Growing and using Lavender
It has been a long-standing ingredient in the perfume industry and has probably been one of the most widely used fragrances, apart from rose that is.
Lavender has many benefits for the body and mind, and both the home-prepared water and the essential oil have amazing, positive effects on our health. It is also well known to be one of the safest herbal remedies, though it should always be used with caution, or not at all, on the young, elderly, and during pregnancy.
Here are just a few of the ways lavender can be used to help keep you healthy.
It is widely known as a relaxant and it can help promote a good sleep. Applying a few drops to a handkerchief and placing it either inside your pillowcase or by your pillow, enables you to breathe in the aroma as you drop off to sleep.
Due to these relaxing properties it also helps to alleviate tension headaches. Applying a few drops of the oil or water, again to a handkerchief or to your temples, watching your eyes of course, can help rid you of the painful headache.
Muscles that have been overworked and are in need of some attention, benefit from a lavender massage. Although it can be used neat on most skin, some people may find they have a reaction, so always test a little on your inner forearm, and if it reddens wash it off immediately; if there is no reaction, it should be safe to use. But for massaging large areas of the body it is both safer and more economical to dilute the lavender oil or water in a carrier oil, such as almond oil. Use 5 drops of lavender to 1 teaspoon of carrier oil. The massaging action, coupled with the lavender, eases the pain of aching muscles. Alternatively, add some to your bath, and as you soak, the lavender will help soothe your muscles and relax your whole body.
Lavender water makes an excellent skin toner and can help soothe spots and breakouts, due to its antiseptic and soothing properties. It can be used directly onto a sore spot using a cotton bud – again, test on your skin before doing this to ensure you have no reaction to it.
If you suffer from a flaky, itchy scalp, it can be used as a hair rinse. Dilute the water or essential oil in a little warm water and pour over your hair after washing. Massage it into the scalp, but don’t rinse it off, and allow the hair to dry naturally. Watch it doesn’t go in your eyes, though.
Make your own soaps or shower gels and add some oil or lavender water to it. This has an antibacterial action on the skin, so it makes an excellent body cleanser and mild deodorant. This is especially good after sports or other keep fit activities, as it also has the added soothing benefits.
No wonder it is sometimes called ‘the mother of essential oils’, as it has so many benefits with few side effects – a truly wondrous plant.
Growing lavender is fairly easy, but you must remember to be horrid to it once a year, otherwise it will become woody and useless.
You can buy it as young shrubs to be planted in early autumn. It prefers a light, well-draining soil with plenty of compost incorporated. It must have plenty of drainage, because, although it needs water, it doesn’t like to have its feet wet.
You can grow it in tubs, and if you buy only one bush it will take a while for the plant to reach a decent size. However, you can buy a few and fill a 45cm pot to give you an excellent display as well as giving you plenty of flowers to use.
Give the plants a good feed in the early summer for the best blooms. I use tomato fertiliser in the water – remember if you do grow them in pots, they must be watered regularly to keep them in the right growing pattern. If they wilt, and then you water them, only to leave them to wilt again, they will become woody more quickly.
Cut the flowers as you need them, and then, in the autumn, cut 50% of the longer stems back to 2cm. This will create new growth and keep the plant from wooding up too much. You can’t avoid some woody stems, but cutting back keeps the plant ‘flowersome’ and young.
Watch out for aphids; you can deal with them as you will, but if you are going to use the flowers in lavender water I would not recommend using insecticides – you don’t want nasties in your home do you!