Lavender is a flowering plant known for its beautiful purple flowers and fragrant aroma. Lavender plants are native to the Mediterranean region but are now cultivated in various parts of the world for their ornamental, culinary, and aromatic uses.
The lavender plant typically has narrow, silver-green leaves and produces clusters of small, tubular flowers on long, slender stems. The flowers come in various shades of purple, ranging from pale lavender to deep violet. Lavender blooms during the summer months and is a popular choice in gardens and landscapes due to its beauty and scent.
The essential oil extracted from lavender flowers is widely used in aromatherapy, perfumes, and various cosmetic and household products. It is known for its calming and relaxing properties and is often used to promote sleep, reduce stress, and relieve anxiety. Lavender oil can also be used topically to soothe skin irritations and provide a pleasant fragrance. Lavender is for more than just aromatherapy! It is also utilized in culinary ventures. (Food52 has 215 lavender recipes.) The flowers and leaves can be dried and used as a herb in cooking, adding a delicate floral flavor to dishes. Lavender is commonly used in baking, particularly in producing lavender-infused desserts, teas, and beverages.
One of the best things about lavender is how easy it is to grow. Lavender plants thrive in gardens and especially container gardens making it easy to protect the plants from cold weather.
There are over 450 known lavender varieties (cultivars) worldwide. These varieties differ in their characteristics, including size, shape, color, fragrance, and growing requirements. Here are a few of the most popular lavender varieties:
English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): This is the most common and widely cultivated lavender variety. It has narrow, aromatic leaves and compact spikes of purple flowers. Examples include ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote.’
French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas): French lavender has broader leaves and unique bracts that resemble butterfly wings. It has vibrant purple flowers topped with tufts of colorful bracts. Examples include ‘Otto Quast’ and ‘Anouk.’
Spanish Lavender (Lavandula dentata): Spanish lavender has distinctive serrated leaves and dense flower spikes with purple flowers and bracts. Examples include ‘Royal Crown’ and ‘Grey French.’
Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia): Lavandin is a hybrid cross between English lavender and spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia). It is valued for its strong fragrance and is commonly used for essential oil production. Examples include ‘Grosso’ and ‘Provence.’
Hidcote Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’): Hidcote lavender is a compact and highly fragrant English lavender variety. It has deep purple flowers and is known for its excellent heat and drought tolerance.
Munstead Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’): Munstead lavender is a dwarf English lavender with silvery-gray leaves and deep purple flowers. It is a popular choice for borders and containers.
What Is The Best Outdoor Temperature For Growing Lavender?
Lavender is a relatively hardy plant that thrives in climates with warm, dry summers and mild winters. It is well-adapted to outdoor cultivation in temperate regions. The ideal temperature range for growing lavender outdoors is between 60°F and 80°F.
It’s important to note that different lavender varieties may have slight temperature differences, so it’s worth considering the specific kind of lavender you are growing and any local climate variations in your region.
What Is The Best Way To Harvest Lavender?
The best time to harvest lavender depends on the purpose of the harvest. If you’re harvesting lavender for its flowers or essential oil, it’s generally recommended to do so when the buds have just started to open but before they are fully bloomed. This is when the essential oils are most concentrated. Here are the steps for harvesting lavender:
Choose the Right Time: Select a dry and sunny day to harvest lavender. Early morning, after the dew has dried, is often a good time. Avoid harvesting during or after rainfall, as the moisture can affect the quality of the flowers and essential oils.
Prepare Pruning Tools: Use clean and sharp pruning shears or scissors for the harvest. This helps ensure clean cuts and reduces the risk of damaging the plant.
Identify the Flowering Stems: Locate the flowering stems on the lavender plant. These are the stems with buds that are just beginning to open. It’s best to focus on these stems as they contain the highest concentration of essential oils.
Cut the Stems: Position the pruning shears just above a set of leaves, and make a clean cut to remove the flowering stem. Avoid cutting too far down into the woody part of the plant, as this can affect its growth and overall health.
Bundle the Stems: Gather several cut stems together and loosely bundle them. Secure the stems with a rubber band or twine. It’s best to keep the bundles relatively small to allow for good air circulation and drying.
