Lavender – “For Lovers True”

(Lavandula augustifolia – Lamiaceae)

lavandula augustifolia

An herb favorite around herbBee, lavender’s sweet and herby scent is instantly refreshing and relaxing to many. Its flowers and leaves taste similar to its smell. There are several species of lavender, but lavandula augustifolia is better for culinary uses due to its lower camphor content compared to other types of lavender. Lavender is a component in herbes de Provence, along with basil, fennel, savory, and thyme. Lavandula austifolia is also said to be better for use in medicinal or herbal remedies (consult your physician or health professional for guidance and advice).

Lavender is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). The foliage is typically gray-green in color and flowers range from white, blue, lilac, purple, and pink. Referred to as “Common Lavender”, “True Lavender”, and “English Lavender”, popular varieties of lavandula augustifolia include ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’.

Emma Callery addresses the history of lavender in her book The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Cultivating, Drying, and Cooking With More Than 50 Herbs. She talks of the Greeks and Romans using lavender to make perfumes and ointments, and how fresh and dried lavender have been used since the Middle Ages in potpourri and fresh bunches known as “tussie mussies” to ward off fevers and cover up unpleasant odors.

In Growing & Using Herbs Successfully, author Janice Cox suggests an easy but heavenly recipe for a tranquil bath: Fill a cotton or muslin bag with 1/4 cup fresh lavender flowers (or 2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers), hang it under the tub faucet, and allow the warm water to run through it while filling the bathtub. Once the tub is full, squeeze the bag over the water to release more of the fragrant essential oil from the blossoms, then lay back and relax. Thanks, Janice! We concur this is a lovely way to soak away the day.

Mark Twain is often misquoted as saying “Forgiveness is the smell lavender gives off when you tread on it”, when he really said “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Either way, we agree.

Care and Cultivation

Plant lavender in spring in an open, sunny position. Although it will tolerate shade, it will thrive in full sun. Be sure soil is well-draining as lavender does not like to have wet feet. It is drought tolerant and can survive and even flourish on less water than many plants. Slightly sandy soil is ideal. To improve drainage, add sand or gravel to hole before setting plant. A soil pH between 6.4 and 8 is best. Space plants at least 12″ apart (more for larger varieties). Lavender can also be grown in containers as well as directly in the garden.

Companion plants to lavender include echinacea, winter savory, hyssop, and yarrow.

Deadheading by cutting down to next set of blossoms will encourage a second flush.

Cut plants back in fall, just above the woody stems.

Mulch lavender in winter and protect from frost in colder climates. Lavender grows best in USDA zones 5 through 8, but can be successfully grown in others as well if given the proper care.

Although it can be difficult to germinate from seed, propagation is possible with root divisions and cuttings. Rooting hormone greatly improves success. Be careful not to overwater new starts, just as with any lavender in general.

Harvest and Preservation

If using medicinally, it is recommended to harvest when flower buds are just beginning to open. The leaves, stems, and flowers of lavender are all useful.

Culinary And Other Uses

Highly regarded for its medicinal properties, many find lavender to be soothing and uplifting.

In food and drink, the leaves and flowers can be added to salads, infused in honey, herbal butters and cream cheese, used in tinctures and teas, and added to breads, shortbread cookies, ice cream and other desserts. There are also several popular cocktails that use lavender. For those who drink alcoholic beverages, an easy summer recipe is to infuse a few sprigs of lavender in vodka for a few hours in the refrigerator. Mix vodka and tonic water 1:1, and then add squeeze of lemon. So fresh and perfect.

Lavender is an especially popular ingredient in skincare preparations for lotions and toners, treating burns and acne, and in salves and ointments. It is also very commonly found in bath oils and powders, clothing and dish detergents, fabric softeners, candles and air fresheners including potpourris and sachets, and household cleaning products.

See also Lavender Essential Oil.

In Healing Herbs for Women: A Guide to Natural Remedies, author Deb Soule states “Nettle leaves, sage, rosemary, chamomile, and lavender flowers can be added to apple cider vinegar and left soaking for a month. Strain, and use 1 tablespoon of the vinegar to 1 cup of water as a hair rinse.”

Another creative idea for using lavender comes from author Gayla Trail in Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces. She suggests adding lavender buds to the filter basket when brewing coffee or making mocha. Mmmm lavender and chocolate, a match made in heaven!

Recipes and Ideas

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