Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Spread of Lavender

These are photographs of the Cloisters in New City and the outside the present-day Abbey of Senanque, Near Gordes, Provence. Tucked away in the background of the Cloister’s gardens is a lavender plant. This authentic reconstruction of an Abbey, including the food and medicinal gardens. This lavender is often referred to as “English” lavender. It is associated with England with the large industry that once carpeted England’s agricultural lands.

This species of lavender (more accurately Lavandula angustifolia.) never originated in England. It’s true “modern” –see below- origins are from far away in the upper altitudes of the southern Alps in France. In the “regionale” of Provance.

As mentioned in my book The Lavender Garden, on a special sale on my web site, “In spite of over 2500 years of recorded use, the origins of lavender are shrouded in mystery. Some varieties of the plant are thought to have first been domesticated in Arabia. It may then have traveled with Greek traders of around 600 BC to what are now the Hy√®res Islands on the southern coast of France, from whence it spread to the areas now known as France, Italy, and Spain.” (All a matter of great discussion. Let me know what you think is the early history, origins of lavender.)

The botanical name comes from the Latin word for "to wash". The Romans used it to disinfect their baths. Some think it is most likely the Romans brought it with them when they conquered England. The medicinal gardens of various Monasteries and Abbies incorporated “English” lavender into their plantings. The common names of various species named after countries, especially English and French, are at least ambiguous – if not flat wrong. Knowing the Latin name is the only way to be 100% sure you have the correct variety. The medicinal lavender is only Lavandula angustifolia, not the inferior lavandines such as “Grosso”pictured on the left. It is really Lavandula X intermedia “Grosso”.

Some of the medicinal uses of Lavandula angustifolia by the monks include: anti-spasmolytic, antiseptic, carminative powers, restlessness, insomnia, nervous stomach irritations, Roehmheld's syndrome, meteorism, nervous intestinal discomfort, and lack of appetite

The Cloisters in NYC are a testament to empire-building and religious-herbal gardens for the spread of this favored herb.

(NOTE: If you go to the Cloisters, be prepared for a huge surprise. The buildings are surrounded by many busy streets on two sides. The photos never prepare one for the intense din surrounding this former holy place.)

Please post a comment - I want to know what you think.

Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert


Jaena Dennis said...

Your knowledge of the history of lavender is fascinating! I am a landscaper on the island of Kauai and wondered if you would reccomend using a particular species for this humid climate with high salt exposure. I was considering Lavendula dentata or intermedia. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Robert Kourik said...

I have never worked in a salt environment. I do know humidity is murder on Lavender. I suggest a potted lavender on a sunny porch under an eve so as to be able to control the amount of water. Flush the soil thoroughly when you think there is a salt build up in the soil. I'm totally guessing, but L. X intermedia might be a bit tougher. Let me know how it goes.