Lavender is a popular plant today, but it didn't just arrive on the scene. It was used by Egyptians in the mummification process and by Romans in their famous baths, to name just a few. It is still used for relaxing baths and so much more! From medical uses to setting a calming environment at home, it is an herb you should get to know.
Know your Lavender
Lavendula officinalis/ angustifolia
Parts Used: Flowers
There are many different types of Lavender. They can be used interchangeably, but each type has its strengths. Here are two popular varieties.
Lavandula angustifolia, a popular, versatile, plant, is an English Lavender and includes varieties such as Munstead and Hidcote. This plant is more tolerant of cool winters and humidity. This is the one that has the most powerful medicinal properties. It is also the one you would want to cook with. It has less camphor than the Lavandin plants, making it a sweeter flower.
Lavandins are a cross between Lavender and Spike Lavender. The name Lavandula L. x intermedia (also called Lavandin L. x intermedia) indicates it is a Lavandin. Lavandins are considered French Lavender. A few varieties include Grosso, Provence and Phenomenal. They either don't produce seeds, or their seeds are sterile, therefore they must be grown from cuttings. They are great for cleaning products and for aromatic purposes and can be helpful with sinus issues because of the high camphor content. Lavandin species should not be used in the first trimester of pregnancy or if you suffer from epilepsy.
It grows best in a sunny area with warm, well-drained soil. The soil can be slightly sandy. Avoid over watering your plant by allowing the top inch of soil to dry before watering. When you pick out a plant to grow, choose the correct species for your environment. The English variety can grow most places. They tolerate both winter moisture and humidity.
Lavender is native to the Mediterranean Sea, a dry rocky environment. Because of this, most varieties thrive in dry, hot, and rocky areas. Give your plants space when planting them. They need air circulation to help prevent fungus from growing on them; they are sensitive to humidity and moisture. You can grow it in pots or in the ground. If I'm able I plant everything in the ground, I just have better luck with it. However, it can be grown in pots as long as you follow the soil and sun requirements.
This is not a plant that you'll find while out on plant walks in most areas. However, specialized farms are popping up in many places. Our local Lavender farm has an awesome event during harvest, allowing me to walk away with a ton of fresh flowers. If you are unable to grow your own at this time, see if you can find a farm near you.
Expanding the amount you have on hand can be done in a few ways. Growing from seed is an option but it has its setbacks. The germination rate (the amount of seeds that actually grow from what you've planted) is pretty low. You will also only be able to plant the Lavendula species. Lavandin seeds are sterile, if they even produce any.
The best way to increase your plants is through cuttings. You can take hard or soft wood cuttings. Softwood cuttings can be done in late spring. Hardwood cuttings can be done from spring to fall. Choose a stem without blooms, that is 3-4 inches long. Take the leaves off the bottom two inches of the plant and scrape the skin off one side of the stem. Place the bottom two inches in a pot and let the rooting begin.
Each year I wait patiently as I watch my plants closely. I get so excited to bring in my bounty and get busy creating wonderful concoctions. When it is time to harvest, do so during the early morning hours, after the dew has dried. If your environment gets humid, try and pick a dry day to harvest. Harvest just before the flowers open. Early in the bloom cycle the flowers will be grayish. They will be ready when they turn a brighter color but have not opened yet. Harvest season is usually June through September. To cut, bunch the stems in one hand, with the other hand cut the stems several inches below the blooms and a couple inches above the woody growth. Use a Chinese sickle or sharp pruning shears for the best results.
Preserving Your Lavender Harvest
Prior to cutting, you need a plan of action. What do you want to do with the lavender? It can be tinctured, infused in oil or dried, to preserve the harvest.
The simplest way to dry it is to take the bundle in your hand, directly after cutting it, and wrap it with some sort of string or twine. Then hang upside down out of direct sunlight in a dry warm area. To make sure you don’t lose blooms to the floor, you can place your bunches in a paper bag to hang. You can also lay Lavender out on a screen to dry, again out of direct sunlight and in a warm, dry area. If you choose to dry your Lavender using a dehydrator, remember the flowers are delicate so don't use heat above 95 degrees. It is easier to manage drying when you dry the blooms on the stems. It takes about two to four weeks for the Lavender to dry while hanging.
