OrangeBean Indiana, the whimsical website of authors and entrepreneurs Nicholas Orange and Tim Bean, recently published a rather whimsical article about why lavender bushes usually grow where they do around houses – to be precise, why they so often grow some distance away from houses.
You can normally smell lavender even if you are not within line of sight of the shrub or tree, especially on a warm, sunny day, because it does have a recognizable, strong fragrance – somewhat musky and earthy, yet with a herbal, minty sharpness to it.
French or English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, has a sweet floral aroma, while Dutch lavender, Lavandula intermedia, contains higher levels of camphor and other terpenes, having a very strong aromatic and sharp odor. Then there is Lavandula x intermedia a.k.a. Lavandula hybrida, or “lavandin”, a naturally occurring hybrid between two lavender species: Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia, the Mediterranean “Spike Lavender”.
So exactly why do people plant lavender?
Nicholas and Tim recently published Hoosier Tales: Fifty Unknown Stories from Indiana, and this story about lavender and its peculiar uses appears in the collection. Here is the story:
The Truth About Lilac Bushes
Chris Orange is the park manager of Buckley Homestead County Park in Lake County, Indiana. As sharp as a new razor and a frequent inspiration for articles on this site, Chris is a walking file cabinet of Indiana lore. Also, he’s the brother of the co-founder. “I had an article idea for you,” Chris Orange said. “Think about the old farmhouses you’ve seen, and how often you see lilac bushes.”
Yes, I had seen lilac bushes frequently on the site of old farmhouses. I thought of several I had seen in a line, usually towards the back of the property. “I’ll bite. I assumed it was decorative,” I said. Chris shook his head. “Trust me, they didn’t spend much time a hundred years ago bothering with landscaping. That’s a pretty recent thing. Lilac bushes—“ “Lilac bushes or lilac trees?” “Bushes, usually. The trees get about twenty-five feet tall, the bushes only a dozen or so. And the bushes are more fragrant.” Chris leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands. His degree in education shined through at moments like this. “They’d often plant them for two reasons: One, to mark the grave of a miscarriage or bury placenta after a birth.” I shivered. My wife and I had endured three miscarriages. I remembered the sympathy cards: a soft lavender. The lilac.
“What’s the other purpose?” I asked. “Not quite as honorable,” he said and chuckled a little. “You know the smell of lilac bushes?” I did. I am not a horticulturist and have frequently failed to repair simple patches of grass in my yard, but I do have a lilac bush at the edge of my property (which incidentally is just over a hundred years old). Few things in nature smell as good as a lilac bush in bloom, and no candle or spray can ever really duplicate the smell. “They smell good,” I said. “Outhouses,” he said, nodding again. “They’d plant them next to outhouses and when it came time to move the outhouse, as it did when—uh—they got too stinky. Or full. They’d move the outhouse down and plant another lilac bush over the filled hole. Decades later, same thing. Eventually, on old, old properties, you’d see a line of these lilac bushes, usually on the edge of the property. Far away from delicate eyes. And noses.”
I thought about it for a minute. “That would make a good article. But I’d need to substantiate all this.” “You would. And can. I just ask that you mention me in the article. Make me sound smart. And see if you can squeeze in the homestead, maybe get us some likes on Facebook,” he said. “I’d be happy to,” I said. And I did. ” *For those interested in historical examples of the lilac’s use for both outhouses and in commemorating the grave of stillbirths or miscarriages, read The Truth in “The Truth About Lilacs.” (Thanks to OrangeBeanIndiana for this interesting story.)
A refreshing fragrance with many functions
Apart from the authors proving the facts of this story in a later post, it makes perfect sense of course. Lavandula (common name lavender) is a genus of 47 known species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. Despite its use over centuries in traditional medicine and cosmetics, there is no high-quality clinical evidence that the use of lavender essential oil (Lavandin) has any effect on disease, or improves health, but it does smell great and is a key ingredient in many famous and best-selling perfumes. Like many ubiquitous fragrant plants it has been used to mask bad odours resulting from ill-health and exposure to unhealthy surroundings – presumably because of its medicinal herby, minty, camphor-like fragrance.
