Autumn is the harvest season. It is the second harvest festival in the pagan calendar – Mabon, a time of gathering and preparation. It is also a time to walk among the herb garden smelling the fragrances and gathering plants and herbs to be dried for culinary, medicinal, magical and other purposes in the home.
Each autumn, there is a continual abundance of food coming from our healing garden. During this season we enjoy beautiful tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, beans, potatoes, pumpkins, watermelons and cantaloupes. There also continues to be plenty of lettuce, endive, rocket, basil, mint, parsley and coriander available. Our two established and very loyal Nashi Pear trees provide us with kilos of delicious fruit every year. During the autumn, we are very lucky to be able to sustain our family mostly on meals made solely with produce from our garden.
Autumn is also a very busy time in the kitchen as we work to preserve the ‘glut’ to be stored for use throughout the year. From our tomatoes we create sauces, we freeze and dry to make sundries tomatoes. We also bottle the Nashi Pears for the winter when fruit is hard to come by.
Autumn is also a time to harvest seeds for next year. This year we had a favorable spring, which produced an abundance of healthy plants and seeds. At our garden in Taradale we use heirloom seeds. Year after year the seeds we collect from the garden are more viable having adapted to our local climate.
When collecting seeds I always select the strongest plant, let it go to seed, dry and collect for next seasons planting. I enjoy sharing seeds amongst friends and the community.
Pumpkins are very symbolic of autumn. Planted in the spring as a small seed or seedling, pumpkin plants are quick to grow over the summer months. It has been wonderful to have such a big space in our garden to let the pumpkins sprawl to their hearts’ content, putting down roots and providing us with large crops of pumpkins that last us for the whole year.
Here is a recipe for our family’s favorite Thai-Inspired Pumpkin soup.
Lavender is one of the world’s most loved and used herbs. It is a highly aromatic plant, grown mostly for its fresh healing fragrance. Lavender’s amazing breadth of healing properties makes it a must have in a healing garden. There are also many therapeutic and aromatic uses in the home.
The name lavender is derived from the Latin word ‘lavare,’ meaning ‘to wash’. Living up to its name, lavender is a widespread addition to soaps and shampoos and is also used in perfumery. Lavender essential oil has become quite mainstream and is a frequent addition to a home first aid kit.
Growing lavender in your garden can be a great way to bring the healing qualities of lavender into your home. Once you realise how easy it is to make the recipes below, it minimises the need to buy soaps, body lotions and essential oils.
Lavender in the Garden
Many of us are familiar with lavender in a range of forms. There are many cultivars in the genus Lavendula. The two most popular varieties are English (L. augustifolia) and French (L. dentata) lavender.
We grow both lavenders here on our healing garden in Taradale. We use English lavender for herbal home recipes and French lavender for its display of beautiful purple flowers.
French and English Lavender varieties in the gardens in Taradale
Lavender is a wonderful addition to a cottage garden and can be combined with other perennials and annuals. I enjoy planting this beautiful flower around the garden borders, in rock gardens or in low hedges. Lavender acts as a pest deterrent whilst also bringing in bees and butterflies for garden pollination making it a good companion plant in a vegetable garden or orchard.
One of the best things about lavender is the fragrance that permeates the garden. The herb releases its scent when touched, so it is nice to plant in entranceways, along paths, decks or any area where people will brush against it while passing by, allowing the healing aroma to fill the air with a fresh, uplifting and relaxing scent.
Lavender is native to many areas stemming from the western Mediterranean across to India. It is a popular hardy perennial cottage plant and is widely cultivated in temperate climates.
Lavender likes dry, well-drained soils and grows best in full sun. It is also a drought tolerant plant, which makes it a great addition to our hot and dry Central Victorian garden.
Lavender plants can be easily propagated from cuttings in the autumn or spring. Woody and overgrown plants should be replaced with new ones every 4-5 years. The plants benefit from regular pruning, I am in the practice of cutting off about a third. This will keep the bushes in good shape and encourage compact growth and regular blooming. Even picking the flowers will give the bush a tip prune. Usually, this will make two new shoots develop and set new flowers from the cut stem, so you’ll get two harvests a season!
