Thirty species of lavender are native to Southern Europe, North Africa, and India. Lavandula angustifolia, known as common or English lavender, is an important crop, as is the hybrid lavandin (L. x intermedia), which originates in the wild from the crossing of L. angustifolia and spike lavender, L. latifolia. There are numerous cultivars of both, some selected for perfumery, others for garden use. French lavender, L. stoechas, and the less hardy L. dentata have also been grown since the late 16 th century.
Lavender has been used in perfumery and medicine since at least Roman times, with small-scale cultivation in European gardens since the Medieval period. Large-scale cultivation of L. angustifolia began in the 19th century in England, centered on the Surrey village of Mitcham, now a suburb of London. Cultivation shifted to its current center in Norfolk in the 1930s. In North America, lavender cultivation is strongly associated with Shaker communities. However, the major global center for lavender oil production has been around Grasse in France. Initially dependent on gathering naturalized wild lavender (both L. angustifolia and L. latifolia) from the surrounding hills, production has been based on cultivated fields of L. angustifolia and the hybrid L. x intermedia since the 1920s.
True lavender oil is obtained from L. angustifolia, and ranks alongside citrus, rose, and mint oils as one of the most important essential oils in trade, with an annual production worldwide of 250 tons, mostly from France and Bulgaria. It is used in luxury perfumery, whereas the somewhat harsher lavandin oil, from L. x intermedia, is used in cheaper cosmetics and soaps and as a food additive. These and other species such as L. stoechas are also grown as a source of dried leaves and flowers, for use in potpourri and aromatic sachets.
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