Learn about lavender history and its healing properties:
With its history of healing properties, glorious colors and enchanting perfume, lavender has remained the Swiss Army Knife of herbs. It has stepped out of its attachment to old fashioned uses and has found a modern status in aromatherapy. With scientific research verifying its ancient uses, lavender is an essential component of any household first aid box. The essential oil is used on insect bites, burns, and blemishes.
Lavender’s aroma imprint is camphoric sweet and rich ~ with an herbaceous, floral heart and a soft balsamic-wood undertone. Its odor at evaporation is generally a low, middle note. Its effect is calming, refreshing, uplifting, expansive, soothing, purifying.
Ideal for physical and emotional support, lavender as a whole is an ‘adaptagenic’ essence with a relationship to all Body Systems. It is nicknamed the ultimate ‘first aid in a bottle’ oil. Lavender produces an Anti-Allergic Essential oil, with an inherent antibiotic action. It is also an astringent as well as moisturizing to skin. It alleviates aches, pains, motion sickness, and swelling from arthritis to injury to headache.
Emotionally, lavender helps support a calm composure and self-expression. It reduces irritability, insomnia, nightmares, apprehension, panic attacks combined with uncontrollable shaking, stress, nervous tension, hysteria and is generally balancing to the psyche, as well as the body.
Lavender is considered the premier of all perfume. ‘Perfume’ derives its name from the Greek meaning ‘through smoke,’ and in ancient times the perfumes were used as fumigatory agents.
Research is proving that lavender is beneficial with regard to support for hyperglycemia, hypertension, indigestion, arteriosclerosis, digestive complaints, kidney stones, fragile capillaries, anemia, and heartburn. It is non-toxic, non-irritant, non-sensitizing.
Contraindications and Safety:
Some say due to an emmenagogue action, lavender should be avoided in the first trimester of pregnancy. It should not be used with preparations containing iron and/or iodine.
Lavender has many important properties. It is antibacterial, anti-convulsive, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-rheumatic, antispasmodic, anti-toxic, antiviral, anticoagulant, carminative, cholagogue, cicatrisant, cordial, cytophylactic, deodorant, decongestant, diuretic, emmenagogue, galactogogue, hypotensive, insecticidal, nervine, parasiticidal, rubefacient, restorative, sedative, sudorfic, tonic, vermifugal, and vulnerary.
A Little History:
Lavender is a plant rich in history and myth. With its roots in the ancient herbalists, lavender’s properties as a disinfectant and antiseptic grew through the centuries, even gaining the reputation of warding off the plague. Lavender’s popularity with the English royalty gave it a berth in the ranks of a cosmetic herb, and it was with Queen Victoria that lavender was recognized as a tonic for nerves.
Preparations for Growing Lavender:
Place your lavender in the design that makes you happy and allows room for air currents around the plant when they reach maturity. Lavender loves the sun and hates to have its feet wet, so choose a position with good drainage and plenty of sun. They are adept candidates for rock gardens. Humidity can be an issue in the Southeastern and some Midwestern states. Lavender isn’t fond of damp, still air which makes then plant more susceptible to root rot and other maladies. This difficulty can be minimized by increasing the spaces between the plants so the air can move around them more easily. Grow lavenders with plants that have similar sunlight and watering needs. Select soil that is well worked, well drained and so loose you can dig it with your hands. Once established in a garden, lavender is a hardy and drought tolerant perennial. Select a variety appropriate to your area and pay attention the size requirements for your variety. (Some get to 5 feet across!) Lavender likes a slightly alkaline soil so adjust accordingly. Some sand and well-rotted manure or compost will get the plant off to a good start.
Now when we moved to the farm, we thought that we had beautiful sandy loam soil... Hahaha, we were so mistaken. We live in a heavy clay environment. So, we had to amend, amend, amend. Read the BLOG. I will explain what had to happen to help our plants to survive. It is important to make sure that your plants get the soil that they need. So, if you are in a similar environment, it isn't a dead end, just hard work.