History and Mythology
Lavender has enjoyed a long and well-documented place among human civilization as an antiseptic, a protective and love-inducing herb and in perfumery. Key meanings and suggested powers of lavender include: love, protection, sleep, chastity, longevity, purification, happiness and peace.
Ancient Egyptians used lavender in their funerary rites, including it in their mummifying process, as well as for perfuming their clothing and themselves. Cleopatra was reputed to have used lavender as one of her secret weapons for seduction. Lavender can be used in love spells to attract love.
Lavender is well known for its soothing effects. Lavender contains chemical compounds that have anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxing, pain relieving and sedative properties. It is also a powerful antiseptic and has antifungal and antiviral properties.
Mental and emotional. Lavender can act as a carminative, nerve tonic and/or sedative, making it excellent for use against anxiety and stress-related symptoms including headaches, palpitations and insomnia. Lavender has also been known to lift the spirits and restore energy in fatigue or exhaustion.
Digestion. Lavender benefits the digestive system by stimulating gastric juices, including bile. It can help your body release spasm and colic as well as combat wind and bowel problems related to tension and anxiety.
Respiratory. Lavender is an antimicrobial and therefore can increase resistance to colds, coughs, chest infections and the flu. Lavender is also a decongestant and expectorant, which can help your body clear phlegm or relieve asthma.
Immune system. The volatile oils in lavender are antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. Taken as a hot tea, lavender can reduce fever and increase the release of toxins through the skin and urine.
Externally. Lavender can be used as an antiseptic for inflammatory and infective skin problems, such as eczema, acne, varicose veins and nappy rash. It can stimulate tissue repair and minimise scar formation when the oil is applied to neat burns, cuts and wounds. Lavender also repels insects and relieves bites and stings. It can further help soothe pain of bruises and muscle tension.
In Chinese Medicine, lavender is recognized for its cooling effect and its affinity for helping the Shen, or mind, by cooling the Heart. It can help to find relaxation and respite from troubles that keep the mind in motion while causing tension in the body. Lavender is useful in cooling an overheated liver as is often found in women entering into menopause.
In Ayurveda, lavender is used as a pungent and cooling herb, and is a carminative, diuretic and antispasmodic. Lavender will lower Pitta and Kapha and has a mixed effect on Vata because of its ability to be calming and relaxing as well as stimulating and invigorating.
Lavender in the Home
Herbal folklore says that lavender is conducive to a long life and should be smelled as often as possible for longevity. Fresh and dried lavender can be strategically placed around the house, bringing the healing properties of this amazing herb into your home.
Posies and tussie mussies
Lavender flowers are a wonderful addition to a bouquet of posies or tussie mussies. It is said that by combining different flowers into small posies you instill the qualities of the flowers and magic. Traditionally, tussie mussies were to be worn on a lapel. I use these bouquets as a wonderful addition to the altar of my yoga classes and workshops, and for my home yoga practice.
Sachets and sleep pillows
Small sachets of freshly dried lavender are invaluable in the home. You can tuck them amongst your clothes to keep your laundry smelling fresh. You can also use these sachets as sleep pillows, tuck one under your pillow to cultivate restful sleep.
I enjoy sewing so like to make muslin bags full of lavender and embroider them with a personalised motif. You only need to make the sachets once, then you can refresh year after year with each new harvest of lavender. These sachets also make great gifts.
Lavender is one of the best flowers to use in homemade potpourri. Mixed with other flowers you can create your own personalized healing potpourri to strategically place around your home.
I enjoy creating potpourri out of spring rose petals, dried lavender and chamomile flowers. These can be collected from fallen vase flowers. This unique blend imbues the collective healing properties of each of these flowers. Store the potpourri in a wooden bowl and occasionally scrunch the mix to release the fragrant dried flower aroma.
