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by Susan Wittig Albert
September 3, 2000

What beautiful herb smells cleaner and sweeter than any other? What herb was named Herb of the Year for 1999? What herb is both a favorite for weddings and symbolizes deception and deceit? What is the signature herb for China Bayles's eighth adventure?

This one is much too easy! There’s hardly any mystery about it. The Herb of the Year for 1999 was lavender, of course. And nothing smells sweeter or cleaner than the leaves and flowers of this delightful plant. And yes, lavender is the featured herb in China’s new paperback (to be released in October, 2000), Lavender Lies.

Lavender is a perennial plant with slender gray green leaves and purple flower spikes (sometimes pink or white). The fragrant leaves and flowers can be used fresh in salads and fruit dishes, or added to cooked sauces, candies and baked goods. Dried leaves are wonderful in all sorts of flower crafts. Lavender is grown primarily for the oil in its flowers, which is widely used as a fragrance in perfumes and cosmetic products and to flavor beverages and baked goods. You can grow it easily in a sunny spot with light well-drained soil, out of the winter winds. It’s easiest to buy a plant or root cuttings, but plants can be grown from seed. Harvest the flowers on a dry, sunny day, just as the buds are about to open. Dry in a shady, ventilated space.

Lavender has been used to scent washing water and baths-in fact, the word comes from the Latin verb lavere (to wash). Ancient Egyptians soaked linen in a mixture of lavender oil and tar, then used the cloth to wrap dead bodies that were being turned into mummies. In North Africa, women wore lavender to protect them from abusive husbands, and in the European Middle Ages, lavender was thought to protect its wearer against witches. But in the dry, hot lavender fields of Tuscany, snakes often sought the shade of lavender plants, encouraging a local tradition that the beautiful lavender often concealed evil and malice. In the Victorian language of flowers, lavender symbolized deceit and distrust. (Ah ha! So that’s what’s behind China’s title: Lavender Lies.)

Lavender has many medicinal uses. It soothed headaches (Queen Elizabeth I grew whole gardens of it just for that purpose), and calmed people who had gone mad. As a folk remedy, it has been used to relieve acne, flatulence, nausea, rheumatism, sprains, toothache, and worms. Modern researchers have demonstrated that its essential oil is powerfully antibacterial, and may be useful in combating such bacterial infections as staph, strep, pneumonia, and flu. (It was used in this capacity during the First World War, before the discovery of penicillum.) The oil is also antifungal, and is an effective treatment for vaginal infections, particularly candida-type yeast infections.

Lavender flowers and leaves, and sometimes the entire stem, are wonderful for crafts. You can easily make a lavender sleep pillow for yourself or as a gift. Mix together 2 cups dried lavender flowers, 1 cup dried rose petals, 1 cup hops, ½ cup lemon balm, and ½ cup thyme. (Lavender relaxes and relieves stress, roses soothe and relax, hops calm and quiet the nerves, lemon balm relieves nervous tension, and thyme is said to prevent bad dreams.) Stuff into a small cotton or muslin sack and place inside your pillow-case. To make a lavender cosmetic vinegar, place ¼ cup fresh or dried lavender flowers and ¼ cup fresh mint leaves in a jar and add 1½ cups cider vinegar. Place the jar (covered) in the sun until the vinegar takes on the color of the flowers (3-4 days). Strain out herbs. Dilute to cosmetic strength by mixing ½ cup vinegar with 2 cups non-chlorinated water.

© 2000 Susan Wittig Albert. All rights reserved. -Susan Wittig Albert is the author of the China Bayles Herbal Mysteries. The series features China Bayles, a former attorney who owns an herb shop. Each of the mysteries has an herbal theme and an herb-related title. The latest is Lavender Lies. You can find out more about Susan's books and read one of her free web mysteries at

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