Lavender essential oil is one of the most popular essential oils for using in natural cleaning products and in general. This is because lavender smells delicious and "clean", and because it has aromatherapeutic and disinfectant properties.
Just think of all those commercial cleaners loaded with artificial lavender scent (which smell nothing like the real thing) and tinted shades of purple which are, admittedly, quite pretty. This is because lavender has a very, very long history of being used very extensively in the household for cleaning and freshening things.
Even the name of lavender hints at these origins. The name is derived from the Latin word lavare, which means "to wash" and also is the word from which "laundry" and "lavatory" are derived.
Lavender is also famous for being the essential oil that triggered off the whole science of aromatherapy. The classic story tells us that in 1927, the French chemist René-Maurice Gatefossé was working in his laboratory when something exploded, burning him. He plunged his burnt hand into the nearest liquid available, which happened to be lavender oil. The burn healed remarkably quickly without scarring, and Gatefossé then went on to explore the healing properties of other essential oils.
A classic case of serendipity? Perhaps. But notice one often-overlooked fact: the chemist already had lavender essential oil on hand in his laboratory. This indicates that it was already in use, both as a fragrance and for other reasons.
Basic lavender facts:
Two varieties of lavender are used for extracting essential oil. Their scientific names are Lavandula latifolia and Lavandula angustifolia. Plenty of other varieties of lavender exist and are grown in most gardens. Of course, even within these two species, you will find a host of sub-species and varieties.
The strongest-scented lavenders are known as "English lavender", and they have straighter leaves and flower heads that are vaguely reminiscent of grains. French lavender is more decorative, and its flowers look a bit like a pineapple with a purple (or pink or white) crown. If you're growing lavender for scent and for use around the home, choose English lavender.
The essential oil of lavender is extracted from the flower by steam distillation.
Lavender has a rather unfair reputation for being a bit old-ladyish and not the sort of thing a "real man" would be associated with. However, the sharp, clean smell of lavender makes it an ingredient in many men's toiletries and aftershaves.
Lavender essential oil is considered to be one of the safest to use and is one of the few that can be used to scent products for use on infants.
One of the benefits most widely touted for lavender is its soothing and calming properties that are supposed to be a remedy for stress.
According to one grower and distiller, it takes five bushes of lavender to produce 10ml of essential oil.
As lavender contains a natural pest-repellent and insecticide, it is easier to grow lavender organically (however, some lavender growers spray to control weeds around the lavender plants, so not all lavender essential oil is able to carry the "organic" label).