There's more to this popular plant than meets the eye or nose.

By Claire Harmeyer and Andrea Beck
July 10, 2020
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With its strong, refreshing fragrance and vibrantly colored flowers, lavender is among the most easily recognizable plants around. It's also one of the most versatile herbs you can grow because it has a whole bunch of medicinal, aesthetic, and culinary purposes. For example, its scent has a calming effect on humans, so lavender is used in all kinds of stress-relieving items like bubble bath, candles, and eye pillows. Even if you regularly enjoy products like these or have grown the plant in your garden before, you might not realize how amazing this herb really is. These lavender facts will make you appreciate this gorgeous and useful plant even more!

'Betty's Blue' English Lavender
'Betty's Blue', a variety of English lavender, fills gardens with stunning, deep purple blooms in summer.
| Credit: Laurie Black

1. Lavender Has Many Uses

The name lavender originates from the Latin verb “lavare,” which means “to wash.” Its original meaning still holds true in the ways that we use lavender today. Because of its clean scent, this herb is an extremely popular ingredient in products we use to wash ourselves, including shampoo, facial cleansers, and hand soap, as well as cleaning products for our homes. It's also one of the most popular essential oils. It has many medicinal uses too; lavender can soothe burns, induce sleep, reduce anxiety and stress, and treat aching muscles and joints. Like many other herbs, you can enjoy lavender's fresh flavor and fragrance in all sorts of recipes, including cakes, lemonade, and cookies.

2. It Has Ancient Roots

Though it's popular across the world, lavender originated from the Mediterranean region, northeast Africa, and southwestern Asia, where it has been grown for over 2,500 years. In ancient Egypt, lavender was used during the mummification process to perfume the corpse. The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, were quick to notice lavender’s medicinal properties, using it to ease ailments including headaches and indigestion. During the Black Plague of the 16th century, lavender oil was used to ward off the dreaded disease. Bunches of the plant were also sold in the streets to mask the smell of the dead.

3. It’s Highly Symbolic

Lavender is commonly associated with purity, devotion, serenity, and calmness. These themes are often related to the ways lavender is used. Calmness and serenity point toward lavender's uses in aiding sleep and easing anxiety. Purity is shown through lavender's use throughout history in cleaning and its associations with cleanliness. Lavender has also been used to symbolize devotion, which makes it a popular choice for flower arrangements and wedding bouquets.

'Curly Top' Spanish Lavender
'Curly Top' Spanish lavender has clusters of dark purple flowers topped with lighter, pinkish-purple bracts.
| Credit: Laurie Black

4. There Are Hundreds of Varieties

When you think of lavender, common or English lavender likely comes to mind because it's the one usually shown on products or grown in picturesque lavender fields. However, according to the U.S. Lavender Growers Association, there are over 45 species of lavender and more than 450 different varieties. These include French, Portuguese, and fringed lavender. Heat tolerance, cold hardiness, size, and blooms vary quite a bit between them, so make sure to research which ones will grow best in your region and garden situation.

'Melissa' English Lavender
'Melissa' is a variety of English lavender with pale pink, almost white blooms.
| Credit: Laurie Black

5. Lavender Comes in Multiple Colors

Given that this plant literally has the same name as a color, you might assume that its spikes of flowers only come in shades of purple. While this is certainly true of many lavender varieties, you can also find the flowers in white, yellow, and even pink. The color of the flower doesn't have any effect on the plant's fragrance; for example, 'White Grosso' is a lavender variety with white blooms that also has an especially powerful scent.

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