LONDON, U.K.—There’s no doubt London’s streets are steeped in history but a little known secret is the city’s lavender fields. Revisiting this bygone era is an invitation to leave our familiar fast-paced London and return to a time when the London Borough of Sutton grew world-famous lavender. Today those lost fields are being revitalised and preserved for generations to come and “pick your own”.
It was Queen Elizabeth I who was said to have requested fresh lavender daily, which she used not only as a perfume but to quell her frequent migraines. It was her passion for the flowers that reportedly encouraged English lavender farming in the 17th century.
Some sources date lavender growing in the area to the 1500s, but it was Queen Victoria’s England that brought the lavender fields’ scent of prosperity to London. She expanded people’s palates by adding lavender blooms to food and medicine to improve their taste, in addition to using the sweet scent in personal care and cleaning products. Today, the Buckingham Palace website sells Queen Victoria’s English lavender products in testimony to her love of lavender.
Lavender’s distinctive blue hue was said to have dominated the London Borough of Sutton at the time – in particular the then villages of Carshalton, Wallington, Beddington, Mitcham, Waddon, and Sutton. It is here that world-renowned businesses such as Yardley, and Potter and Moore would have sourced their lavender from.
Sustaining London’s Lavender Heritage
Victorian lavender is what now grows at Carshalton Lavender on land that was once little more than abandoned allotments. The initiative was founded in 1996 with funding from Bioregional, London Borough of Sutton, HMP Downview, and others, sourcing authentic Victorian lavender from local gardens. Favoured for its high oil yield, this Victorian lavender, Lavandula x intermedia, differs from today’s more common garden-centre lavender, Lavendula augustifolia, which although more aesthetically appealing is not the original lavender of London, according to Carshalton Lavender.
The 22,000 cuttings that were eventually planted on the 3 acres were nurtured for two to three years behind the bars of HMP Downview as part of their horticultural programme. The land was prepped and planted via a community outreach partnership between environmental consultants Bioregional and HMP Downview day-release prisoners. This hard work not only brought the sea of lavender back to the London borough but also earned national recognition in 2007 as “Conservation Project of the Year” in the Observer Ethical Awards.
They’re not alone in protecting this local tradition with nearby family-run Mayfield Lavender attaining Soil Association accreditation in 2009 for their 25 acres of commercial lavender.
Pick Your Own Lavender
It’s not-for-profit Carshalton Lavender‘s annual harvest that allows visitors to experience what our 19th century English ancestors did: hand harvesting. For one weekend each July it opens its 3 acres of fields to the public, an activity that is vital fundraising for annual operational costs. Thousands descend onto the fields. It’s also a rare opportunity to witness the whole product cycle from harvesting to oil distillation, to shelf. The on-site still allowed oil distillation to again flow in the area – the first time in over one hundred years.
This year the weekend of July 30 and 31 hosts the community harvest. It celebrates not only local heritage and tradition but all things lavender with creative ways to incorporate the blue blooms including baking, teas, and massage among the fields.
Using Lavender Essential Oil
If you’re unable to access local lavender, clinical aromatherapist and Carshalton Lavender volunteer Louisa Pini of Just Be Natural gives some essential guidance on off-the-shelf lavender essential oil:
• Favour organic and/or high-altitude essential oil. It makes sense: the purer the environment the higher the oil efficacy and chemical constituents.
• Avoid purchasing oil stored in direct sunlight or in clear glass. As with all oils, sunlight deteriorates healing properties, so dark glass is preferable.
• Once purchased, store oil in the fridge in a sealable plastic bag to maintain oil potency and to avoid all your groceries smelling floral.
Lavender’s soft strength is perfect for our full modern lives and surprisingly easy to incorporate.
“The chymical oil drawn from Lavender, usually called Oil of Spike, is of so fierce and piercing a quality, that it is cautiously to be used, some few drops being sufficient, to be given with other things, either for inward or outward griefs,” Culpeper’s Complete Herbal states.
Here are 3 quick ways to cultivate your calm with lavender:
Sunburn soothe to calm and regenerate skin
Add 10 drops lavender essential oil to 50 ml lavender floral water and keep in the fridge applying when needed. Shake well before use and apply as a spritzer to cool and calm on a hot summer day. Floral water is a by-product of the distillation process and is traditionally used as a facial toner, room spray or even as iron water for sweet smelling clothes.
Lavender bath salts to de-stress the body, relax and detox muscles and calm the mind
Add 1 drop lavender essential oil to your running bath along with a handful or two of Epsom salts.
Essential calm and joy oil blend to alleviate anxiety, depression, and daily stress
1 drop lavender essential oil
1 drop sweet orange/mandarin essential oil
1 teaspoon of carrier oil such as apricot kernel, sweet almond or olive
Apply to pulse points such as your wrist and temples. Store in your handbag in a pulse point roll on or add to a tissue. This simple blend is safe for children but Pini issues caution when pregnant. Lavendula augustifolia is safe in low dilution after the first trimester; to weaken the dilution simply double the carrier oil content. All other types of lavender essential oil are unsafe during pregnancy.
Clinical aromatherapist Louisa Pini’s Just Be Natural products feature Carshalton Lavender. This article is provided for information only and is not meant to prescribe medical care. Please consult a physician for treatment of any medical problems.