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Wednesday, June 4, 2008
By LINDA INOKI
If you brush against a lavender shrub it will immediately send its distinctive fragrance into the air. But although we humans may love the scent, it is actually a defense mechanism for the plant. First, the smell repels many animals and insects. Second, the scent, which is a mist of essential oils, helps the plant retain vital supplies of water when temperatures soar. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is native to the hot, dry hills of the Mediterranean, but in ancient times the Romans spread this valuable herb throughout their empire. Its name comes from the Latin lavare, meaning "to wash," as it was used to perfume Roman baths and also to clean and disinfect war wounds. Over the centuries, housewives have also used its dried flower heads to protect clothes from insects. Oil of lavender is still vital to the perfumery trade and is also popular in soaps, cosmetics and various treatments for headaches, sleeplessness, tension, cuts and burns. Lavender plants dislike high humidity but they grow well in Japan's cooler districts, such as the hills of Nagano and Hokkaido. From June 20 to July 13, there is an annual herb festival at Lake Kawaguchi-ko near Mount Fuji, where you can enjoy different types of lavender flowers. The lavender-flavored ice cream is also quite a treat!