I love the look and smell of dried Lavender but my favorite ways to preserve it are through tinctures or oils. To preserve that way I only use the blooms. You can also use the dried flowers in both tinctures and oil infusions.
As I mentioned above, if you can't grow your own right now, be on the lookout for farms in your area. This would be a great place to find Lavender to dry or use fresh. Online sources like Botanical Interests or Blooming Bulb are great places to find seeds and plants. You can also find whole plants at some nurseries. Pay attention to the name, so you will know that you are buying the right variety for your needs.
Using as a home decoration is one way to store it. You can make fresh wreaths and after it has dried, take the blooms and place them in potpourri and sachets. This is a way to enjoy the scent as you dry and store it until you use it for other things.
When you are using the blooms for medicinal purposes it’s best to keep them stored in a dark jar out of direct sunlight until you are ready to use them.
Healing with Lavender
This is by far one of my favorite herbs for healing! Before I knew how great the essential oil was, the infused oil was working wonders in my life. It has many healing actions, is an anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, a strong nervine and an analgesic to name a few. These actions help to reduce stress headaches and promote natural sleep. It is also an amazing herb when you are dealing with burns, cuts, and scrapes. When combined with feverfew, it works wonders on migraines, and when combined with tea tree oil it can help with fungal infections.
Lavender can be used in many forms for healing. It can be used as an essential oil, a tincture, an oil or a salve. It can be turned into a tea that can be used as a wash or ingested. The plant can also be used as a compress. The options are really endless.
Culinary Uses of Lavender
I won't lie to you, I love the scent but the idea of tasting it just does not appeal to me. It reminds me too much of perfume. That being said, many people do use it for cooking and baking.
English Lavender is usually used to cook with because it is sweeter. However, some French Lavenders are on the sweeter side and can be used. Lavender, as a culinary herb, is usually found in baking such as shortbread cookies or in jellies. Creating an infused honey is one way to add Lavender to your food. That's one I could probably get on board with, I love honey!
It is found in many different teas that are recommended for insomnia. In contrast, some black breakfast teas include it, to get you off to a calm but alert start. Whether you are a master in the kitchen or not, this is an herb worth trying out. I think I'll have to get adventurous and make some Lavender infused honey.
Lavender Around the Home
Not only is Lavender a wonderful medicinal herb and useful in culinary creativity, it can be used to decorate your home. You can create wonderfully scented fresh wreaths and beautiful dried wreaths that also smell amazing! You can take dried blooms and mix them with other fragrant herbs to create sachets and potpourri for the home. Sachets are wonderful to stick near your pillow for better sleep at night.
Lavender the Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil is a very popular, useful essential oil. I went over some basic essential oil safety when I wrote about peppermint essential oil here. Lavender EO is generally safe on children and adults. It should be diluted with a carrier oil and do your research before using it on children or while pregnant or nursing.
As we've learned there are different types of Lavender, the same goes for the essential oils. Spike Lavender, a plant not easily grown everywhere, is often found in essential oil form. If you want the aromatic properties for things such as soap, this is a good oil to use. If you are hoping to use it for more calming, medicinal purposes you'll want to look for Lavender angustifolia.
There are other EO blends out there. Do your research so you get the type that works for what you need. Lavender essential oil has many uses from head to toe. For a deeper look take a look at this blog post.
I create a lot of different salves and creams for my first aid kit and you'll be lucky to find one that doesn't have a little Lavender EO in it. Its medicinal properties are amazing, I especially love it for burns or cuts. Not to mention it adds a wonderful, calming scent to any salve, which is such a benefit if you are in pain.
Another way I love using my EO is for hair care! I have extremely hard water so I like to do a vinegar wash instead of conditioner and I like to add Lavender EO to the mix. It is good for normal to dry hair, helping with dandruff and hair loss.
This is such a wonderful herb, whether it is fresh, dried or in essential oil form. I recommend you find some ASAP and get busy getting to know it. You won’t regret it!