Great Grandma’s Old-Fashioned Lavender Recipes

The ‘recipes’ are extremely old but still usable in our modern lavender era. We did not change the wording.


Scottish Handwater and English Sweet Handwater:

Scottish Handwater
1 handful of lavender flowers
1 handful of thyme leaves
1 handful of rosemary leaves
1 bottle of still white wine
Place all the ingredients in the wine, cover, and allow to infuse in a warm place for two to three weeks. Strain and bottle attractively.
An old English recipe for sweet handwater is based on the simple Scottish recipe but it is more complex in its ingredients and the final product was distilled.
Here are an adaptation and translation.
English Sweet Handwater
6 handfuls fragrant Damask roses
2 handfuls rosemary
2 handfuls lavender
2 handfuls sweet marjoram
2 handfuls sweet basil
2 handfuls sweet balm
1 tablespoon cloves
2 tablespoons cinnamon bark chips
1 handful of bay leaves
Thinly sliced rind of two lemons
Thinly sliced rind of two oranges
A handful of flowering rosemary tops
White wine
Cover with white wine and leave in a warm place for 8 to 10 days. Distill off and bottle.Handwaters are a wonderful idea. They are added to the final rinse of delicate garments, used as a final hair rinse, or added to a basin of water when washing hands or face.
A traditional Scottish recipe used equal quantities of lavender, thyme, and rosemary-infused in wine.
lavender water

Lavender Water for Fever and Headaches:

2 tablespoons dried lavender leaves
1 tablespoon Sweet Cicely
1 tablespoon marjoram
1 tablespoon red rose petals
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large pinch ground cloves
Powder all the ingredients as finely as possible and mix with four cups of either surgical spirit or brandy.
Allow to steep for 14 days, strain and bottle, sealing tightly. Add a few drops to cold water, wring out a towel in the liquid and place on the forehead. Repeat until relief is obtained.
In my experience, a sachet of the same mixture makes an excellent portable headache reliever.
In the once Imperial Library of Hungary lies a handwritten manuscript inscribed long ago by Queen Elizabeth of that country and dated 1235. In it is written the original prescription for the famous Hungary Water. The Queen was paralyzed but was cured by a secret herbal recipe invented for her by a hermit. The preparation was rubbed each day into her limbs and eventually restored her. The Queen’s formula for Hungary Water became well known throughout Europe and was particularly widely used in southern France. The original recipe given here is on a queenly scale but can, of course, be made in much smaller quantities.

Lavender Cosmetic Vinegar and Sweet Water for Linens:

White wine vinegar
Freshly gathered heads of lavender with the dew dried from them
Fill a glass jar with whole heads of lavender blossoms, and cover with white wine vinegar.
Leave the jar with a plastic lid on in a sunny place for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle each day.
 Empty the bottle, straining out the vinegar. Refill the bottle with fresh lavender flowers and cover with the same vinegar. Repeat after 2 weeks making a triple infusion in all.
An old Scottish recipe used half rosemary and half lavender to make a very refreshing vinegar for adding to ‘Sweet Washing Water’.
Lavender foot baths are another very old-fashioned pleasure and made good use of lavender’s ability to soothe the peripheral nerves, as well as its antiseptic qualities and its clean sweet fragrance.
A strong infusion of lavender flowers and leaves in boiling water was made.

This was added to a basin of warm water in which the feet were allowed to soak blissfully at the end of a long day.

Sweet Water for Linens

This recipe is culled from Bulleins Bullworke {1562}

Three pounds of Rose water, cloves, cinnamon, sauders’, 2 handfuls of the flowers of Lavender, lette it stand a moneth to still in the sonne, well closed in a glasse; Then distill it in Balneo Marial.
It is marvellous pleasant in savour, a water of wonderous sweetness, for the bedde, whereby the whole place shall have a most pleasant scent.
Bain Marie or waterbath

Oil of Lavender:

This is not the commercially distilled essential oil, but a rubbing oil which can be used at full strength. {Essential oil of lavender obtained by distillation of fresh lavender flowers should be diluted in light vegetable oil for use as a massage oil when needed.}
To make oil of lavender, take a clean glass bottle and add to it a good large handful of fresh lavender flowers and cover with one liter of olive oil. Cover and leave to macerate in the warmth of the sun for three to five days. Strain through a cloth, add fresh flowers to the bottle and return the lavender-infused oil. Repeat until the oil is highly perfumed and charged with the active principles of lavender.
lavender relax

Lavender Sleep Pillow:

Mix together the following ingredients:
3 parts of lavender flowers
Hop flowers or lemon verbena leaves
Rosemary leaves
Marjoram leaves
Sweet Cicely leaves
2-3 drops lavender oil {recipe Oil of Lavender above}
Sew the mixture into a bag made of thin material that allows the fragrance to escape eg. Organza or muslin.
Make a pillow slip to contain the sleep pillow. Silks are ideal.

