Hand-colored scanning electron micrograph of a lavender leaf (Lavendula spica), by Martin Oeggerli.
Use of lavender by humans has a long tradition: during Roman times, flowers were sold for 100 denarii per pound, which was about the same as a month’s wages for a farm laborer, or fifty haircuts from the local barber. Its name comes from latin ‘lavanda’ (things to be washed).
Flowers also yield abundant nectar from which bees make a high-quality honey. Monofloral honey is produced primarily around the Mediterranean, and is marketed worldwide as a premium product. Flowers can be candied and are sometimes used as cake decorations.
Lavender flavors baked goods and desserts (it pairs especially well with chocolate), as well as used to make “lavender sugar”. Lavender flowers are occasionally blended with black, green, or herbal tea, adding a fresh, relaxing scent and flavor. Lavender lends a floral and slightly sweet flavor to most dishes, and is sometimes paired with sheep’s-milk and goat’s-milk cheeses. For most cooking applications the dried buds (also referred to as flowers) are used, though some chefs experiment with the leaves as well. Only the buds contain the essential oil of lavender, which is where the scent and flavor of lavender are best derived.
The French are also known for their lavender syrup, most commonly made from an extract of lavender. In the United States, both French lavender syrup and dried lavender buds make lavender scones and marshmallows.
Commercially the plant is grown mainly for the production of essential oil of lavender. This has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. These extracts are also used as fragrances for bath products. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) yields an essential oil with sweet overtones, and can be used in balms, salves, perfumes, cosmetics
Health and Medical:
Lavender is used extensively with herbs such as chamomile and aromatherapy. Infusions are believed to soothe insect bites, burns, and headaches. Bunches of lavender repel insects. In pillows, lavender seeds and flowers aid sleep and relaxation. An infusion of flowerheads added to a cup of boiling water is used to soothe and relax at bedtime. Lavender oil (or extract of lavender) is used to treat acne when diluted 1:10 with water, rosewater, or witch hazel. It also treats skin burns and inflammatory conditions.