Interestingly, the English word “lavender” probably comes from Latin lavare, meaning “to wash.” The origin of the modern name refers to the ancient tradition of using lavender in perfumed oils for bathing, as practiced in the times of the Roman Empire. Another possible interpretation stems from the earliest known English name for this herb— livendula. Livendula is the Latin name for a livid or bluish color, which is the colour of lavender flowers.
When it is used, Lavender is one of the primary notes of a perfume and is usually balanced with other notes. Perfumes that were launched in the past two years that include Lavender as a primary top, middle or base note, include new perfumes by Tom Ford, Jo Malone London, Alfred Dunhill and Heretic Parfums.
New perfumes with an age-old ingredient – Lavender
Lavender Extrême by Tom Ford is a Aromatic Fougere (green, ferny) fragrance for women and men. This is a new fragrance. Lavender Extrême was launched in 2019. The nose behind this fragrance is Olivier Gillotin. Top notes are Violet and Lemon; middle notes are Lavender, Cinnamon, Geranium and Rose; base notes are Tonka Bean and Coumarin.
“Tom Ford transcends the traditional limits of scent with Lavender Extreme. Lavender is reworked and refracted like it never has been before to become something irreverently new a stunning, electric creation to be worn at maximum volume. Lavender is upended, translated from its storied origin in Provence and into a fresh subversion of itself.”Tom Ford
Lavender & Coriander Cologne by Jo Malone London is a Aromatic Spicy fragrance for women and men. Lavender & Coriander Cologne was launched in 2020. Top note is Sage; middle notes are Lavender and Coriander; base note is Tonka Bean.
“Aromatic English lavender nestled in a thriving and fragrant herb garden, bolstered by the striking note of coriander. Earthy sage deepens the lavender’s timeless scent, while creamy tonka bean adds an unexpected touch of warmth and sensual balance.”Jo Malone London
Valensole Lavender by Alfred Dunhill UK is a Woody Spicy fragrance for men. Offered in a cloudy blue bottle with a brassy textured top, this 2020 fragrance presents itself in a masculine, new-age style. Developed by perfumer Jerome di Marino, it was later released to the public by Alfred Dunhill. It is part of the Alfred Dunhill Signature Collection, which includes Arabian Desert, British Leather, Moroccan Amber, and Indian Sandalwood. (The Valensole region in France is famous for its lavender and truffles.)
The aromatic woody scent is inspired by the endless beauty of the magical lavender fields in France. It is extremely elegant. Top notes are Lemon, Saffron and Nutmeg; middle notes are Lavender, Sage and Cardamom; base notes are Vetiver, Amberwood and Guaiac Wood. Lavender is the 4th strongest accord in the composition.
Heretic Parfums – a daring name – has also given their newest perfume an attention-grabbing name: Dirty Lavender. Heretic Parfums is called that because it goes against the norm and produces fragrances made from 100% naturally derived botanical ingredients. Dirty Lavender is an Aromatic fragrance for women and men, launched in 2020. The nose behind this fragrance is Douglas Little. Lavender absolute is muddled with bitter orange oil and neroli blossoms, then laced with CBD, sacred palo santo, grassy vetiver and velvety sandalwood. The Lavender essential oil used as ingredient is French lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, as well as Lavendula Hybrida Lavender oil. Top notes are Lavender, Bitter Orange and Cedar; middle notes are Lavender, Neroli and cannabis; base notes are Sandalwood, Palo Santo (a wood resin from the “holy wood” tree that smells of pine, mint and lemon), Vetiver, Amyris and Palmarosa.
“Don’t get it twisted, this is not your mama’s lavender… The fragrance is perfect for someone who doesn’t want a “perfume-y” fragrance. It’s incredibly neutral, grounding and fresh, perfectly balancing the masculine and feminine with its bright citruses, crushed herbs, grasses, and wood notes.”Heretic Parfums