Last week, I wrote about the different species of lavender. This week, I thought that I would take a look at the difference between two common terms used to describe lavender but sometimes in a different context. On my aromatherapy trip to France this summer, I expect to see lots of French lavender – but is that really French lavender, or is it Spanish lavender? Confused? Read on to learn more! This article was published in its original format at Suite 101.
Common English names for lavender have changed throughout history, making it even more confusing to know which type of lavender species is being referred too. Sometimes lavender is described by the country from which it originates. However, French lavender does not always refer to lavender that is grown in France, just as Spanish lavender does not always refer to lavender that is grown in Spain.
Lavender in a Historical Context
Some of the confusion between French lavender and Spanish lavender arises because lavender that is commonly called Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) today was originally referred to in old texts and publications as French lavender. For example, Maude Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, refers to Lavandula stoechas as French lavender, and not as Spanish lavender. A reference to French lavender today is usually a reference to the lavender species Lavandula dentata.
Spanish Lavender: Lavandula Stoechas
Lavendula stoechas is today known as Spanish lavender. It is a plant which belongs to the Lamiaceae plant family. Spanish lavender has narrow leaves and lavender, pink-violet flowers that form a “pineapple” shaped flower top (bract). It is a small, fragrant shrub that prefers to grow in a sandy or rocky coastline and is confusingly often found in France (hence, its historical name).
Spanish lavender is native to the Mediterranean region but is said to have earned its Latin name from the ancient Romans, who referred to the plant as “Stochades”, the Roman name for the island of Hyeres and where the species Lavandula stoechas was commonly found. It is believed that Lavandula stoechas was the lavender species used by the Romans to perfume baths.
French Lavender: Lavandula Dentata
Today, French lavender is usually a reference to the species Lavandula dentata. French lavender is also a member of the Lamiaceae botanical family. Confusingly, Lavandula dentata is native to Spain. French lavender has narrow, gray-green leaves and “dented” lavender-colored flower buds that make up the flower head/bract. Unlike Lavandula stoechas, Lavandula dentata grows in limestone and is common on the Spanish islands, including those off the coast of Africa, such as the Canary islands. Lavandula dentata may not be as fragrant as some of the other lavender species.
French and Spanish Lavender for Aromatherapy Practice
All varieties of lavender were originally native to the Mediterranean region and therefore the historical intermingling of common names has no doubt contributed to the confusing references to common lavender names today. Neither species are commonly used for their medicinal purposes today, although historically they were utilized in this way by herbalists; today, true lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, is the most common species of lavender used in aromatherapy practice. True lavender may be of English or French origin though – which can lead to some people referring to it as “French lavender” if it is grown in France! Lavandin (Lavandin x intermedia) is also another common species of lavender for aromatherapy use.
If you are interested in learning more about lavender, take a look at the Sedona Aromatherapie Lavender Aromatherapy short course. This short course is currently available as a PDF file and as a printed booklet via mail. It is also being offered at an incredibly low price for a limited time! It will be available as an online course shortly.
- Botanical.com website, A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve
- Aromatherapy: An A-Z, Patricia Davis, 1999 UK: Vermilion
- Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain and Europe, Dieter Podlech, 1996 UK:Collins Nature Guides