Common Names #
English Lavender, Lavender Vera, True Lavender, Fine Lavender
About This Plant #
This bushy, aromatic perennial from the Mediterranean is a favorite the world over. While there are 47 species in the Lavandula genus, English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), is considered the best type of Lavender for medicinal and aromatherapy purposes. There are many different cultivars of this species as well. English Lavender is herbaceous with a semi-woody growth habit, typically growing 18” to 36” high and 18” to 24” wide. It grows low to the ground and boasts beautiful spikes of bluish purple flowers throughout the Summer and Fall seasons.
English Lavender is a member of the Mint family and is hardy to USDA zone 5. In the United States, it can be grown in the colder, northern zones, but must be protected over winter by mulching. It is more commonly found along the mild Pacific Coast and in the Southwest and can thrive in the toughest of garden conditions. It is a shrubby plant, often cultivated for its aromatic flowers in parts of France, Italy, and England. All parts of the plant are aromatic, yet the essential oil is only produced from the flowers and flower stalks. Lavender is a wonderful herb for drying. It is considered a good companion plant for fruit trees and any plant that might be troubled by whitefly or would benefit from bees and other pollinating insects. It can be mildly toxic to dogs, cats, and horses causing nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
English Lavender’s foliage is blue-green to gray in color and grows in 2 ½” long needle-like leaves. In warmer climates the leaves may be evergreen. Its spikes of lavender flowers often bloom two or three times in a season beginning in late Spring.
Lavender was used by the ancient Egyptians in the embalming process and in cosmetics. Many ancient cultures had a tradition of using Lavender oil to purify the bodies of the dead. Lavender has a long history of being used to treat GI problems, to boost appetite, relieve anxiety, and elevate mood.
The genus name, Lavandula, comes from the Latin word “Lavare”, meaning “to wash”. Its aromatic and antiseptic qualities have always made it a favorite in the making of soaps and bathing oils. It was an ingredient in Four Thieves Vinegar and was thought to protect people from the Plague. In Spain and Portugal, it was included in bonfires on St. John’s Day to ward off evil spirits. It can be used as an asperging herb to sprinkle water for purification purposes.
English Lavender can be grown from seed. Seeds should be surface sown and kept moist, but not wet. Seeds typically germinate in 10-28 days, but they may take as long as 90 days. Scarification or cold stratification can sometimes improve germination rates. Lavender is often propagated by cuttings and root divisions. Cuttings can be taken from one-year-old “wood” in the Spring. These are inserted in free, sandy soil in a shady place, 4 inches apart and cultivated for a year before being planted into their final destination. English Lavender has a moderately slow growth rate.
English Lavender can be transplanted into 3” pots once it is large enough to handle. It needs to be acclimated to the outdoors for about 10 to 15 days before planting it out after all risk of frost has passed. It should be transplanted at least two feet apart to allow for good air circulation
Lavender wants to grow in dry, light, limey, friable soils and full sunlight. It grows poorly in wet soils and in rich soils, it becomes lush and sappy. In both rich and wet soils it will lack fragrance and succumb easily to frost. For the best essential oil production, the soil should be nutrient poor and alkaline. If growing in a container, mix potting soil with equal parts sand and add a layer of loose gravel into the bottom of the pot.
Young plants should be kept from flowering during their first year by regular clipping. The plant needs its energy to develop its roots and lateral shoots to make it busy and compact. The plants should be pruned every year in the late summer, after harvesting and as the blooms fade to keep them in a tidy shrub form. This will give the plants a little time to develop new growth before Winter. Lavender likes to be mulched with inorganic mulches such as rock or pea gravel. Dampness, more than cold, is most likely to kill Lavender.
In cooler climates, prune established plants in the Spring when green leaves start to emerge from the base of the plant. Remove approximately one-third of the top to keep the plant from becoming leggy and bare at its base. Don’t cut back into old wood however as the plant won’t regrow from it.
Lavender can be harvested starting in the second year. English Lavender plants can remain productive for up to 30 years. Harvest should happen just as the flowers start to open as this is when essential oil production is at its height. Harvest in the morning as soon as the dew has dried as this too is when the oils are the most concentrated. Snip entire stems, tie into small bunches and hang to dry in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area.
Seed Harvest #
After the flowers fade, seed pods will form in their place. As seeds mature, the pods will turn grey and brown in color. Seeds are ready to harvest when they can easily be shaken out of the pods. You can either do this directly into a bucket, or snip the stems and place them in a paper bag and shake. The seeds are small and black and about half the size of a sesame seed.
Plant Uses #
- Natural insecticide
- Dried in potpourris and sachets
- Added to wash waters and baths
- Used to scent soaps and oils
Culinary Uses #
Lavender is edible. Flower buds can be chopped and added sparingly to some sauces or used in baking scones and shortbread cookies. It is best used in moderation, as too much can give a bitter taste to food. Flowers can be added to salads or meat dishes for not just flavor, but a burst of color. It can be used to make tea or be added to lemonades and cocktails. Lavender is occasionally used in Herbes de Provence spice mixes.
Medicinal Uses #
What comes to mind when you think of Lavender? Fresh, floral, clean, calm, purity, silence, devotion, serenity, grace, relaxing, uplifting…Lavender is all of these things. And while it is used for anxiety and depression and poor sleep, it is also used for bacterial and fungal infections, pain, wounds, burns, headaches, dyspepsia, bugbites and more.
Lavender has been officially recognized in the British Pharmacopeia for over 200 years. Many of its traditional medicinal uses have been verified by science. Lavender can help to improve the sleep of women who have recently given birth. It can also improve postpartum anxiety and depression. Breathing Lavender prior to surgery or dental procedures relaxes patients. Lavender has also been shown to relieve the agitation that often accompanies dementia. Lavender essential oil in nursing homes has been shown to decrease falls in elderly people. Lots of studies have looked at Lavender’s ability to relieve stress and anxiety in many different ways.
Lavender has long been used ro relieve headaches. Rubbing a few drops of Lavender oil on the temples is said to cure nervous headaches. Mediterraneans used to prevent headaches from the sun by weaving Lavender into their hats.
Lavender is antimicrobial and antifungal. It can help in the healing of wounds, addressing infection while also decreasing pain. It is effective against vaginal candida yeast overgrowth. It has been shown effective against several parasites including Giardia duodenalis and Trichomonas vaginalis. It is used to relieve the itching and inflammation of bugbites. It is also used on minor burns to decrease pain and promote tissue healing. It can be diluted in Apple Cider Vinegar and water for a refreshing hair and scalp rinse to relieve mild itching and irritation. Steam inhalation of Lavender is helpful in sinus infections.
Lavender can be smoked in herbal smoking blends. Internally, as a tea, it is said to move stagnant womb blood as well as alleviate gas and cramping in the digestive system.
The genus Lavandula consists of 39 species native to the Atlantic Islands, India, the Mediterranean region, Middle East, North Africa and West Africa. English Lavender (L. angustifolia) is native to the mountainous regions of the countries boarding the western half of the Mediterranean.