Lavender used as an inhalant is considered to speed recovery from colds, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and flu. Many people who have used the lavender-based herbal sleep pillows from us have reported not only overcoming insomnia but that they were helpful in cases of asthma, and particularly in breaking up pulmonary congestion. The ingredients of sleep pillows vary but it is important to make the mixture around 3 parts of dried lavender flowers and leaves. The fourth part, made up of various tranquilizing or sleep-inducing herbs, can be mixed in different proportions according to what you have available.


lavender wands

Lavender Fans:

These can be quite exquisite but should be treated as strictly ornamental and hung from a mirror or used to ornament a pillow or dressing table. They are better made as miniatures.
English lavender is freshly cut with long stems when approximately half the flower spike is open. Tie at the base of the bunch and about one-third of the way up the stems.
Cut two pieces of lavender organza or lace into a fan shape to cover the upper two-thirds of the lavender stems when gently teased out to form a fan shape. The lavender stems {I use pairs of stems for strength} form the ribs of the lavender fan. These are now sown into the lace casing, sewing both sides of each rib.
Press flat between books until dry and retaining their fan shape. Finish each little with lace and lavender ribbon bows, and wrap the satin ribbon tightly around the handle as a final touch, tying off with a bow and sprig of dried French lavender.

lavender incense bowl

Lavender Fragrance and Fancies {How To Make Potpourri}:

Making your own potpourri is a delightful hobby and easier than you may think…
The ancient and fragrant art of potpourri is one of the few truly civilized and civilizing processes left for the twentieth-century inhabitant to partake of. This ‘preservation of garden souls’ is a work worthy of time and loving care and its products can bring delight not only to the maker but to so many others.
We will disdain the often quoted and unworthy translation of the French ‘rotten pot’, and proceed hastily to the fact that there are two distinct techniques for potpourri production, ‘moist’ and ‘dry’.
Moist potpourri is an old method of production and its presumably the source of the French title, for it is the fragrance, and most certainly not the appearance that is the attraction with this variety. Moist potpourri is reputed to retain their fragrance for up to fifty years, so the process results in much longer staying power. They are made from floral materials that are partly dried, despite the name.
The peak time to pick any floral ingredient is just as it is coming into full bloom. Pick after the dew has dried but as early as possible on a sunny day. Dry the flowers on papers or preferably on screens, out of sunlight but in an airy place. For moist potpourri, they should be only partly dried. leathery when finished rather than crisp. Aim for a very limp appearance. Around one-third of their bulk will be gone.
We use large straight-sided glazed pottery crocks with good fitting tops to hold and mature moist potpourris. These should really be set aside for the purpose as it takes a number of weeks to mature a batch. Never use metallic spoons to turn the mixture. Buy some long-handled wooden spoons and keep them for this purpose alone. To make your job pleasant the crock needs to be sufficiently large and wide-mouthed to hold all the ingredients comfortably during the necessary turnings and stirrings as the mixture ages. The shortest time needed to mature the mix is two weeks. This is really far too short. The best results come with longer maturation. We wait at least six to eight weeks, but in previous centuries, far more noted for their patience than our own, the crocks were left to stew for months.
The general principles are simple. Place a layer of ‘leathery stage’ petals at the bottom of the crock, then cover with a layer of common {not iodized} salt. Add another layer of petals, then salt, alternating them until the crock is about three-quarters full. A batch requires at least two weeks aging before the remaining ingredients are added. Weigh the mixture down with a plate on which is placed some heavy non-corrodible object. A large bottle of homemade preserves is an answer. A large glass jar filled with sand and tightly capped will do the job well too. Each day the mix needs to be stirred well from the bottom. A kind of ‘petal soup’ appears and should be mixed back into the petals. If a hard crust appears, remove it and allow it to dry. Reserve this for the final mixing when it should be crushed and added back.
Next, the spices, ground roots, dried peels, fragrant leaves, and fixatives are added and blended. Leave for one month, stirring daily and covering again, to mellow and mix the fragrances. Finally, add whatever essential oils may be required and allow the mix to continue to ‘stew’ {the word is too appropriate to be avoidable}, stirring daily, for a few more weeks.
If all this sounds tedious in the extreme, interrupting a very busy schedule, you are probably one of those who would most greatly benefit from its therapy! The fragrance alone is sufficient reward as the mixture is stirred each day, and it is no more difficult to build this routine into your day than any other daily routine.
Now is the time to move the potpourri into its final containers. Remember how long it will give pleasure to its owner and choose something worthy of the contents. Old Chinese ginger jars, oriental porcelain jars, even old-fashioned tea-caddies and marmalade jars in fine pottery are suitable. Haunt secondhand and antique shops for suitable potpourri jars. The only provisos are that there is a solid cover and that it is made of glazed pottery of some kind. Once you are looking, it is amazing how many unusual and attractive old containers suggest themselves.
The mixture in its new container will still be a little raw in its quality of fragrance, but in a few weeks will be a delight. When you wish to scent a room, remove the cover and a delicious subtle fragrance will gently pervade the whole area. Otherwise, keep the lid on the mixture.
Here are a few recipes for moist potpourri. Once you have mastered the basic technique you will be able to devise your own mixes.

