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Lavender

Lavender plants
Lavender, the traditional cottage garden plant.

There cannot be a gardener around that does not know Lavender. Lavender is a herb that has been with us through centuries. Lavender originally comes from Western Europe. It is a traditional cottage garden plant that sports gray-green spikes of foliage and purple flowers all year round. The dried flowers of the lavender plant have always been one of the main ingredients used topotpourri. The fresh lavender flowers and sprigs are used in herbal bunches that in ancient times were used to mask unpleasant smells. These days Lavender is used to keep moths out of cupboards, fleas out of dogs’ beds as well as creating soothing ambience in bedrooms.

In the garden itself there are so many ways in which you can make use of herbs such as lavender. With the revival of formal gardens we have seen the return of Lavender as a clipped hedge. Lavender, when planted along a path exudes a lovely fragrance when you brush past it.

Plant a few bushes of lavender near your washing line and do not hesitate to hang your pillow cases and sheets over them to dry. Not only will your washing have a lovely scent, it will help you to also enjoy a good night's rest.

As a companion plant there is nothing like lavender to bring out the best in scented pelargonium for instance. These two herbs enhance each other's fragrances or perfume. You will also be catering for wildlife such as bees and butterflies when planting lavender as your herb of choice. Lavender such as the Lavendula Stoechas is great prolific flowering herbs, ideal to attract wildlife. Lavender like the Lavendula Dentata also makes great container plants if you are into container gardening and space is problematic.

Lavender belongs to the floral family Lamiaceae and can these days be found in many herb gardens and ornamental gardens all around the globe. Following is a discussion about more specific types of lavender:

Lavender Spica

The Lavender Spica herb is also known as Lavendula angustifolia spica.

It is a perennial herb and grows to a height of about 45 cm (17.71"). Do plant them between 15 and 25 cm (5.9 and 9.84") apart. The Lavender Spica enjoys a sunny area with well-drained soil. No excessive heat. If you happen to live in a warm climate be sure to plant your Lavender spica in an area with good air circulation.

Lavender spica has pale narrow leaves and sports lavender flowers that bloom during summer. The Lavender spica flowers are prized plants and are highly fragrant and produce quality oil.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

This particular herb plant is also known as English Lavender and may grow to a height of 9 meters (3 feet). It has thick woody stems and requires pruning on an annual basis after flowering or early spring. The Lavender leaves are long and spiky. It has tiny tubular flowers that are obviously purple lavender in color. These flowers are carried on long spikes in thick clusters.

Lavender can be cultivated from either cuttings or seed. When making use of cuttings – use the strong new growth in summer or autumn. When making use of seeds – sow them indoors in trays. Once the lavender plants have rooted you can plant them in well-drained, poor soil. They do not ask for much. If your soil does not drain well, you will notice that the lavender foliage will turn yellow.

Lavender bushes will not take a lot of effort once established. If your lavender bush seems to straggle, all that is required is a severe cut back and new growth will be generated.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

This particular herb plant is also known as English Lavender and may grow to a height of 9 meters (3 feet). It has thick woody stems and requires pruning on an annual basis after flowering or early spring. The Lavender leaves are long and spiky. It has tiny tubular flowers that are obviously purple lavender in color. These flowers are carried on long spikes in thick clusters.

Lavender can be cultivated from either cuttings or seed. When making use of cuttings – use the strong new growth in summer or autumn. When making use of seeds – sow them indoors in trays. Once the lavender plants have rooted you can plant them in well-drained, poor soil. They do not ask for much. If your soil does not drain well, you will notice that the lavender foliage will turn yellow.

Lavender bushes will not take a lot of effort once established. If your lavender bush seems to straggle, all that is required is a severe cut back and new growth will be generated.

Lavender Dentata

This particular Lavender type is also known as Lavandula dentata and also as Belgian lavender. This herb is a perennial and will grow to a height of about 60 cm (23.62"). Do plant Lavender Dentata 30 cm (11.81") apart. Lavender dentata will thrive in sunny area and well-drained soil.

This lavender is a particularly tall growing variety and will continue flowering throughout the year. The leaves are finely toothed and because this lavender grows into a shrub it makes for excellent fragrant hedging.