Carefully knock the plant from its pot, spread the roots, and place the plant in a hole that accommodates the spread roots. Mixing a little bone meal into the soil mix below the roots will slowly release organics that promote both root and leaf growth. Roots should not be placed directly on the meal, but on a mix of soil and meal. If the stems are long enough, give the plant a little shape by pruning, this will start the stems branching. When you water the new transplant for the first time, you can use a liquid fertilizer instead of plain water. A two-inch mulch of sand will moderate the soil temperature and reflect heat and light up to the plant. More heat creates more fragrant blooms.
Caring for Lavender in the Spring
Remove the blossoms in the fall. Prune your plant in the early spring to 2/3 its size, leaving a couple of inches of green above the woody stems. It seems drastic but this will stimulate new growth. Don’t be afraid to “give them a haircut.” They respond very well to being shaped because plants that are not pruned may tend to fall open in the middle and sprawl.
Harvesting Lavender Flowers
When your lavender has blossomed, the flowers can be cut for many uses. If you desire a fresh bouquet, cut the blossoms when half of the flowers on the blossom head have opened. If you are picking to dry the bundle for crafting or sachet, pick when 3/4 to all of the blossoms are open.
Caring for Lavender in the Autumn
In early Autumn, cut the GREEN of your lavender back so about one or two inches of green remain. For us this is October. This will promote fuller growth for the next season, and it will look better throughout the winter. Don’t cut into the wood if you can avoid it. It is difficult for the older wood to produce new shoots. It’s best for the plant if the pruning tool you use is sharp and clean. We use a sickle, but hand (you can use your kitchen shears) shears are good too. You could even electric shear, if you are very careful.
HERE ARE A FEW OF THE MOST POPULAR TYPES OF LAVENDER
Lavendula Angustifolia – English Lavenders-Angustifolias are the traditional English garden lavender varieties. They have narrow leaves, shorter stems with flower heads that are barrel shaped as opposed to spiky. Their fragrance is sweeter than their hybrid cousins the Lavandins, and because of this, their oil is coveted for aromatherapy and perfume. They bloom earlier in the year than the lavandins. In the winter months, the Angustifolias can often look dead because of the smallness of the leaves. Their dried blossoms are used in cooking, crafting and cosmetics. The Angustifolias produce seeds that are viable, and young plants will often appear below the parent plant.
Royal Velvet: 24-36″ English Lavender, 12-15″ stems; dark, saturated color, velvety buds, mild scent, early-summer blooms, excellent dried for crafting and display.
Melissa: 18-24″ English Lavender, 12″stems, pink flowers with a delicate scent, blooms early summer, a wonderful contrast to garden landscapes and bouquets, a fragrant addition to sachets.
Sachet: 18-24″ English Lavender, 12″ stems, sky-blue flowers, sweet fragrance, early summer blooms, outstanding for culinary uses as well as sachets. Aptly named. Sachet is our number one choice for putting in our dryer bags, eye pillows and sachets
Mitcham Grey: 20″ English lavender, medium size, deep purple flowers, grey foliage.
Lavendula Intermediate – Lavandins-The Intermediates are a hybrid of Angustifolia and Spike lavender varieties. The hybrid vigor of these plants makes them hardy but sterile. Called Lavandins, this group typically has larger leaves, longer stems and larger flower heads that are pointed at the top instead of barrel shaped. They have a more camphorous quality to their fragrance, and because of this are typically used in soaps and detergents. The oil yield of the lavandins is much greater than the Angustifolias varieties, so it has become a “work horse” in the fields of France. Not only are these plants hardy and disease resistant, they have a more attractive look in the winter months. Because of their sterility, the seeds in these plants are infertile, and the preferred method of reproduction is with cuttings. Typically, the Lavandin sachet is strong smelling, making it excellent for riding clothes of moth or in massage oil for sore muscles, but not used for cooking. The strong color of many of the cultivars makes their sachet and dried flowers excellent for crafting.
Grosso: 24-36″ Intermediate Lavandin, 16-20″ stems; perfect lavender for the Northwest, hardy, resists disease, medium purple flowers, strong, clean fragrance, mid-summer blooms, great for drying & crafting. If you have a brown thumb, this is the plant for you. We have 90 percent of this variety planted on our farm.
