Lavender, to me, is so very, very English. As an Anglophile teenager, I wore Yardley’s Lavender Eau de Toilette. Once married, I searched high and low for lavender scented beeswax furniture polish so that my home would smell like a stately English manor. And in later years, I longed for lavender in my garden so that, like the washerwomen of days past, I could lay my tea linens over the plants to dry and absorb the lovely scent. (Did you know that those washerwomen were called ‘lavenders’?)
If it’s so English, what is its history here? Well, you can’t talk about English history without talking about the Romans and the Romans couldn’t get enough of lavender. They loved the stuff, using it in medicine, in their religious ceremonies, and in their hair, clothes, beds and baths. By the time they finally left England (good riddance), lavender was growing in monasteries here, and when Henry VIII dissolved those in the 1500s, lavender growing moved to domestic gardens. So ….. ‘apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads’ (any Monty Python fans out there?), we can indeed thank the Romans for bringing lavender to England.
During Victorian times, Queen Victoria’s fondness for lavender made the herb very fashionable amongst ladies. The North Surrey Downs at that time was the centre of lavender oil production, and last week-end I visited that area’s Mayfield Lavender farm. What a delight being surrounded by all that pretty purple perfume!
A versatile plant, lavender has many uses throughout the home, including that of culinary herb. It can be used to make, among many things: jam, scented sugar – and lavender tea*.
Elizabeth I drank lavender tea to treat her migraines. I was able to buy fresh lavender tea at Mayfield Lavender, but Elizabeth I no doubt had to make her own.
If you have never tried lavender tea before, I would encourage you to give it a go. I am normally not a fan of flowery, scented tea, so was very surprised at how much I liked it. To help you along, here is a lavender tea recipe fit for a Queen:
- 3 tbsp fresh lavender flowers (or 1 and 1/2 tbsp dried lavender flowers)
- 2 cups boiling water
Put the flowers in a teapot. Cover with boiling water and steep for at least 5 minutes. Pour into cups, straining to remove flowers. Serve with honey and sliced lemon, if desired.
*Calling it lavender ‘tea’ is a bit of a misnomer. ‘Tea’, per se, contains tea leaves from the tea plant Camellia sinensis. So whilst a mix of lavender flowers and loose tea leaves (such as English Breakfast or Earl Grey) can rightfully be called lavender tea, a mix of lavender flowers and hot water cannot and is best called a lavender infusion or a lavender tisane. You know, just in case it ever comes up on Mastermind.