Of all the fragrance ingredients out there, lavender’s probably the most widely recognised (even if blindfolded) for its soothing, calming aromatic qualities. (It’s actually been proven to quell anxiety and promote sleep.) An ancient natural remedy, lavender’s a flowering member of the mint family – well, several members, because different types of lavender are used in perfumery.
The types mainly grown for fragrance are Lavandula angustifolia (or Lavandula officinalis), Lavandula latifolia, or the more camphor-y Lavandula stoechas, which smells more like rosemary. The hybrid Dutch lavender, or Lavandula intermedia, produces an oil called lavandin, with a sharper and more medicinal odour. Steam distillation’s used to extract the essential oil.
Lavender is thought to have originated in the highlands of India, but today it’s happy in all sorts of sunny, stony, well-drained spots around the world. France is still the epicentre of production, though: more and 80,000 kilos of lavender are grown each year. The name comes from the Latin, so we’re told: ‘lavere’ means ‘to wash’, and the Romans perfumed their baths with lavender oil. In Medieval times, lavender was strewn on the floors of churches and homes, used to scent linen and clothing, and also in pot pourri and sachets. (It helps to repel insects – even though bees love it, on the plant.) Come Tudor times, quilted jackets and caps were stuffed with lavender. (A tradition we’d quite like to see revived…!)
In modern fragrance, lavender is lightly used in ‘feminine’ scents, although it turns up in plenty of ‘shared’ colognes and men’s fragrances; it works well alongside other aromatic ingredients like pine, sage and rosemary, as well as patchouli, oakmoss, bergamot, neroli and orange blossom.
Says ‘nose’ Julie Massé: ‘Lavender adds a herb-y note – but interestingly, by adding it to other fragrance notes you can push it towards ‘cool’ herb-y, towards the smell of mint, or you can go in the other direction and push it towards ‘hot’ herb-y, almost spicy, like the scent of a hot summer’s night.’
Smell lavender in:
Goutal Paris Eau de Lavande
Crabtree & Evelyn Lavender
L’Artisan Parfumeur Mon Numero 4
L’Occitane en Provence Lavender Eau de Cologne
Penhaligon’s English Fern
Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely
Woods of Windsor Lavender
Yardley English Lavender