Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) has been valued for eons for numerous reasons. Lavender is native to the mountainous regions of the countries bordering the Mediterranean region of Europe. The name “lavender” comes from the Latin verb lavare “to wash” or “to bathe.” It has, over the years, been used aromatically, as a carminative, an antispasmodic, an expectorant, stimulant, cosmetic, as a culinary herb, decoratively, medicinally, as an antibacterial, and an antiseptic.
Egyptians, Phoenicians and Arabians used lavender as a perfume and also to wrap the dead in lavender-dipped shrouds. In ancient Greece, lavender was called “nardus,” “nard,” or “spikenard” (named for the Syrian city of Naarda) and was used as a cure for everything from insomnia and aching backs to insanity. The Greek naturalist, Dioscorides, lauded the medicinal properties of Lavender in the first century A.D. It was a favourite ingredient in herbal baths for both the Greeks and the Romans. Although the Romans believed that the asp (a dangerous viper) nested in lavender bushes. This drove up the price of lavender and made it necessary to approach it with caution. During the Middle Ages, this “herb of love” was used as an aphrodisiac but also, conversely, to keep a wearer chaste when lavender water was sprinkled on the head of a loved one. Due to its insecticidal properties, it was strewn over floors in castles and sickrooms both as a disinfectant and a deodorant.
This insecticidal action of lavender meant that it was used to disinfect wounds during war and as a cure-all medicinal oil called White Flower Oil. Currently, many lavender products are utilised for essential oil production and for their aromatic properties. Because of its wonderful fragrance other disparate historical uses include embalming corpses, curing animals of lice, taming lions and tigers, repelling mosquitoes, tobacco flavouring, protecting linen against moths, and it’s culinary uses include flavouring vinegars, jellies and puddings.
Lavender grows best in light soil, sand, or gravel, in a dry, open and sunny position with good drainage and preferably a slope to the south or southwest. Lavender varieties are susceptible to frost and English lavender varieties like chalky soils, whereas the lavandin varieties need more acidic soils. Today Lavender is cultivated across its countries of origin as well as Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America.
In the sixteenth century the small market town of Hitchin, the town closest to where Caro lived growing up, was one of only two major Lavender growing areas in the country. At its height in the nineteenth century a hundred acres were grown around the town and it soon became renowned nationally, although the work was incredibly labour intensive. Each lavender field could continually produce abundant crops for five years before they needed to be uprooted and burned, providing a fragrant and captivating aroma that blew across the whole town.
In 1860, Harry Perks set up a chemist shop in collaboration with a successful lavender farmer, Charles Llewellyn. The shop remained until 1961 and the interior was rebuilt in Hitchin Museum where it remains today.
- The juice and zest of one lemon
- A large glug of olive oil
- 2 tbsp od wholegrain mustard
- 4 tbsp of runny honey
- A splash of Sauvignon Blanc vinegar
- A pinch of lavender, crushed
- A pinch of dried herbes de Provence
- 4 chicken breast fillets,with skin
- salt and ground black pepper ( to taste)
Mix together the lemon, oil, mustard, honey and herbs. Gently slash the chicken breasts, skin side and then marinade in the sauce for 2 hours. Heat the grill to medium or BBQ then cook the chicken, basting continuously until juices run clear and it’s sticky and aromatic.