The lavenders (Lavandula) are a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. An Old World genus, distributed from Macaronesia (Cape Verde and Canary Islands and Madeira) across Africa, the Mediterranean, South-West Asia, Arabia, Western Iran and South-East India. It is thought the genus originated in Asia but is most diversified in its western distribution.
The genus includes annuals, herbaceous plants, subshrubs, and small shrubs. The native range extends across the Canary Islands, North and East Africa, Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, Arabia and India. Because the cultivated forms are planted in gardens worldwide, they are occasionally found growing wild as garden escapees, well beyond their natural range. However, since lavender cross-pollinates easily, there are countless variations within the species. The color of the flowers of some forms has come to be called lavender.
The ancient Greeks called the lavender herb nardus, after the Syrian city of Naarda. It was also commonly called nard. Lavender was one of the holy herbs used in the biblical Temple to prepare the holy essence, and nard is mentioned in the Song of Solomon.
During Roman times, flowers were sold for 100 denarii per pound, which was about the same as a month’s wages for a farm laborer, or fifty haircuts from the local barber. Lavender was commonly used in Roman baths to scent the water, and it was thought to restore the skin. Its late Latin name was lavandarius, from lavanda (things to be washed), from the verb lavare (to wash). When the Roman Empire conquered southern Britain, the Romans introduced lavender. The Greeks discovered early on that lavender if crushed and treated correctly would release a relaxing fume when burned.