Lavender has been prized for centuries for its wonderful fragrance, gorgeous colour and amazing properties. As far as 2,500 years ago the Ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians and Arabians prized lavender and used it as a perfume. The Ancient Egyptians also incorporated lavender into the embalming/mummification process. Records show that the dead were wrapped in shrouds that had been infused with lavender – most likely by first dipping the shrouds in lavender water.
However it was the Ancient Romans that really took lavender to their hearts and used it for all manner of purposes. In fact throughout the Roman world lavender could sell for as much as 100 denarii per pound – the equivalent of a full month’s wage for a farm labourer. Uses of lavender in Ancient Rome included:
Scenting Bath Waters
The Romans prized lavender and used to the scent the waters in both private and the more common public bath houses. The use of lavender would not only impart its wonderful fragrance, but would also cleanse and disinfect the water due to its antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is from this use that lavender gets its name; lavender is derived from the Latin ‘lavare’ meaning ‘to wash’.
Lavender was also used on the Roman battlefield and in Roman hospitals. Lavender water was prepared by steeping dried and/or fresh lavender in water and this mixture would be used to wash out and cleanse wounds. Again, lavender’s antibacterial and antiviral properties would be exploited to help prevent infecting taking hold and potentially spreading throughout the bloodstream. Lavender was also used for more domestic medicine. In 77AD Dioscorides, a Greek physician working for the Emperor Nero, wrote De Materia Medica in which he described the uses of various medicinal plants. He noted that lavender was taken internally to treat indigestion, headaches and sore throats, and lavender was also applied extraneously to relieve the symptoms of numerous skin conditions.
The Ancient Romans were noted for their use of perfumes to scent both themselves and their homes. Lavender was an extremely important source of perfume to the Romans, who used it to scent their hair, their clothes, their linens and even their military flags and the walls of their houses. Mixed perfumed oils were also very popular, one of the most famous and well used being nardinum whose blend included lavender.