The old quiet, the old comfort of home. Not a sound but that of pattering rain in the still night. As always, the room smelt of lavender, blended with that indescribable fragrance which comes of extreme cleanliness in an old country house. (from Will Warburton by George Gissing)
Lavender has been somewhat over-exposed in mass market products, which far too often deliver only a symbolic representation of its true qualities. Making a flower water doesn’t take much time or effort and the results are more fragrant and effective.
Lavender is amazingly multi-purposed, but especially good when made into a flower water and used for the face as a toner/astringent. Its antiseptic, healing effect soothes problem skin, while stimulating cell turnover and the growth of healthy cells, and it is good for all skin types. Its calming and balancing attributes can help to relieve a headache or nervous tension. French households routinely keep a bottle of lavender essential oil as a staple domestic remedy.
Camphoraceously sweet and balsamic, with a woody undertone, Lavendula officinalis (angustifolia) is the standard variety often preferred for its aromatic warmth and versatility. The particular qualities of a lavender’s beauty and strength depends on the country, altitude, and microclimate where it is grown and its method of distillation. The high altitude varieties, such as Haute Provence, Himalayan and wild gathered Alpine, are considered the most therapeutically effective. French Mailette and especially English Lavender are the most fragrant, and the most camphoraceous is Spanish Lavender (probably the one used by the ancient Romans for bathing; it is considered too fierce for our modern tastes and for those with sensitive skin).
Lavender has a long tradition in use as a flower water. I fondly think of the heroines of Regency and Victorian novels that have been revived from a faint by having their temples and wrists rubbed with lavender water (those darn corsets had a lot to answer for...)
There are many recipes for lavender water, but my personal preference is to start by making lavender tea. Steep one to two teaspoons of dried lavender flowers in a covered cup of filtered, boiled water for five to ten minutes, strain, and add 20 drops of essential oil of lavender to the warm tea. You can use a washcloth or paper towel and wring it out in the mixture, applying it on the face like a compress for a few moments, then using friction in a circular motion over the face and neck.
An even easier recipe is to simply put 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the essential oil into two cups of nearly boiled, filtered water in a large ceramic bowl. The steam will clear your sinuses. After letting it cool to a comfortably warm temperature, mix together well and rinse the face or massage it into the skin with your fingers. I find this is almost immediately smoothing, because the pores are tightened, and any minor redness or inflammation is noticeably diminished.
Your floral water can be chilled in the refrigerator in a glass container for later use. It will keep indefinitely, although you should stir or shake to make sure it is well-blended. The cooling combines well with the herbaceous scent and is refreshing after being out in the city on a hot humid day. You can rinse your face off with warm water, but I prefer to leave it on for the full benefit. If you leave the cloth out to dry, its evaporation will refresh the air.
You can also use it as a final rinse for your hair for shine, to detangle, and to impart an aromatic note. Another very easy method is to take a cup of bottled mineral water and combine with 10 drops of lavender essential oil in a spray bottle, spritzing the face for a skin freshener (making sure to keep the eyes closed, of course, and shake it well each time).
One of the best aspects of making your own floral waters is that you can experiment. The same methods can be used with different materials, for example with chamomile, to make a very soothing and calming facial toning treatment, famously good for blondes because it helps keep the fairness of the hair and skin. Please note that chamomile, a relative of ragweed, is not recommended for those with allergies. I would also recommend melissa (aka lemonbalm), which is a little more difficult to obtain in tea form but well worth the trouble. It has a woody tone to its lemon aroma, and has a famously calming, soothing and antiviral quality (which makes it an effective preventative and treatment for fever blisters). Make these up for use within a two week period.
Nature’s Gift has a Lavender Species sample kit of 8 5ml size bottles for $46.00, on sale, both high altitude for therapeutic purposes and for fragrance.
Ito En carries lavender flower tea; $6.95 for 3 oz.
Eden Botanicals carries wild, high elevation, Maillette and Bulgarian Lavender; $9 for 1/2 oz.
Barry Farm carries fresh and dried plant materials, including lemon balm $2.09 for 1 oz., Roman chamomile flowers $3.29 for 1 oz.
White Lotus Aromatics, about $9-$12 for 1 oz. wild harvested and conventional Lavender essential oils. Their site also lists extensive information about the lavender industry in Grasse, and has a wonderful selection of historical and literary references, from Jane Austen to Amy Lowell.
For more information about lavender, see the reference page at botanical.com.
Note: image by fir0002 via wikipedia.