Favourite Herbs: Lavendar

Lavendar

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Lavandula angustifolia

Perennial; borderline hardy in most parts of Canada

Height 30 to 90 cm; spread 30 to 45 cm.

Small shrub bears narrow, downy grey leaves and aromatic, dark-pink, purple, or violet flowers on tall spikes.

Try these!

Lavandula angustifolia ’Munstead’: Hardiest of all varieties, will stand mid –30˚Cs with snow cover; lavender flowers

Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’: Tender variety with silvery-grey foliage and dark-purple flowers; 45 to 60 cm

Lavandula x intermedia (English lavender): Tender variety with grey-green foliage and light-blue to violet flower.

Planting

Lavender is difficult to grow from seed because the seed is slow and erratic—there is a poor germination percentage even under ideal greenhouse conditions. Most Lavender is propagated vegetatively, so start with young plants purchased from a garden centre.

How Much: At least two plants.

When: Early spring; can withstand a light frost.

Where: Full sun. Demands dry, sandy, very well-drained soil. Space plants 30 to 45 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Lavender requires some care to grow well. Although commercial plantings of lavender can last up to 30 years, most of us are best off replacing our lavender plants about every 3 years: they tend to get tough and woody. Prune lightly in the spring to shape and remove any winter-killed growth. Never cut into old wood: it sets the plant back. Never prune when frost is imminent: a tender perennial, lavender is easily damaged and needs protection from cold. Heavy foliage in the fall helps to trap the snow for insulation.

Harvesting

Harvest leaves and flowers as needed throughout the season. Lavender leaves and flowers are not only edible, but can also be used in a variety of handcrafts and products for the home.

For best flavour: Harvest leaves just before the last flowers on each stalk have opened fully.

Leaves: Cut sprigs where they attach to the main growing stem; use whole or strip the leaves from the top down. Discard tough stems.

Flowers: Clip individual flowers from stems. Remove all green or brown bits from the flowers before eating.

Preserving the Harvest

Use flowers fresh, dried, or frozen; freeze fresh flowers as soon as you harvest them. Use leaves fresh or dried.

Tips

  • Here are some other lavender varieties you may want to try.
    • The hardy L. angustifolia ‘Rosea’ has rose flowers and reaches 40 to 45 cm.
    • Another hardy variety, L. angustifolia ‘Jean Davis’, has pale-pink flowers and reaches 45 to 60 cm.
    • Fringed lavender (L. dentata), a tender variety, has dark-green foliage and dense spikes of slightly fragrant, purple-blue flowers tipped with purple bracts; it is scented like a sweet blend of rosemary and lavender.
    • Tender spike lavender (L. latifolia) has grey-green foliage and fragrant mauve-blue flowers in narrow, branching spikes.
    • French lavender (L. stoechas), another tender variety, has grey-green foliage and fragrant dark-purple flowers; its balsam-like scent suggests a blend of rosemary and lavende.
  •  Lavender grows fairly slowly, so it's best to buy well-established plants, at least two years old.
  • I've grown lavender on the north side of my house for five years and it has done well, although the flowers are smaller than average.

To Note:

  • Flies and mosquitoes do not like the scent of lavender. A sachet made from oil of lavender on a cotton ball tied and hung in a room is said to keep the room free of flies. However, lavender is very attractive to butterflies, moths, and bees, and provides a good source of nectar.
  • The essential oil from lavender has powerful antiseptic qualities that can kill many common bacteria, including typhoid, diphtheria, streptococcus and pneumococcus.
  • Lavender’s essential oil is commonly used in soap making, in high quality perfumes, and in eau de cologne. Lavender is now being grown in Australia as a perfume plant.
  • Lavender's name comes from the Latin lavare (to wash). The ancient Greeks and Romans used lavender in their washing water to add a fresh, clean scent to their clothes, much as we use fabric softeners today.
  • Glove makers in Grasse who used lavender to scent leather showed a resistance to the plague. They encouraged others to carry lavender to ward off the disease.
  • In Tuscany, lavender was thought to protect children from the Evil Eye.