Lavender Antiseptic Washes and More…

Lavender Antiseptic Wash.
This is a favorite treatment for eczema, cuts, acne and minor burns.
Take a good handful of the flowers and boil together with half a liter of water for ten minutes. Filter and allow to cool before using.
Since Roman days this has been used in hot baths, to relax the body, and it is known to have a marked effect on the peripheral nervous system. It has also been widely used as a gargle for sore throats and sore or infected gums, due to its antiseptic properties and relaxant effect on the nervous system.
Hungary Water.
1-gallon brandy or clear spirits {equal to 16 cups}
1 handful of rosemary
1 handful of lavender
1 handful myrtle
Handfuls are measured by cutting branches off the herbs twelve inches long. A handful is the number of such branches that can be held in the hand. After measuring, the branches should be cut up into one-inch pieces, and put to infuse in the brandy. You will then have the finest Hungary Water that can be made.
Four Thieves Vinegar.
This antiseptic vinegar is attributed to a gang of four thieves who robbed the bodies of victims of the plague in Marseilles in 1722. They washed their bodies with it, frequently disinfecting their hands, and sprinkled it on their clothes and around their houses. It is said that all four survived without infection.
Actually, it is not surprising that this famous aromatic vinegar was so successful. Many of its ingredients are among the most powerful natural antibiotics in the world. Another case of empirically gained knowledge long preceding that obtained by scientific investigation.
*Infuse garlic cloves, lavender flowers, rosemary, sage, calamus root, mint, wormwood, rue, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a glass flagon of wine vinegar and leave sealed in the sun for 3-4 weeks to release the powerfully antibiotic oils into the vinegar. Filter, pour into smaller bottles, add a little camphor and seal until ready for use.
Soothing Massage Oil.
1/2 cup safflower or sunflower oil
Dried pot marigold petals
12 drops essential oil of rose geranium
12 drops essential oil of lavender
10 drops essential pine oil or oil of cypress
Place the safflower oil in a glass jar and add as many freshly dried pot marigold petals as possible.
Cap the bottle and place it in the sun for 4-5 days. Filter off the petals and squeeze out any retained oil from them before discarding. The oil will now be deep orange and fully charged with the active healing principles of calendula. Mix the other essential oils into the infused oil of marigold, bottle, and store in the refrigerator.

Lavender Cream and Lavender Night Cream:

This is an antiseptic cream and has been traditionally used for all manner of minor cuts, abrasions, bruises, etc.
* 125 g white wax
500g sweet almond oil
370 g distilled water
10 g essential oil of lavender
2.5 g spike oil
Lavender Ointment:
25 drops essential oil of lavender
10 drops essential oil of lemon or neroli
5 drops essential oil of thyme
2 tablespoons oil of lavender
60 g pure beeswax
Warm the beeswax in a small pot in a roasting pan of hot water and, when melted, beat in the oil of lavender; then, as the ointment cools, add the essential oils, continuing to beat until cool. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator.
Oil of Lavender.
This is not the commercially distilled essential oil, but a rubbing oil which can be used at full strength. {Essential oil of lavender obtained by distillation of fresh lavender flowers should be diluted in light vegetable oil for use as a massage oil when needed.}
To make oil of lavender, take a clean glass bottle and add to it a good large handful o fresh lavender flowers and cover with one litre of olive oil. Cover and leave to macerate in the warmth of the sun for three to five days. Strain through a cloth, add fresh flowers to the bottle and return the lavender-infused oil. Repeat until the oil is highly perfumed and charged with the active principles of lavender.
Lavender Night Cream
1 tablespoon avocado oil or apricot oil
1 tablespoon almond oil
3 tablespoons lanolin
1 teaspoon oil of lavender {see
‘Oil of Lavender’}
If you work outside a lot this is the ideal answer to sore chapped hands and weather-beaten skin.
Put the lanolin in an ovenproof bowl and place it in a roasting pan half full of hot water.
Pour in the avocado and almond oil and beat well to completely combine.
Remove from the heat and continue to beat as the mixture cools and thickens.
Add the oil of lavender. Continue beating until the mixture is thick and creamy and cool.
Pour into a small pot, cover, and store in the refrigerator.
Vitamin E can be added by squeezing the contents of 2 or 3 capsules at the same stage as oil of lavender is added.

Recipe: Lavender Water:

Of course, this can be bought commercially. My favorite comes from Norfolk Lavender in England. But for home purposes, you can enjoy making up your own supply.
In a clear glass bottle steep 100 g of lavender flowers in half a liter of alcohol {brandy or vodka are both good}. Place in the sun for a few days, then strain. Repeat until the fragrance is very strong.
Strain and seal in a glass bottle. If your hair is weak, falling out and breaking, try an old idea and rub lavender water into your scalp several times a week. Try it too as a rub for rheumatism. It has a long tradition of usage for both problems.
lavender breath mints

Lavender Sweet Breath Lozenges and Lavender Inhalant:

egg white
icing sugar
lavender oil
These sweet lavender pastilles were once most fashionable among ladies as a breath freshener after indulging in a little wine. A few drops of essential oil of lavender were added to well-sieved icing sugar and mixed thoroughly. It was then bound with sufficient lightly beaten egg white to form a stiff paste, and small portions shaped into lozenge-shaped pastilles.
These were then set aside to dry and harden in a warm place.
While these pastilles were an emergency social measure, a mouthwash made from an infusion of sage leaves was much favored for everyday use, as was sage toothpaste.
Lavender Inhalant.
Make a hot infusion of one good handful of lavender in 3 1/2 cups of water. Add a few drops of oil and inhale the steam under a cloth. If you wish, add one or more of the following:
thyme, sage or peppermint.
As an alternative, you might like to try William Turner’s suggestion from the New Herball {1551}:
“I judge that the flowers of Lavender quilted in a cap and worne are good for all diseases of the head that comne from a cold cause and that they comfort the braine very well.”
lavender tisane

Sweet Lavender Tisane:

Queen Elizabeth I, reputedly consumed countless cups of this tisane.
3 tablespoons fresh English lavender flowers
2 cups boiling water
Allow the flowers to steep for 3 to 4 minutes, strain and serve with a slice of lemon and honey if liked.
If using dried flowers, halve the quantity used. A little mint or rosemary can be added for an interesting flavor variation.
The English long served their equivalent of the modern fruit salad with lavender flowers and on a bed of lettuce and lavender leaves. This is a delicious modern adaptation of that old idea.
lavender and rose washballs

Lavender and Rose Wash-balls:

2 bars Castile soap {or any good quality pure soap} finely grated

10 drops oil of lavender


Heat a quarter of a cup of rosewater and pour over the soap and allow to stand for 10 minutes.

Work together very thoroughly, then incorporate the lavender oil. Set aside to begin drying out.

After two days, form balls of soap between your hands and set aside to dry in the sun.

When the balls have almost fully hardened moisten the hands with rosewater and polish each wash ball by rubbing between the hands.

Now put aside for approximately six weeks to fully harden.

Wash balls make delightful gifts wrapped in a square of tiny sprigged fabric tied with a satin ribbon.


Recipe: Oil of Lavender.

This is not the commercially distilled essential oil, but a rubbing oil which can be used at full strength. {Essential oil of lavender obtained by distillation of fresh lavender flowers should be diluted in light vegetable oil for use as a massage oil when needed.}

 To make oil of lavender, take a clean glass bottle and add to it a good large handful of fresh lavender flowers and cover with one liter of olive oil. Cover and leave to macerate in the warmth of the sun for three to five days. Strain through a cloth, add fresh flowers to the bottle and return the lavender-infused oil. Repeat until the oil is highly perfumed and charged with the active principles of lavender.