Lavender Hidcote

This herb is also known as the Lavendula angustifolia hidcote. It is a perennial herb and grows to a height of about 45 cm (17.71") which makes it ideal for the smaller garden. It makes an excellent border plant and should be planted 15 to 25 cm (5.9 to 9.84") apart for best effect. Like all lavender types the Lavender hidcote prefers a sunny area and well-drained soil. It is a slow grower and the flowers have a very soft color.

Lavender Munstead

The Lavender Munstead is also known as the Lavendula angustifolia munstead which is a perennial herb. Lavender munstead will grow to a height of approximately 45 cm (17.71") and should be planted 15 to 25 cm (5.9 to 9.84") apart in well-drained soil in an area that gets full sun.

This well-drained soil should be enhanced with a little lime for best effect. Lavender Munstead is actually a dwarf lavender variety and will serve the gardener well as a border plant in small gardens.

Lavender Stoechas

This particular lavender type is also known as French Lavender, and as Lavendula stoechas pedunculata. This herb is an evergreen shrub that grows to a height of about 60 cm (23.62") and should preferably be spaced 40 cm (15.74") apart. Like all Lavenders, the Lavender stoechas prefer a sunny position with well-drained soil. It is a low growing herb that will delight you with masses of dark purple flowers. Lavender stoechas also does great as container plants.

How to use Lavender

Culinary Uses

  • Fresh lavender flowers can be used to flavor fruit salads as well as flavoring syrup for jellies. Mix 6 lavender flower spikes into each 1/2 liter (1 pint) of apple jelly syrup. Remember to remove the lavender flowers before bottling the syrup.
  • Lavender flowers can also be used to flavor milk and cream for deserts.
  • The Lavender flowers can also be candied to decorate cakes and puddings. Lavender makes an attractive edible garnish.
  • Use lavender instead of rosemary when cooking chicken.
  • Lavender ice-cream is a real treat.

Medicinal Uses

  • Use an infusion of lavender on insect bites.
  • Dried flowers and seeds are used in herbal sleep pillows and baths for soothing and calming frayed nerves.
  • Lavender oil applied at the temples will relieve a headache.
  • Three lavender flower spikes in a cup of boiling water make a soothing tea at bedtime. Make this tea by pouring boiled water over English Lavender, or Lavendula angustifoli. You can sweeten the tea with honey if necessary.

Cosmetic Uses

  • To make lavender bath oil, place two tablespoons of chopped lavender into a bottle together with 200 ml (0.35 pint) of vegetable oil and one tablespoon white vinegar. Place a cork in the bottle to seal it and place the bottle in a warm place. Shake the lavender bath oil daily. After a fortnight strain the lavender and add fresh chopped leaves. Repeat this process until the scent of the lavender oil is to your liking. Whenever you want to relieve muscle tension add some homemade lavender bath oil to your bath.
  • Need a refresher – make use of lavender water. Mix 2 cups of distilled water and a quarter cup of vodka with eight drops of lavender oil. Keep this mixture in the refrigerator. Soak a handkerchief in the liquid and dab on your face and neck in hot weather. You will not only be cool and feel refreshed, you will also smell great.

Other Uses

  • Bunches of lavender are said to ward off insects. Fresh or dried flowers are used in rinsing water for clothes and hair. Wrap these little bundles of lavender flowers in muslin bags and voila you have lavender sachets that can be hung in clothes and linen cupboards to repel moths.
  • You can also place these lavender sachets under your pillow and into your dog’s bedding to ward off fleas.
  • Dried flowers and seeds are often used in potpourri and sachets. The stems are used to weave decorative baskets. To dry the flowers, cut them as soon as they begin to open and hang upside down in bunches in a well-ventilated area.
  • Suffering from a hangover – drink lavender tea. Make an infusion with three lavender sprigs in a tea pot for the morning after.
A Note of Caution when using Lavender: Lavender essential oil is highly toxic and should not be ingested. Rather use lavender essential oil by inhaling or mixing it with a carrier oil to rub on your skin. Avoid using Lavender during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.
NOTE: Be careful of the powerful effects of herbs. Use herbs in small doses and stop taking them if you feel side effects. Consult your doctor before taking herbs if you are unsure about their effects.