The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun, And with him rises weeping; these are flowers Of middle summer Throughout this period, lavender was employed principally as a domestic household item and as a medicinal agent. It was also occasionally used for culinary purposes, especially as a flavouring for vinegar. The dried powder was sometimes added to dishes as a condiment to ‘comfort the stomach’, and Queen Elizabeth I apparently enjoyed a conserve of lavender.
William Turner, often called the Father of English Botany, wrote a pioneering work on herbalism between 1538 and 1568 which he dedicated to Elizabeth I. In this New Herball he recommended true lavender for all diseases of the brain that ‘come of a cold cause’, and lavender water for ‘dulness of the head’.
All the early European herbalists were in general agreement that true lavender was particularly effective for nervous complaints, and that its fragrance alone could combat melancholy and comfort and revive the spirits. John Gerard, writing at the end of the 16th century, claimed that:
The distilled water of lavender smelt unto, or the temples and forehead bathed therewith, is a refreshing to them that have the Catalepsy, a light migram, and to them that have the falling sicknesse, and that use to swoune much .4 while 50 years later, John Parkinson confirmed that lavender was ‘especiall good use for all griefes and paines of the head and brain’. In Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, the well-known astrologically based treatise first published in 1652, the author describes lavender in the following terms:
Mercury owns this herb. It is of especial use in pains of the head and brain which proceed from cold, apoplexy, falling-sickness, the dropsy, or sluggish malady, cramps, convulsions, palsies and often faintings the tremblings and passions of the heart, and faintings and swoonings, applied to the temples or nostrils, to be smelt unto
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Culpeper also recommended lavender for digestive upsets or weakness, liver and spleen obstructions, menstrual problems, toothache or the loss of voice, but he warned that Oil of Spike should be used with care due to its ‘hot and subtle spirit’.
Reports on the virtues of lavender reached a peak with William Salmon’s herbal of 1710, in which he described 12 different preparations using lavender for various diseases of the head, brain, nerves and womb. Its many properties were listed by Salmon as:
Abstersive, Aperitive, Astringent, Discursive, Dieuretic, and Incisive Cephalick, Neurotick, Stomatick, Cordial, Nephretick and Hysterick. It is Alexipharmic, Analeptick and Antiparatitick, being of very subtle and thin parts.6
The 18th century saw interest in traditional folk remedies begin to wane, however, in the growing light of chemical science. Over the next two centuries the use of lavender as a remedy dwindled, as people put their faith in the newly developed medicines and drugs. It was only in the mid-20th century that herbal remedies began to be re-assessed seriously in modern scientific terms.