Mix fresh lavender with a bit of Epsom salts in your bathwater for a calming and relaxing bath that will relieve sore muscles and tension.
Lavender infused oil
Homemade lavender oil is wonderful for massaging the body. It can be used to ease period pains or for tension headaches by massaging gently into the area of pain. Lavender oil can also be used in a foot massage before bed to ground the body into a deeper sleep.
Lavender oil can also be used in your daily Abyanga. This self-massage technique is particularly beneficial for countering the stressful lifestyles of modern life. I have found Abyanga particularly beneficial to ease the symptoms associated with menopause. See my blog the Magic of Menopause and how Yoga can Support your Transition.
Caution: people with sensitive skin should test a small amount of the oil on their skin before applying it.
Lavender infused oil is so easy to make:
Fill a jar with dried lavender buds and pour in melted organic coconut oil. Allow to sit on a sunny window ledge for a minimum of 2 weeks. I find a good month of sitting in the sun is ideal for drawing out the aroma and essence of the flower.
Drain the mixture through cheesecloth, and discard the flower buds.
Lavender water can be used in a variety of ways around the home. Use it as a misting spray to freshen and to bring a sense of calm to a room or as a soft spritz on freshly laundered linens. I also use lavender water as a skin toner – a spritz or two on the face will tone and refresh your skin.
Here is a simple recipe for lavender water from the garden:
- All you need is a handful of fresh lavender and 100ml boiling water.
- In a heatproof bowl or stainless steel pot place the lavender buds in the boiling hot water.
- Cover the bowl or pot with a lid and leave the to steep for a few hours until cool, preferably overnight. The heat will draw out the oils from the flower and the water will become scented with the essential oils from the lavender.
- Drain the mixture through fine mesh strainer or muslin/cheesecloth.
- Discard the flower buds.
- Pour the water into a bottle and place it into the fridge.
Use the water within 2 weeks. Lengthen the shelf life by keeping it in the refrigerator. To lengthen the shelf life of the lavender water, you can add a little alcohol (e.g. pure vodka) or witch hazel to preserve. My last batch I used Colloidal Silver as a preservative. Note: if planning to use it on the face, keep in mind that alcohol tends to dry out the skin.
If you don’t have any lavender in your garden, you can simply mix a few drops of lavender essential oil with some fresh rain or distilled water to create your own lavender water spritzer.
In the kitchen
We usually do not think of lavender as an herb for the kitchen, but it has many culinary applications.
Lavender flowers and leaves add colour and slightly pungent bitter flavours to sweet and savoury dishes. Lavender can be used to flavour oil, vinegar, cheese, jam, ice cream and other desserts. The flowers can also be candied and used to decorate cakes.
Flowers can be dried and steeped as a tea either on its own or blended with other herbs to make a delicious hot concoction. Here is the refreshing combination of lavender with lemon balm and mint.
Lavender’s diverse array of healing properties, make it a must in any garden. Lavender is easy to grow, easy to harvest and has so many simple and fun applications that bring the healing qualities of lavender into your home throughout the year.
Balick, MJ (2014) 21st Century Herbal. Rodale.
Frawley, D and Lad, V (2001) (2nd edition) The Yoga of Herbs: an ayurvedic guide to herbal medicine. Lotus Press.
McIntyre, A (2010) The Complete Herbal Tutor. Gaia.
Readers Digest (1994) Magic and Medicine of Plants. Readers Digest.
Shipard, I (2009) How can I use Herbs in my daily life? 4th Edition. David Stewart, Nambour, Qld.
The practical herbalist : Lavender: Love-inducing Protector (https://www.thepracticalherbalist.com/holistic-medicine-library/lavender-love-inducing-protector/)
* The health information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute for medical advice or diagnosis provided by your medical or other health professional. Do not use this information to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or health condition. If you have, or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your physician or health care provider.
© 2017 Jane Mallick. All rights reserved.