Lavender – Meaning and Symbolism

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Lavender is a household name across cultures. It’s almost impossible to visit any store and shopping mart and fail to encounter lavender in some form. While many people love and use the numerous lavender products, they do not know much about this spectacular and fragrant flower. Here is what you need to know about the lavender plant.

Symbolism of Lavender

lavender symbolism

Lavender might be known for its scent and beautiful purple hues, but it has also been attributed deep symbolism.

  • Purity 

Lavender is associated with purity and cleanliness. In the past, lavender was used by glove makers to purify their merchandise to avoid infections such as cholera.

During the 1720 bubonic plague outbreak in Marseille, grave robbers used lavender as one of the ingredients for their four thieves’ vinegar to protect themselves against diseases. The other ingredients were rosemary, cloves, and distilled vinegar.

During the covid-19 pandemic, some cosmetic companies capitalized on all plant-based lavender hand sanitizers to provide their customers with antiseptic yet chemical free protection from the disease.

  • Serenity and Calmness

Lavender is used for meditation, massage and aromatherapy. It’s aroma is seen as having a calming effect, enhancing feelings of serenity and calmness.

  • Royalty

The color purple is a symbol of royalty in and of itself. Lavender is a flower that represents elegance, refinement, and luxury. As a result, it was frequently used to adorn castles. Lavender is now commonly used in bouquets for special events such as weddings.

  • Health

Lavender is a symbol of health. Antibacterial characteristics of lavender oil allow it to be used to fumigate and destroy a variety of pathogens.

Small bunches of lavender were tied around the wrists in 17th century London to avoid infection from dangerous diseases. The oil is also used to treat sunburns, insect bites, wounds, acne, and aching joints on the skin. Tea made from lavender flowers is used to relieve gas, to relieve stress, anxiety and depression, aid sleep as well as boost mood and memory.

  • Silence and Devotion 

As a representation of silence and devotion, lavender is used in meditation and prayer areas.

  • Love

For centuries, lavender has been considered an herb of love and viewed as an aphrodisiac. In modern day, lavender is a representation of devotion and undying love. It is increasingly becoming popular in wedding bouquets and confetti machines.

What Is Lavender?

lavender fields

Lavender belongs to the Lamiaceae (mint) family and is scientifically known as genus lavandula. The word “lavare” comes from the Latin word “lavare,” meaning “to wash,” most likely because crushed lavender flowers would be added to water for bathing, washing hair and garments.  This Mediterranean plant is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Lavender flowers grow on small shrubs that thrive in well-drained soils. The plant is evergreen with gray-green linear leaves. They come in varying shades of purple and are usually arranged in spikes at the stem tips. They contain shining oil glands that are the opulence and the source of the legendary lavender scent.

There are 47 documented species of the genus Lavandula. However, we will highlight the most common types of lavender:

  • Lavandula Stoechas (French Lavender/Spanish Lavender/Butterfly Lavender) – Native to the Mediterranean area, this variety thrives in warmer regions. During blooming season, the top of the stalk develops petals that are large and resemble rabbit ears. Popular varieties of Spanish lavender include:
    1. Ballerina Lavendar – A winter and mild summer bloomer with white flowers that turn pink-purple when mature.
    2. Kew Red – A late spring to fall bloomer with violet flowers and pink petals. Its flowers are a dark raspberry shade.
    3. Anouk – A hot summer and mild winter bloomer with deep purple flowers and light purple petals. 
  • Lavandula Angustifolia (English lavender) – Flourishing in full sun, this variety is characterized by simple leaves arranged in opposites. The majority of this type of lavender is fragrant with eruptive oils. A summer bloomer, with large deep violet-blue flower. Commonly used in potpourris due to its sweet scent.
    • Lavenite Petite– A mid to late spring bloomer with a pom-pom shaped light purple flower. Its strong fragrance serves as a major bees and butterfly attraction.
    • Hidcote – A hot cake for crafts due to its ability to maintain its dark purple colour when dried.
  • Lavandula X Intermedia (Hybrid lavender/Lavandin) – These are usually a blend of the English lavender and the Portuguese lavender. They are contrived to be highly fragrant and are harvested for oils and tea.
    • Impress Purple – A summer bloomer commonly used in bouquets because of its characteristic dark purple fragrant flowers.
    • Hidcote Giant – A summer bloomer commonly used in bouquets because of its extremely fragrant light violet flowers and long stems.
    • Grosso –A late summer and winter bloomer with very dark purple petals commonly harvested for oil.
  • Lavendula Latifolia (Portuguese Lavender/Spike Lavender) – A common ingredient for drinks and food. It has purple flowers, and the stem has leveled bulbs which are pale lilac in color. 
  • Lavandula Multifida (Egyptian lavender)– A mild summer and winter bloomer with fern leaf looking purple flowers, this breed is neither as sweet nor as fragrant as other breeds.

Folklore Surrounding the Lavender Flower

The stories and myths concerning lavender are numerous, entertaining, and informative, cutting across religion and love. Here are the most common lavender legends.

  • The Christian Bible tells a story of Adam and Eve carrying lavender out of the Garden of Eden after their disagreement with God.
  • The Gospel of Luke tells the story of a woman washing Jesus’ feet using spikenard, which is extracted from lavender.
  • In days of yore, lavender was purported to steer off evil spirits, hence it was hung above doors for that purpose.  Some Christians also put up lavender- made crosses to keep demons away.
  • Primeval Egyptians helped their deceased get to heaven by using lavender in the mummification process.  In fact, lavender found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb kept its scent for 3000 years and was still discernible when discovered by Howard carter.
  • Lavender bands were worn by Irish brides to steer away witchcraft.
  • Cleopatra allegedly used lavender as secret weapon to seduce Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony. She later met her death after being bit by an asp that hid in her lavender garden.
  • In the 19th and 20th centuries, pouches with crumpled lavender were used to attract suitors by maidens who put them in their cleavage. The scent was believed to be seductive.
  • In the deuterocanonical book of Judith, she is said to have worn perfume containing lavender to seduce Holofernes before killing him.
  • On St. Lukes day during Tudor times, maidens sought to discover their true loves’ identity by drinking brew made of lavender.

 Other Uses of Lavender

Uses of lavender

Lavender has several uses, and is used in cooking, for meditation, as a cleaning agent and for decoration.

  • Lavender dessert and beverages are made from buds owing to their slightly sweet flavor.
  • Because of its moisturizing and calming effects, lavender oil is used in lotions.
  • Lavender is also used in potpourris, sprays, and scented candles for its fragrance.
  • In earlier centuries, lavender was put in baths and in water used to wash clothes. Today, lavender scent is added to soaps and detergents for its sweet fragrance.

Wrapping Up

Lavender is without doubt a wildly loved flower which is no surprise considering its many benefits. Even without the aim of harvesting its oil, planting lavender in your garden will reward you with alluring sights and sweet fragrance. You can give lavender flowers to anyone you love as an indication of your devotion. The calming sweet scent of lavender also makes it a good gift to a sick loved one.