Hang to Dry: Find a well-ventilated, dry, and dark area for drying the lavender bundles. Hang the bundles upside down, ensuring that the flowers are not touching each other. This position helps maintain the shape of the flowers and promotes even drying.
Monitor the Drying Process: Check on the lavender regularly to ensure it’s drying properly. The drying process can take a couple of weeks or longer, depending on the humidity levels in your area. The flowers should feel dry and crumbly to the touch once fully dried.
Store the Dried Lavender: Once completely dry, remove the flowers from the stems by gently rubbing them off. Store the dried lavender in airtight containers, away from direct sunlight and moisture, to preserve their fragrance and quality.
Remember, if you’re harvesting lavender for ornamental purposes, you can also cut stems with fully bloomed flowers to enjoy their beauty in fresh floral arrangements or potpourri.
How Much Light Does Lavender Need To Grow?
Lavender is a sun-loving plant that thrives in full sunlight. It requires at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily for optimal growth and blooming. In fact, lavender plants tend to perform best when they receive even more sunlight, ideally around 8 to 10 hours.
When choosing a location for growing lavender, it’s crucial to select a spot that receives ample sunlight throughout the day. Ensure that there are no obstructions like trees or buildings that may cast shade and limit sunlight exposure. Lavender grown in areas with insufficient sunlight may become leggy, have reduced flower production, and may not reach their full potential.
Should I Water Lavender Every Day?
Lavender does not need to be watered every day, as it is a plant that thrives in dry conditions. In fact, overwatering lavender can actually harm its health since the plant is well-suited to arid climates and is considered a drought-tolerant plant.
When you initially plant lavender, it is important to water it regularly for the first few weeks to help establish its root system. However, once the lavender is established, it should be watered sparingly. It is best to water lavender when the soil feels dry to the touch, typically every 1 to 2 weeks during the growing season. When watering, make sure the water reaches the root zone by watering deeply. Shallow watering can lead to shallow root growth, which makes the plant more vulnerable to drought stress. Avoid overwatering lavender, as excessive moisture can cause root rot.
Let’s Talk Taste.
Lavender has a unique and distinctive taste that is often described as floral, slightly sweet, and with hints of citrus and mint. The flavor of lavender can vary depending on the specific variety and how it is used in culinary applications.
When used sparingly and in the right combinations, lavender can add a delicate and aromatic touch to both sweet and savory dishes. In culinary preparations, such as baking or cooking, lavender is typically used in small amounts to avoid overpowering other flavors.
In sweet dishes, lavender is often incorporated into desserts like cookies, cakes, and ice creams. It can infuse a subtle floral note, providing a pleasant and sophisticated taste. Lavender pairs well with ingredients like lemon, honey, vanilla, and berries, complementing their flavors and adding an extra layer of complexity.
In savory dishes, lavender can be used in herb blends or as a seasoning for roasted meats, vegetables, or sauces. Its floral undertones can provide a unique twist to traditional recipes, adding a touch of elegance and intrigue. Lavender is particularly well-matched with ingredients like rosemary, thyme, and garlic.
Lavender should be used sparingly, as its flavor can be quite potent. Start with a small amount and adjust according to taste.
What Is The Best Way To Plant Lavender?
To plant lavender, follow these steps for the best results:
- Location: Choose a sunny location for planting lavender, as it requires at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Ensure the soil has good drainage to prevent waterlogging, as lavender does not thrive in overly wet conditions.
- Soil Preparation: Lavender prefers well-draining soil. If the soil is heavy or clayey, consider improving drainage by amending it with organic matter like compost or sand. This helps create a loose and well-aerated soil structure.
- Planting Process: Dig a hole slightly larger and deeper than the lavender’s root ball. Gently remove the plant from its container, taking care not to damage the roots. Place the plant in the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball is level with or slightly above the soil surface. Backfill the hole with soil, gently firming it around the plant. Water the newly planted lavender thoroughly to settle the soil.
- Spacing: Provide enough space between lavender plants for proper air circulation and growth. Depending on the specific variety, space the plants 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) apart.
- Mulching: Apply a thin layer of organic mulch, such as straw or bark chips, around the base of the lavender plants. Mulching helps conserve soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and maintains a more stable soil temperature.
