The ancient history of lavender is shrouded in mystery and lost in the mists of time.
Little of what we know today is certain. Probably the first written traces are found in the Bible, in Song of Songs, which mentions “spikenard”: “… my spikenard sends forth its fragrance …”, and it is thought that the name probably identified lavender.
It would seem that the ancient Greeks identified lavender with the name “Nard” because of its origin in the Assyrian city of Naarda. Nard is a plant of oriental origin and, in ancient times, the varieties spoken about were Syrian, Gallic and Cretan nard.
The name “lavender” stems from the Latin gerund of the verb “lavare” which means “to wash”, due to its use in cleansing and purifying the body. Its scientific name, Lavandula, was attributed only in the 17th century, by a French botanist.
The first written descriptions of “nardus” date back to Dioscorides (a Greek physician), in 50 AD, and Pliny the Elder (the Roman naturalist), in 70 AD. What we know for certain is that lavender was already very popular at the time and was used in a variety of ways.
The Egyptians, for example, used it in ointments for the body, in the oil of the lamps that lit places of worship and for the ritual of embalming mummies. Legend has it that Tutankhamen’s tomb was full of jars containing lavender ointments and that it still smelled of lavender when it was opened 3000 years after his burial.
It is also said that lavender was used in medieval times not only to cleanse the body but also to drive away witches and as protection against demons.
Among myths, legends and facts that are more or less truthful, we are certain that lavender has travelled through the ages as a part of everyday life and has always been considered a symbol of purity and serenity. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it in purification rites, to cleanse and purify the water in their baths, and used it extensively because of the numerous medical properties it was believed to have at the time.