Lavender from the Algarve
I didn't realise until we moved to the Algarve that the national flower of Portugal is lavender. It was only when I noticed that after the rains and as the warmth of the Spring sun starts bringing the Barrocal and the Serra to life with a burst of colour from the wild flowers that the most striking is that of lavender. When curiosity got the better of me you may be surprised to know that there are as many as 45 different species of lavender and it is part of the mint family and there are around 450 varieties worldwide. The picture above is actually of a hill pasture just above São Brás de Alportel: I am sure you will agree, the scene of a carpet of wild lavender is just beautiful. The smell, the colour and the sound of the bees was quite astounding.
In Portugal, whilst the Alentejo is where you will find farms growing fields of lavender, I don't think for a moment we should take for granted the wild lavender you will find here in the Algarve. Growing along many a roadside in the Barrocal, under the canopies of cork oak and carob and in untouched areas amongst rock formations and go up into the Serra and it is intertwined in a flora and fauna almost intact thanks to low human activity and an absence of pollution with the cistus, gorse, wild curry and much more, each plant giving out such a burst of colour and keeping the bees and other insects happy.
Buy a jar of wild lavender honey and this clear and aromatic delight has a taste to savour. Why not check out our own interview with Miguel Pedro, a beekeeper in the São Brás de Alportel area: https://www.algarvenatural.com/interview-of-the-month
Like so many of our native plants lavender dies down in the heat of the summer but for a short few months we are lucky enough to enjoy the vibrancy of colour. If you enjoy walking or cycling exploring the Barrocal or Serra in the Spring to experience the wild flowers and shrubs in flower should not be missed.
In addition to its pleasant scent, this plant is full of essential oils that can have powerful effects on the human body and has a variety of important health benefits: it has an ability to relieve stress, improve mood, promote restful sleep, lower skin irritation, prevent infections, reduce inflammation, soothe stomach bloating and even eliminate dandruff. Lavender can be found in food, fragrance, cosmetics and herbal medicines.
Below I wish to outline just some of the benefits of lavender:
Skin care: One of my favourites is using lavender oil on my face. I make my own lavender oil using lavender cut from our own hill and almond oil as the carrier and it's truly an amazing pick-me-up for the skin: you can of course buy lavender oil in many good health food shops and from artisan suppliers and I recommend using it several times a week. It is also wonderful used on any part of your body when your skin is feeling dry or irritated. This can also work for chronic conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne. (I have attached the link to another of my blogs about making your own lavender oil and the many uses for this)
Hair care: If you suffer from hair loss or any other condition that affects the quality of your locks, you can steep lavender flowers like a tea and then apply the mixture to your hair. This will function as an effective shampoo and significantly boost the health of your follicle beds and hair and is an excellent natural remedy for dealing with dandruff.
Antiseptic healing properties: Although many of us turn to lavender for relaxation and aromatherapy its effect on treating infection is also impressive: applying a poultice of crushed leaves on wounds and injuries can speed the healing process of wounds as well as preventing the development of infections on them.
Helping with sleep issues: If you regularly struggle with a restless night's sleep it can as I am sure you will know negatively impact on your daily life. By simply brewing a few lavender flowers in hot water, you can steep a wonderful tea that has been used to induce sleep and relaxation for thousands of years. Another tip is to rub lavender oil onto the soles of your feet just as you get in to bed. The soles of the feet have the largest cluster of never endings in the body and I personally find this method really helps with aiding a good nights sleep. This is closely linked to the flower’s impact on the nervous system, and can also help clear your mind of negative thoughts. It is commonly used in meditation techniques and its essential oils are used in aromatherapy.
Reduces Anxiety & Stress: You may not know but there are a number of methods of using lavender to soothe anxiety and stress. The natural organic compounds in its leaves and flowers can be ground between the fingers and then rubbed onto the temples. This application can soothe the body and mind by relieving anxious thoughts and balancing the mood. Apart from this topical application, you can also brew lavender tea and achieve much the same effect. The antioxidant components in it can impact the endocrine system to lower the levels of stress hormones in the body.
Anti-inflammatory properties: Many of us from time to time will look for a reliable way to relax the body and mind, and lavender takes care of both. If you add these flowers or a drop or two of lavender oil to your bathwater and take a nice long soak, the anti-inflammatory components can help in reducing the inflammation. The antioxidant properties of lavender are also quite potent and it is one of the most trusted applications of its flowers.
Aid with preventing digestive issues: The polyphenols found in lavender have a wide range of effects on the body. It can prevent the development of harmful bacteria and the accumulation of gas in the gut and this can ease stomach discomfort, reduce bloating, and eliminate cramping. Drinking lavender tea from time to time is an excellent addition to your diet.