- Watering: Water the newly planted lavender regularly for the first few weeks until it establishes its root system. Afterward, reduce watering frequency, as lavender prefers drier conditions. Water deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
Pruning lavender is an important part of its care and can help promote healthy growth and longevity. Pruning lavender serves several purposes, including maintaining a compact and attractive shape, stimulating new growth, and preventing the plant from becoming woody and leggy. Here are some guidelines for pruning lavender:
- Timing: The best time to prune lavender is in early spring or right after flowering. Pruning in early spring allows the new growth to develop throughout the growing season.
- Pruning Techniques:
- Remove spent flower spikes: After lavender has finished blooming, trim off the faded flower spikes. This process, known as deadheading, encourages the plant to redirect its energy towards new growth instead of seed production.
- Shape the plant: To maintain a compact and bushy shape, lightly trim the overall plant by cutting back about one-third of the plant’s height. Use clean and sharp pruning shears or scissors to make clean cuts just above a set of leaves.
- Avoid cutting into old wood: When pruning lavender, be cautious not to cut into the old, woody stems, as this can hinder the plant’s ability to produce new growth. Focus on cutting back the soft, green growth near the top of the plant.
- Prune to the right level: The height to which you prune lavender depends on the specific variety and its growth habit. Generally, leaving around 2-3 inches of green growth above the woody stems is recommended.
- Prune leggy or overgrown lavender: If your lavender has become woody, leggy, or sparse, you can rejuvenate it by doing a more severe pruning. In early spring, cut back the entire plant to about 2-3 inches above the woody stems. This drastic pruning encourages new growth from the base of the plant.
- Regular maintenance: Regularly monitor your lavender plant throughout the growing season and trim any unruly or straggly growth to maintain its shape and prevent it from becoming excessively woody.
Remember to avoid pruning lavender in late fall or winter when the plant is entering dormancy, as it may make it more susceptible to cold damage.
What Are Good Growing Companion Plants For Lavender?
Lavender is not only a beautiful plant but also an excellent companion in the garden. It attracts pollinators and repels certain pests, making it a beneficial addition to many garden designs. Here are some good companion plants that pair well with lavender:
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Rosemary and lavender share similar growing requirements and complement each other both aesthetically and aromatically. They both repel pests like moths and mosquitoes and attract beneficial insects.
Sage (Salvia officinalis): Sage is a hardy herb that pairs well with lavender. It has similar sun and soil requirements and its purple flowers can create a visually pleasing combination with lavender’s purple blooms. Sage also repels certain insects.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Thyme is a low-growing herb that works well as a companion plant for lavender. Both plants thrive in sunny, well-draining conditions and their fragrances complement each other. Thyme can help deter pests like cabbage worms and cabbage loopers.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow is a perennial flowering plant that attracts pollinators and has a feathery, delicate appearance. It complements the bold structure of lavender and can create an attractive contrast. Yarrow also attracts beneficial insects that prey on garden pests.
Marigold (Tagetes spp.): Marigolds are colorful, annual flowers that have natural pest-repellent properties. They can deter pests like aphids and nematodes. Planting marigolds alongside lavender can help protect the lavender plants from potential damage.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.): Echinacea, commonly known as coneflower, is a native perennial with vibrant flowers that attract bees and butterflies. It adds a pop of color and visual interest to a lavender garden.
Catmint (Nepeta spp.): Catmint is a low-maintenance perennial that has similar growth habits and preferences to lavender. It produces clusters of small flowers that attract pollinators. Catmint can serve as a groundcover and create a lovely border around lavender plants.
Our Favorite Recipes With Lavender
Lavender is for more than perfume, bath bombs, and skincare. It can actually be a delightful addition to sweet and savory dishes alike! Check out some of our favorite ways to consume lavender here.
- Lavender Strawberry Lemonade
- Lavender Lemonade Recipe
- Lavender Shortbread
- Lucy-Lavender Popsicles
- Martha Stewarts Lavender Sorbet
Is Lavender Good For You?
One of Lavender’s notable advantages is its ability to promote relaxation and alleviate stress. The aroma of lavender is known for its calming and soothing effects, so inhaling the lavender scent or using lavender essential oil in aromatherapy can help induce relaxation, reduce stress levels, and improve sleep quality.
