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The scent of lavender seems to recall grandmothers, graceful teas, and the cleanest of linen closets. Almost everyone will have a pleasant memory awakened when confronted with this soothing scent.

Lavender has been used since Roman times, when soldiers used it in their bath (its properties for relaxation are well known). In the Middle Ages, herbalists prescribed it for apoplexy, palsy, and loss of speech. Churches in Spain and Portugal strew it on the floor as a way to banish evil spirits.

Coming from the Latin word lavandus, meaning to be washed, lavender is a natural in cleaning. Containing antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, it is a wonderful treatment for bug bites, or any mild skin irritation, including acne. Simply dab some of the essential oil on the afflicted area, or put a lavender sachet in your bath water.

Around the house, use lavender wax on the furniture, or wash the floors with lavender water. A few sprigs placed between woolens in your closet can help keep away moths.

Lavender is lovely in the garden, not only for its own beautiful blooms, but for the butterflies it attracts. It is reasonably hardy, with no insect pests and an ability to withstand at least mild bouts of drought. Indeed, too much moisture can create root rot, so make sure the plant has adequate drainage. There are numerous varieties of lavender, and between them, the blossoms can be found from zone 3 through 10, so talk with your local nursery to find out which is the best variety for your area. The most important thing to have is alkaline soil and full sun. The blooms begin in June and can last through August, depending on the variety.

The best known of the species is Lavandula angustifolia, sometimes called English or true lavender. The Buena Vista variety of this type is bred for its sweet fragrance and deep color, and is perfect for drying.

Lavandula latifolia, otherwise known as spike lavender, is more tolerant of high humidity, and contains the Provence variety, which is very tall and very strongly scented, giving your garden a definite perfume quality.

French lavender (lavandula dentate) is delicate and lovely in the garden, but that delicacy makes for poor drying.

Making lavender oil is not only simple, but makes for a gracious gift. Fill a jar with lightly bruised stems and flowers, then fill with good quality almond oil to cover. Seal jar, and let the mixture steep for a month, shaking it daily to ensure that the fragrance is distributed throughout the oil. After one month, strain the concoction through cheesecloth and then pour the filtered oil into a decorative jar. A few lavender blossoms placed in with the oil improves appearance.