Plant Talk: Spanish Lavender

Lavandula stoechas is classified in the mint (Lamiaceae) family and native to the Mediterranean basin. It is a compact perennial shrub with linear gray-green leaves. Its characteristically dark purple flowers, topped by purple bracts, are on dense, oblong spikes reaching to 1.25” long. Unlike its relatives, it prefers the coastal (low altitude) arid climates of Portugal and Spain and thrives in siliceous and acidic soil versus the calcareous soil preferred by other lavenders. It also grows well on the southern coast of France and Corsica over to Greece and across the sea to North Africa. The essential oil is mostly obtained from plants grown in Spain, though it may also be obtained from plants grown in France and Greece.

Top view of L. stoechas bracts, flowers and foliage.

A Lavender of So Many Names?

Like other plants in the lavender genus, L. stoechas seems to have an identity crisis going by several common names: Spanish, French, Arabian, Maritime, Butterfly, Topped, Cotton or Crested lavender. It has been confused with other plants over centuries. For instance, this particular plant is believed to be the lavender cited in older texts (e.g., by Pliny the Elder), and the lavender we often think of (L. officinalis) arrived into the collective medicine chest later in time (Engels, 2007) (Grieve, 2019).

A Little History & Nomenclature

Speaking of France, the Îles d’Hyères were so-called “Stoechades” by the Greeks as this particular lavender grew abundantly there during the time of Grecian dominance. As this herb made its way into Arabic culture due to colonization, Arabs residing in Andalusia knew stoechas as “ostokudus”—which has no reference to the “Stoechades” islands but instead meant “keeper of the psyche.” Stoechas was documented by Dioscorides in “De Materia Medica” and also by Pliny the Elder in “Naturalis Historia.” Galen further elucidated benefits of the plant for bites, stings and afflictions of the digestive tract. Later in time, stoechas was imported to Arabia and documented by Avicenna in “The Canon of Medicine”—L. stoechas continues to be utilized in Unani medicine and is included in “The Unani Pharmacopoeia of India.” (Farsam, 2016) (Govt of India, 2006)

Alas, beware as there seems to be rampant misattribution of the name “stoechas” to several other plants. After pursuing the history of stoechas, it is apparent that this plant was confused with several others in the Lamiaceae family such as L. dentata, L. multifida, Rosmarinus officinalis and even Artemisia abortanum (Asteraceae). It is apparent that the word “stoechas” has been wrongly applied to several species other than the actual plant named as such. Regardless, stoechas has proven itself over time and has its rightful place in the canon of aromatic preparations.

Despite its playful looks and propensity to attract bees, L. stoechas is fresh, stocky and unapologetic. Compared to other Lavandula species, which favor higher altitudes and show off flowers in longer spikes, stoechas is short and rugged; well suited to the maritime climates it thrives in. An ancient plant, stoechas is enduring and cuts through nonsense to foster confidence and self-acceptance. It embodies the mantra of “I’m okay with who I am.”

Spanish Lavender essential oil has an affinity for getting into stuck-muck, easing inflammation and clearing the way for mental relaxation. Following are usage-applications where it shines:

  • Add to topical applications for easing aches, pains and inflammation
  • Support respiratory health when infection with catarrh (stuck, sticky mucus) is present (e.g., steam inhalation for sinusitis)
  • Bring a cooling, calmness to the mind; embolden confidence and acceptance of the self, especially to dispel funky-stuck-down mood states

Impressions of Lavandula Stoechas Essential Oil

Physical

Spending time with the oil really slows down time. It quickly asserts its effect as a nervous system depressant, pulling energy down to the earth while opening channels and supporting the diaphragm. My jaw consistently gets heavy and clearing occurs in my sinus cavities. Stimulating: upper respiratory clearing, heart rate increases and I always start rocking forward and backward yet there is an internal feeling of verticality from my heart to throat, heart to throat. Though stimulating it very much activates the parasympathetic response: heaviness (grounding) in the body, slowing down the mind and peristalsis is apparent.

Aromatic Personality

Lavandula stoechas immediately communicates its rugged and bold personality conjuring a green, fresh and blue maritime landscape. It smells as though it is dancing with rosemary as overtones of musty, musky, camphor hover in the air. Notes of earth, mushrooms and old closets are mixed with an ever-so-faint floral quality. Quite cooling and balsamic on the nose, throat and lungs, stoechas is springtime-cool.  Midway on the dry-down it maintains its cool wetness. “Pizza” spices like marjoram and oregano come to mind—maybe they were growing nearby. The end is still cool and balsamic as the tenacious ketones linger and hover with a surprising softness.

A young L. stoechas plant in mid-Spring 2016 by my front door.

Blending and Usage Ideas for Spanish Lavender Essential Oil

Blending & Usage Idea: Support Joy and Clear the Muck

Support joy & clear the muck by using the following blend in a roller ball applicator (10-12 drops in a base oil of your choice) or create a mood mist (25 to 30 drops of the blend in a 2 ounce aromatic spritzer).

  • Put the following in a “stock” 5ml bottle with an orifice reducer (approx 120 drops)
    • 60 drops Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var amara (leaf))
    • 40 drops Lavandula stoechas
    • 20 drops Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
Blending & Usage Idea: Balance & Stabilize Mood Mist

Balance & Stabilize by adding the following essential oils to an aromatic mist to encourage a state of cool relaxation:

  • 15 drops Lavandula stoechas
  • 12 drops Hops (Humulus lupus)
  • 5 drops Vetiver-Ruh Khus (Vetiveria zizanoides)
Blending & Usage Idea: Warm & Soothe Cold-Dull Pain

Try this herbal pain oil enhanced with essential oils to help soothe acute flare-ups. Combine the following in a 2 ounce bottle:

  • 1.5 fl oz of Arnica herbal oil
  • 0.5 fl oz of Comfrey herbal oil
  • 20 drops Lavandula stoechas essential oil
  • 15 drops Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
  • 10 drops Plai (Zingiber cassumunar)
  • 10 drops Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  • 5 drops Clove bud (Eugenia caryophyllus)

Need more Lavender in your life? Check the Plant Talk episode where we spend time in the garden with this beautiful plant then talk about its essential oil.

Parting Thoughts

Some oils can be “scary” to work with, such as those high in ketones, like our friend stoechas. Keep intention in mind. How did people work with the plant in the past? Lore has it that stoechas was used to cleanse and ward off evil (Grieve, 2019). It is potent, spiritual, cleansing and grounding. Many cultures have their version of Lavender stoechas. In the North American southwest we have white sage and further north and east are the majestic Thuja occidentalis. I firmly believe we should not be afraid of plants and their beautiful oils—it’s a matter of having a relationship with the plant and understanding when to call upon it. This is something I’m learning everyday—an ongoing conversation if I remain open.

Thank you for spending time with Lavandula stoechas and me.


Works Cited

Engels, G. (2007). HerbalGram. Retrieved from The Journal of the American Botanical Council: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue73/article3096.html?ts=1555511399&signature=b07d6be1842bbb83424015b6193174c3

Farsam, H. &.-A. (2016). The Story of Stoechas: from Antiquity to the Present Day. Journal of Research on History of Medicine, 5.

Govt of India, M. o. (2006). Unani Pharmacopoeia of India. Part-I. New Delhi.

Grieve, M. M. (2019, 4 16). Lavenders. Retrieved from Botanical.com: https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/l/lavend13.html#dessto

Holmes, P. (2016). Aromatica A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. London: Singing Dragon.

Leave a Reply.