English Lavender Water - History and Recipes
Martha left you her best Love; she will write to you herself in a short time; but trusting to my memory rather than her how, she has nevertheless desired me to ask you to purchase for her two bottles of Steele's Lavender Water when you are in Town."
Jane Austen from Steventon to Cassandra at Godmersham, 14 January 1801
To the Victorians, Lavender meant "Devotion", however, it's symbolism and popularity stretch back to ancient times. French Lavender was most probably that referred to in classical Roman times as a bathing scent, and it is from this that the plant is said to have derived its given name from the Latin lavare, to wash. In the Middle Ages, Lavender was attributed with the properties of Love. Records indicate that Lavender wasn't cultivated in English gardens until around 1568, it's popularity grew rapidly, once introduced though, and it was included in the listed plants the Pilgrims brought with them to America. Since the Elizabethan era Lavender has been widely used in potpourris and sachets to fragrance and freshen linens and the home.
One reason for this lingering popularity is that, pleasant scent aside, Lavender also helps deter moths and insects. It is also one of the very best antiseptic and soothing herbs for the skin. This recipe is for English Lavender Water. This light, refreshing potion is perhaps the oldest known and most frequently used lavender product. Recipes for it were exchanged by women of the Roman Empire and were a staple in the household books throughout Europe and Colonial America. Just a few drops will scent bath water or linens. Perfect as a final hair rinse or facial tonic, especially those with troubled skin. Some people even use it for cooking (used along the same lines as Rosewater, I would imagine.) French Lavender Water is commonly used for ironing into linens. It is slightly different from the English version in that it is obtained by mixing lavender water with distilled water. This mix can be used "in the iron or directly in the washing machine and will give clothes a delicious hint of the lavender fields of the heart of Provence."*These recipes call for either dried Lavender flowers or Lavender oil. Pure Lavender oil is one of the safest essential oils to handle, and is available from most sources that sell aromatherapy products. Do make sure you get the pure essential oil, undiluted, as sometimes its sold diluted in a neutral carrier oil like grapeseed or cottonseed oil. If you use the diluted oil, you will have to compensate a bit with those recipes .
Martha Lloyd's English Lavender Water To one quart of the best rectified spirits of wine put 3/4 oz. of essence of Lavender and 1/2 a scruple of ambergris; shake it together and it is fit to use in a few days.
To make Lavender water, put 3 handfuls of dried Lavender flowers into a wide necked screw top jar and add 1 cup of white wine vinegar and 1/2 cup Rose water. Leave the mixture in the dark for 2-3 weeks and shake the bottle frequently. If flowers are not available, use essential oils. Mix 25 drops of essential oil (traditionally lavender, rose or neroli) with 2 fl oz (50ml) ethyl alcohol (or isopropyl or vodka). Shake them together in a screw-top bottle. Leave the mixture to settle for 2 days then shake again. To store, pour into a dark bottle with a tight fitting lid and leave almost no air space.
3 cups of distilled water
3 ounces ethyl alcohol (or isopropyl or vodka)
15-30 drops essential oil of lavender
Sterilize a glass container by placing it in boiling water for 3 minutes. Allow to cool. Pour the distilled water and alcohol in to the glass, using a funnel if needed. Add the lavender oil and stir. Results will mellow with time. This lavender water will last approximately 1 year. This lavender linen water can be used when pressing your linens, especially pillowcases, to infuse with its soothing, rest-inducing scent. Just add the scented water to your iron, as you would water to use the steam function. Alternatively, it could be used in an atomizer as a hair refresher. This is perfectly safe for your skin.
Suggestions for Use
- Use as a facial splash morning and night after cleansing and before moisturising.
- Bathing the forehead and temples with Lavender water will help to overcome fatigue and exhaustion.
- Besides being wonderfully cooling, by patting on your skin, the water can be used as a refreshing skin tonic, as a mouthwash, or to make a soothing compress for a tension headache. Sprinkle a few drops on your pillow, just see how it helps you sleep. Sprinkle some in your bath it will give a calming effect. As for those fleas, flies, and midges, they hate it, making lavender water a natural insect repellent!
- The soothing aroma of lavender has been praised for centuries. Lavender sachets can be made and placed under your pillow for sweet dreams; a few drops of lavender oil in a warm bath will not only sooth and relax, it will give you wonderfully delicately scented skin.