And I restart blogging just when it’s Jane Austen week!! How fabulous as I am a romantic at heart and my most favourite movie and book of all time is Pride and Prejudice. How awesome is it that this week people are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. And so perhaps I can spend a minute or two to explore the connections surrounding Lavender and Jane.
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
In Regency times, lavender was predominantly used as a floral water (lavender water – either the byproduct of a distilling method – hydrosol, or perhaps as a few drops of essential oil to normal water) and using dried lavender in the linen closets and dressing rooms to keep bugs at bay. Try to pick up a book that is set in Regency times without a mention of lavender in it. The uses of its floral nature was perhaps a good antidote to the perhaps unsavoury smells that surrounded the general public, hence people fragranced their handkerchiefs with it and carried vinaigrettes around (little boxes containing a soaked sponge with smelling agents to alleviate odours people came across and odours of probably other people!!)
Then there was the remedy side of lavender as mentioned in Nicholas Culpepper’s herbal (1653 edition), he says it cures “all griefs and pains of the head and brain that proceed of a cold cause…”. Quite whether it would cure the superbugs/colds of today I don’t know, however a few dabs of essential oil to the forehead does destress the head and mind.
And if you are looking for confirmation of lavender’s antibiotic properties then look no further than in Sense and Sensibility , Chapter 21 when ‘She was seated in her mother’s lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar-plums by the other.’
Lavender as both a romantic and medicinal herb appears in a number of Regency books and given – its multi- faceted properties, it was available and easily grown in most English Cottage or Country
gardens. In fact many Regency people deferred to Mrs Rafffald’s recipe book A New System of Domestic Cookery (1819), to make their own lavender water which was a simple distillation process. This was a little different to the Steele’s Lavender Water which was more of a tonic as it had alcohol mixed in with it.
So with the knowledge of Jane Austen happily writing her romantic heroines, surrounded by a sea of lavender, I can’t help but find a good book to curl up with during these lovely winter days. Whether they be drizzling away watering the lavender or full of warm winter sunshine, it seems to be perfect weather to relax and enjoy a hot cuppa to while away an hour or so. Perhaps this one might be good: it does have my name on it…
Chat soon, Liz