Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gonna Wash those Lice Right Outa My Hair

This morning I bathed myself in lavender, so I’m smelling sweet and am ready to talk about this plant from the dark ages all the way to modern times. You can read about lavender during ancient times in my last post.

Dark and Medieval Ages (AKA the time of Knights)

People in the dark ages had forgotten about lavender and its uses.

Only the monks and nuns in the monasteries grew lavender and used it for medicinal reasons. This is probably because only the very rich, monks and nuns knew how to read and write. There were no printing presses so only books that were hand copied, usually by monks, were available. In copying ancient manuscripts about the medical effects of different plants, the monks learned about the uses for lavender.

Hildegard of Bingen,a German nun, wrote that lavender oil was a good treatment for head lice (yuck) and fleas (double yuck).

Tudor Times and the Renaissance

Henry VIII, (you know, the English king that chopped off his wives heads), unwittingly increased lavender’s popularity. To get more cash, he closed down the monasteries and sent the monks packing. He gave monastery buildings to people he wanted to reward…usually ones that had done him favours.

Many of these monasteries came with fields of lavender so the ladies of the manor used the flowers in their linens and to freshen the air. They even mixed it with beeswax to make furniture polish and scented water with it. They often hung their laundry to dry over the lavender shrubs. People at this time associated lavender with cleanliness. It didn’t take them long to realize that lavender was also great for getting rid of insects as well.

Queen Elizabeth I of England adored the smell of lavender. She drank it in tea, used it as a perfume, and to treat her migraine headaches. Because the Queen loved it so much, it became really popular and many farmers grew lavender to meet the demand.

In France people used lavender to protect them from infections. It was noticed that glove makers who perfumed their wares with lavender, usually didn’t catch cholera.

By the 1600’s people saw lavender as a cure all and used it for headaches, nerves, bug bites, even snake bites.

People would tie bunches of lavender around their wrists because they thought it would protect them against the Great Plague. This may not have been a crazy as it sounds. After all, the plague was carried by the lice (which are insects) on the rats.

Grave robbers made a mixture called Four Thieves Vinegar which contained lavender. Another story says that four robbers rubbed their bodies with a mixture of lavender, absinthe, rue, sage, mint, rosemary and vinegar to protect them selves from infection before they broke into the homes of plague victims. Gross!

Victorian Times

Queen Victoria was a big fan of lavender and so it became very fashionable among the ladies and soon lavender was found in almost every Victorian home and garden.


Lavender was used to treat war wounds and was often used as an antiseptic. It was even used to get rid of fleas on dogs!

Modern Times

Today, people still grow lavender and use it to scent homes, flavour foods and for natural health remedies. Scientists are even researching uses in cancer treatments.

Provence, France is the largest producer of lavender but other suppliers include Canada, USA, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Japan, Bulgaria, Russia, and Germany.

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