'd never thought about where the word lavender might have come from until I researched this hub, butI suppose there are so many words in English with Latin roots that I shouldn't really be surprised!

Anamika S profile image

Anamika S 7 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

This is something i use too and can vouch that it works!

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Thanks for stopping by Anamika.

Silver Rose profile image

Silver Rose 7 years ago from UK

That's a gorgeous photo right at the top. I love lavender too - I keep little sachets of it in my linen drawer to scent all the sheets. Have never tried growing it though.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Silver Rose. Do try growing some lavender if you have the space. Seriously, if I can grow it, anyone can!

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

I love lavender cookies - which I found for a brief time here in NYC. Ah, the fragrance when you open the container.

I'm lucky because I have family and friends in England from Stevenage and Hitchin - and they would either bring me or mail me real English lavender. Lovely.

I still have some. If I don't smell it I just rub a little between my fingers - Mmmmmmm.

Lovely Lavender hub! Many thanks!

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi BK, lavender cookies sound lovely. We have a little tea shop locally that sells lavender cupcakes, and they're lovely too. A lot of my neigbours grow lavender in the front garden, and I can never resist crushing the odd sprig as I pass. It's a wonderful scent.

kartika damon profile image

kartika damon 7 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

Lavender is my favorite scent - all of my products, including my natural cleaning supplies, are lavender scented! Thanks for this great article - I have never been able to grow lavender that returns the next year in Iowa!

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK Author

Hi Kartika, lavender is a great scent, and having natural antiseptic proporties makes it a great choice for cleaning products. Sorry to hear that lavender doesn't over-winter well in Iowa. Perhaps you could grow it in pots, and wrap the pots up in bubble wrap in the cold weather?

Hannah 6 years ago

i am a teenage girl, and used to have huge sleeping problems. i have recenly bugen to use a lavender essencial oils tub beside by bed and it has worked miracles. I now fall asleep within a half hour, opposed to my usual 3. I live in a place that has very cold winters and warmish summers, a place in Canada. can I grow it here

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Hannah, I'm in the UK where the winters are generally kinder than they are in Canada. However, you could certainly grow your lavender in a pot and bring it indoors in the winter, or leave it outside in a sheltered position with a fleece wrap or bubble wrap around the pot when the temperatures drop. I'm glad to hear it helps with your sleeping problems.

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