Main functions of lavender in the past

There is a mystery surrounding the actual appearance or reappearance of lavender in Britain after Roman times (Festing, 1989). The Huguenots have been suggested as possibly bringing it over from France after 1685, however, a poem written by Master Jon Gardener in 1440 suggests that lavender was already growing in Britain by then as do many other references to its medical usage. Many rhymes pertaining to lavender were printed and recited around 1672-85, including the children's rhyme: 'lavender green, lavender blue, I shall be king and you shall be queen', (with and without 'diddle-diddle'), suggesting that lavender was well established for centuries.

44 Jo Castle and Maria Lis-Balchin Cleanliness

From earliest times lavender has been associated with cleanliness and purity, since antiquity bathing was included in the Regimen Sanitatis or writings on the care of the body. Medical, literary and ecclesiastical documents all reveal that bathing played a significant part in medieval life. By the twelfth century there were baths (very large wooden tubs) in the houses of the richer classes, in monasteries, and public baths in towns and villages often with rooms set aside for resting after therapy (Berger, 1999). Bath houses were places for socialisation and intimacy, as we find from the concerns in ecclesiastical quarters, Burchard of Worms (1008—12) in (McNeil and Garner, 1990):

Hast thou washed thyself in the bath with thy wife and other women and seen them nude, as they thee? If thou hast, thou should fast for three days on bread and water.

The type of water best used in a bath was specified, hard or soft, river, rain or snow and should the patient take a steam bath or a water bath, for which Hildegard of Bingen gives much detail regarding thermal springs. For the former, plant extracts were thrown on heated stones in a confined environment, for the latter, if they were medicinal plant materials, they were added to the water (Berger, 1999).

The Liber Niger or Black Book of Edward VI (1547-53), (Leyel, 1937) gives a reference to a 'lavender man' authorised to obtain from the spicery enough soap for the King's personal washing.

Lavender was boiled in water and this was used for washing clothes. Shirts and sheets smelling of lavender were recognised as especially clean and thus those hospitals (some of which were hotels for travellers) and inns with linen smelling of lavender and also pots of lavender on the sills, were frequented in preference to others (Festing, 1989). Lavender was also associated with bridal beds.


Occult properties have also been associated with lavender, as it was among the mint and Feverfew, which were consecrated to the patronesses of witches and sorcerers namely Hecate (goddess of the infernal regions) and her daughters Medea and Circe.

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