1902 Encyclopedia > Lavender


LAVENDER, botanically Lavandula, a germs of Labiatm distinguished by an ovate tubular calyx, a two-lipped corolla, of which the upper lip has two and the lower three lobes, and four stamens bent downwards.

The plant to which the name of lavender is commonly applied, Lavandala vera, D.C., is a native of the mountainous districts of the countries bordering on the western half of the Mediterranean, extending from the eastern coast of Spain to Calabria and northern Africa, growing in some places at a height of 4500 feet above the sea-level, and preferring stony declivities in open sunny situations. It is cultivated in the open air as far north as Norway and Livonia. Lavender forms an evergreen undershrub about 2 feet high, with greyish-green hoary linear leaves, rolled tinder at the edges when young ; the branches are erect, and give a bushy appearance to the plant. The flowers are borne on a terminal spike at the summit of a long naked stalk, the spike being composed of 6-10 verticillasters or dense cymes in the axils of small, brownish, rhomboidal, tapering, opposite bracts, the verticillasters being more widely separated towards the base of the spike. The calyx is tubular, contracted towards the mouth, marked with 13 ribs and 5-toothed, the posterior tooth] being the largest, The corolla is of a pale violet colour, but darker on its inner surface, tubular, two-lipped, the upper lip with two and the lower with three lobes Both corolla and calyx are covered with stellate hairs, amongst which are imbedded shining oil glands to which the fragrance of the plant is due. The leaves and flowers of lavender are said to have been used by the ancients to perfume their baths; hence the name Lavandtda is supposed to have been derived from lavare, to wash. But, although S. Seceehas was well known to the ancients, no allusion unquestionably referring to L. vera has been found in the writings of classical authors, the earliest mention of the latter plant being in the 12th century by the abbess Hildegard, who lived near Bingen on the Rhine. Under the name of llafant or llafantly it was known to the Welsh physicians as a medicine in the 13th century. In England lavender is cultivated chiefly for the distillation of its essential oil, of which it yields on an average 1 per cent. when freed from the stalks, but in the south of Europe the flowers form an object of trade, being exported to the Barbary states, Turkey, and America.

In Great Britain lavender is grown in the parishes of Mitcham, Carshalton, and Beddington in Surrey, where about 300 acres arc under cultivation, and in Hertfordshire, in the parish of Hitchin, to the extent of 50 acres. The most suitable soil seems to be a sandy loam with a calcareous substratum, and the most favourable position a sunny slope in localities elevated above the level of fogs, where the plant is not in danger of early frost and is freely exposed to air and light. At Hitchin lavender is said to have been grown as early as 1568, but as a commercial speculation its cultivation dates back only to 1823. The plants at present in cultivation do not produce seed, and the propagation is always made by slips or by dividing the roots. The latter plan has only been followed since 1860, when a large number of lavender plants were killed by a severe frost. Since that date the plants have been subject to the attack of a fungus, in consequence of which the price of the oil has been considerably enhanced, and the disease is likely, if it continues, to affect seriously the cultivation of the herb. At Market Deeping in Lincolnshire, where lavender was formerly grown, its cultivation has been discontinued on this account.

The flowers arc collected in the beginning of August, and taken direct to the still. The yield of oil depends in great measure upon the weather. After a wet and dull June and July the yield is sometimes only half as much as when the weather has been bright and sunshiny. From 12 to 30Ig of oil per acre is the average amount obtained. The oil contained in the stem has a more rank odour and is less volatile than that of the flowers ; consequently the portion that distils over after the first hour and a half is collected separately.

The finest oil is obtained by the distillation of the flowers with' out the stalks, but the labour spent upon this adds about 10s. per lb to the expense of the oil, and the same end is practically attained by the fractional distillation. The oil mellows by keeping three years, after which it deteriorates unless mixed with alcohol ; it is also improved by redistillation. Oil of lavender is distilled from the will plants in Piedmont and the Smith of France, especially in the villages about Mont Ventoux near Avignon, and in those some leagues west of Montpellier. The best French oil realizes scarcely one-sixth of the price of the English oil. Cheaper varieties are made by distilling the entire plant.

Oil of Lavender is a mobile liquid having it specific gravity from 0'78 to 0.96 (Zeller). It appears to be a mixture in variable proportion of oxygenated oils and a stearoptene, the latter being identical, according to Dumas, with common camphor. Its adulteration with alcohol may be detected by chloride of calcium dissolving in it and forming a separate layer of liquid at the bottom of the vessel. Glycerin acts in the same way. If it contain turpentine it will not dissolve in three volumes of alcohol, in which quantity the pure oil is perfectly soluble.

Lavender flowers were formerly considered good for "all disorders of the head and nerves" ; a spirit prepared with them was known under the name of palsy drops. At the present day a compound spirit of lavender, official in the British pharmacopoeia, is sometimes given in conjunction with other stimulants to nervous and hysterical persons suffering from depression of spirits, or is used to give a colour and flavour to medicine.

Lavender water consists of a solution of the volatile oil in spirit of wine with the addition of the essences of musk, rose, bergamot, and ambergris, but is very rarely prepared by distillation of the flowers with spirit.

In the climate of New York lavender is scarcely hardy, but in the vicinity of Philadelphia considerable quantities are grown for the market, the dried flowers being used for sachels or scent bags and for perfuming linen, rec. In American gardens sweet basil (Ocintunt basilican') is frequently called lavender.

Larandula Spica (D.C.), a species which differs from L. rent chiefly in its smaller size, more crowded leaves, and linear bracts, is also used for the distillation of an essential oil, which is known in England as oil of spike and in France under the name of essence d'aspic. It is used in painting on porcelain and in veterinary medicine. The oil as met with in commerce is less fragrant than that of L. vera, - probably because the whole plant is distilled, for the flowers of the two species are scarcely distinguishable in fragrance. L. Spica does not extend so far north, nor ascend the mountains beyond 2000 feet. It cannot be cultivated in Britain except in sheltered situations. A nearly allied species, L. lanata (Boiss.), a native of Spain, with broader leaves, is also very fragrant, but does not appear to be distilled for oil.

Lavandula Skedats (L.), a species extending from the Canaries to Asia Minor, is distinguished from the above plants by its blackish purple flowers, and shortly-stalked spikes crowned by conspicuous purplish sterile bracts. The flowers were official in the London pharmacopoeia as late as 1746. They are still used by the Arabs as an expectorant and antispasmodic. The Stcechades (now called the isles of Hy6res near Toulon) owed their name to the abundance of the plant growing there.

Several other species of lavender (twenty in all) are known, sonic of which extend as far east as to India. A few which differ from the above in having divided leaves, as L. dentata, L. abrotanoides, L. multifolia, L. pinnata, and L. viridis, have been cultivated in greenhouses, k.c., in England.

Sea lavender is a name applied in England to several species of Staticc, a genus of littoral Plumbaginaceous plants. Lavender cotton is a species of the genus Sa2ztolina, small, yellow-flowered, evergreen undershrubs of the Composite order.

See Pharmaeographia, p. 476; De Caudolle,Prodromus, z11, p, 145; Pharrn. Journal, (1) xi. p. 33; (1) viii, p. 276; (2) p. 278; (3) ill. p. 326; (3) iv., p. 161; (3) v. p. 182 ; (3) viii. p. 301; (3) x. p. 686 ; Guigins, Madre des Larandes, 1826. (E. M. IL)

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