Provence: 30-36″ Intermediate Lavandin, 16-20″ stems; very fragrant violet flowers, blooms mid-summer bloom, our favorite for sachets and culinary uses. This light colored, sweet smelling flower is very fragrant in fresh bouquets. The fragrant blossoms leave the stalk easily, and because of that make great sachet. 10 percent of the farm is planted with this at the farm; however, it is now a great variety for New Mexico. It is difficult to grow here, but it is a great culinary variety that is wonderful for any kitchen.
Dutch Mill: 36-48″ Intermediate Lavandin, 24-30″ long stems, medium blue flowers, excellent oil profile, strong fragrance, late summer blooms. This plant is my favorite lavender for fresh bouquets – the flower heads are large and free forming, making them very striking in vases.
Fred Boutin: 36-40″ Intermediate Lavandin, 18-20″ stems; light blue flowers, soft green foliage throughout winter, late summer blooms, an outstanding landscape plant.
Hidcote Giant: 36-40″ Intermediate Lavandin, 20-24″ stems; strong fragrance, fat blossoms, dark purple flowers, blooms mid-summer, outstanding for dried arrangements. This variety does very well in New Mexico.
Seal: 48-60″ Intermediate Lavandin, 18-24″stems, very large plant, profuse bloomer, medium blue flowers, strong fragrance, late summer bloom, one plant will produce thousands of blossoms at maturity. This BIG plant would be great for a privacy hedge – imagine a plant you could stand behind and be hidden! The large abundance of flower heads makes this a must have plant if you are making sachet.
White Spike: 36-40″ Intermediate Lavandin, 16-20″ stems; white blossoms, strongly scented, blooms mid-summer, culinary uses, excellent contrast in landscapes. The color white is a striking contrast in both fresh bouquets and dried arrangements.
Dark Eyes: 25″ Spanish lavender with grey-green foliage, the flower heads and bracts are a dark purple-red color. The deep color of this plant makes it a beautiful addition to the landscape and explains why this group of lavender is often called the “Butterfly Lavenders”. As with other Spanish lavender it has a pinecone shaped head that has a eucalyptus fragrance. It will bloom continuously from May to October, and retain its cheery appearance if the spent blossoms are removed.
Silver Frost: 24-36″, a hybrid cross of Lavendula Angustifolia and Lavendula Lanata , 12-18″ stems, beautiful silver felted foliage, and fat, dark purple flowers. The white woolly color of the leaves makes Silver Frost a beautiful contrast in the garden. The stems have a softness and almost seem to bend under the weight of the blossoms. It is considered one of the best landscaping lavenders.
Otto Quast: 25″ Spanish lavender, green-grey foliage, flowers are red-purple with the showy bract a bright pink. The bright pink “ears” on this Spanish lavender makes it a cherry addition to the garden. This plant will bloom continuously from May to October if it is dead-headed. As with all Spanish lavender, it has a eucalyptus fragrance. it requires aggressive pruning to keep it from sprawling.
Tips on drying lavender for use in cooking and crafts:
1) Cut a bundle of lavender from your plant. When you cut each blossom, be sure to leave a few inches of green growth on the plant. Going down to the woody portion of the stem is too extreme. When you have enough blossoms to fill your hand, wrap a rubber band around the bottom of the bundle, straighten a paperclip and use it as a hook to hang the lavender bundle upside-down in a dry, dark place. The darkness helps the lavender retain its color and drying lavender upside-down helps lavender retain its blossom shape.
2) Let the lavender dry for about a week until there is no moisture remaining on the stems in the center of the bundle. You can use it for dried floral bouquets or for making sachets or other crafts, wedding favors, culinary use, or whatever your heart desires! After about one year of being exposed to sunlight, the color of lavender, like most dried flowers, will diminish. Turn the flowers into sachet and pick another bouquet from your plant to replace it.
If you don’t have a plant of your own, you can find dried lavender bundles and fresh floral in season at our online lavender store.