- Scientific name: Lavandula x intermedia 'Grosso'
- Family: Lamiaceae (mint)
Perennial bushy or clump-forming sub-shrub. Foliage evergreen, grey-green in colour. Flowers highly scented; dark blue becoming purple in summer; arranged in long, slender spikes (inflorescences). Pollinated by insects, mainly bees and butterflies.
- Lavender belongs to same botanical family as mint, thyme, sage, basil and rosemary.
- On average, 100–130kg of lavender flowers are needed to produce 1kg of essence.
- The cultivar ‘Grosso’ featured on this page is a commercial variety used in the production of dried flowers and scented oils. It is a type of lavandin (L. x intermedia, a hybrid of L. augustifolia and L. latifolia).
- True or English lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) produces a wonderfully fine-scented oil used in perfumery and aromatherapy.
Where it grows
Although a hybrid produced for cultivation, the variety featured on this page can grow in an area spanning from the Atlantic Islands, through the Mediterranean, North Africa and into Arabia. France has one of the largest areas of lavender under cultivation, but there are also large-scale producers in countries such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Lavender prefers well-draining, well-exposed lime-rich soils.
The name is thought to have come from the Latin lavando, part of the verb lavare, meaning to wash. Romans added the flowers to their communal baths to ease their aching limbs.
This multipurpose herb has also been used as a perfume, air freshener, antiseptic, sleep-inducer, pesticide, lice repellent and even a corpse embalmer! It is also eaten: Elizabeth I was known to prefer to eat lavender conserve with lamb above all else.
The Greek physician Dioscorides (c. AD 40-90) was the first to note the medicinal properties of lavender. He recommended its use in a tea-like infusion for chest complaints and claimed it had laxative qualities. Pliny the Elder (c. AD 23-79) suggested its use during bereavement and to promote menstruation. During the Middle Ages lavender became an important part of the medicine cabinet and was used to treat many illnesses. Although the development of modern medicine in the 19th century saw lavender fall out of favour, it has become popular again recently, and is used in aromatherapy, skin-grafting surgery and to relieve burns. Research is also being carried out into its possible uses to prevent cancer and control gastro-intestinal disorders.