Lavender has also been studied for its potential effects on anxiety and mood disorders, with some research suggesting anti-anxiety properties. While further studies are needed to confirm its effectiveness, lavender may hold promise in managing anxiety symptoms. Additionally, lavender’s relaxing properties can contribute to better sleep, as lavender aromatherapy or using lavender-scented products before bedtime has been associated with improved sleep outcomes and reduced insomnia symptoms. Lavender is also valued for its potential skincare benefits. It possesses anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, making it useful for soothing minor skin irritations like insect bites, burns, or acne.
As specifically noted by Dr. Yufang Lin at the Cleveland Clinic, “Traditional herbal research confirms lavender’s role as a health jack-of-all-trades. That is because the plant’s parts contain different chemical compounds that positively affect. your body.” Dr. Lin explains; “These compounds include flavonoids, which are also found in vegetables and fruits, and coumarin. Both have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions. It also contains linalool which as been shown to reduce anxiety and blood pressure.”
Antioxidants: Lavender contains various antioxidants, such as phenolic compounds and flavonoids. These antioxidants help protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can contribute to oxidative stress and chronic diseases.
Vitamins and Minerals: Lavender contains small amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, calcium, and iron. While the amounts may be relatively low, these nutrients still contribute to overall nutritional intake.
Polyphenols: Lavender is a rich source of polyphenols, which are plant compounds known for their potential health benefits. Polyphenols have been associated with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, as well as supporting cardiovascular health.
Digestive Health: Lavender has traditionally been used to support digestive health. It is believed to have carminative properties, meaning it may help relieve digestive issues like bloating, gas, and indigestion.
Calming Effects: While not directly nutritional, the calming effects of lavender can indirectly contribute to overall well-being. Lavender has been used in traditional medicine and aromatherapy to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and aid in sleep.
Where Did Lavender Get Its Name?
The name “lavender” originates from the Latin word “lavandula.” This Latin term is derived from the verb “lavare,” which means “to wash.” The name reflects the historical use of lavender in bathing rituals and as a fragrant addition to laundry, as it was believed to have cleansing properties and a pleasant scent.
The word “lavandula” was later adopted into Old French as “lavendre” and eventually evolved into “lavender” in English. The name has remained consistent across different languages, with slight variations in pronunciation.
Lavender’s name has become synonymous with the plant itself and is widely recognized as the common name for various species within the Lavandula genus. It has become an iconic name associated with the aromatic and soothing qualities of the herb.
It’s worth noting that lavender is also referred to by its scientific name, Lavandula, which is used to classify and identify different species and varieties within the plant family. However, the common name “lavender” is the term most widely used and recognized in everyday language.
Little Known Lavender Facts
One interesting and lesser-known fact about lavender is that it has been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. While humans love lavender’s pleasant scent, many insects find it repulsive. The strong aroma of lavender can help deter pests such as mosquitoes, moths, fleas, and flies. This property makes lavender a popular choice for natural pest control in gardens, homes, and clothing or skin.
Some More Fun Facts About Lavender…
- Lavender has a long history: It has been cultivated and used for over 2,500 years. It has been appreciated for its fragrance, medicinal properties, and various uses throughout different cultures and civilizations.
- Lavender is part of the mint family: Lavender belongs to the Lamiaceae family, which includes other well-known herbs like mint, rosemary, and sage. They share similar characteristics, such as square stems and aromatic leaves.
- Different varieties of lavender: There are over 450 known species of lavender, with countless cultivars and hybrids. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most commonly grown variety for its fragrance and culinary uses.
- Lavender symbolism: Lavender has symbolized various meanings throughout history. It is often associated with serenity, purity, and devotion. In Victorian times, lavender was a symbol of love and romance.
- Lavender festivals: Lavender festivals are celebrated in various parts of the world, particularly in regions known for lavender cultivation. These festivals often feature lavender fields, music, crafts, culinary demonstrations, and other lavender-themed activities.
- Lavender as a natural dye: Lavender flowers can be used to create a delicate purple dye. They have been historically used for coloring textiles and craft