Lavender: the word recalls a pretty shade of purple, and the household plant with miniature purple flowers. Best known for its pleasant aroma, lavender is a popular herb that’s been in use for centuries for its purported therapeutic benefits, and in cleaning. From candles to soaps to essential oils and more, you’re likely familiar with lavender’s clarifying scent, and may use the herb yourself one it comes to household cleaning, and for relaxation purposes. Curious about how to grow and use lavender? Read on.
Lavender’s usage as aromatherapy and cleaning isn’t new – humans have utilized the herb for thousands of years. Believed to have originated in the Mediterranean, lavender is also native to the Middle East and Europe. Unknown to many, lavender’s unique scent derives from that fact it is part of the aromatic mint family. As for the name, lavender stems from the Latin lavare, which means to wash, likely referring to how the herb was commonly used in washing clothes and other household items.
Growing and Planting Lavender
Along with full, constant sunshine, slightly warm, alkaline, and rocky soil is lavender’s best friend. Avoid wet and marshy soil at all costs, as it can lead to root rot and the eventual death of the plant. As for growing, you can use seeds, with germination taking several months, or cuttings, for faster growth. You can also repot and grow a store-bought plant, as well. Be sure to water once a week until the roots take firm hold, then water every two to three weeks. Once flowers appear, resume watering twice weekly. The best time for planting is in the springtime when the plant is young.
In addition to the above care, lavender requires pruning, or removing dead blooms and stems, to encourage new growth. Prune once flowering is over, which is usually late autumn to early spring. Note that the older a plant, the more that can be cut. As a general guideline, cut 1/3 of the way down, but not to the wood.
Harvesting and Drying Lavender
To harvest lavender, do so in the early springtime, in the morning, just as the flowers are starting to bloom; remember this handy saying “early spring, early bloom, early morning.” With shears or plain scissors, simply cut the stems just above the leaves, leaving a few inches below the blooms. If harvested too late in the season, the blooms will be dry and brittle, with less fragrance.
To preserve your lavender cuttings, you will need to dry them. Tie the cuttings together, and hang upside down, and leave in a shaded and dry spot, to preserve the flowers’ colors and to prevent mildew growth. Don’t bunch too many cuttings together, as the lavender will need air to circulate and help with drying. Drying time can vary, but usually takes a few weeks or a month. The telltale sign: lavender stems snap crisply, instead of bending, once dried out.
Lavender is best known for its use in aromatherapy, as the scent invokes feelings of calm and focus. However, throughout history lavender has been used to treat issues such as headache, muscle cramps, acne, etc. Today, proponents of holistic healing continue to use lavender. Studies have also shown that lavender contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, which explains why lavender has been used for cleaning purposes then and now. Lavender is also edible, and is even used in wine making, resulting in a taste that is light, crisp, and dry. With cooking, lavender can be used fresh or dried; culinary lavender, or Lavandula angustifolia, is the best type to use. A little is all that’s needed, as lavender has a soft and slightly bitter flavor. Use as a rub, marinade, or in salads.
Lavender Essential Oil
One of the most popular essential oils, lavender essential oil results from a process called distillation. In simplified terms, flowering tops and stems are placed within a vessel, with steam passed through, resulting in steam stripping. This vapor, now carrying droplets of oil, is then piped into water, and as oil is less dense than water, the essential oil will float on the top. Modern equipment has made extraction more efficient, but the overall process of extracting lavender essential oil via distillation has remained the same over the centuries. Do note, however, that lavender essential oil should not be consumed. It can be applied topically to the skin and scalp but test a patch of skin first for sensitivity; if any redness of irritation occurs, discontinue use. If you find the oil’s aroma is too strong, dilute with water, or with mix a tiny amount with a carrier oil, such as almond or coconut oil. For an even and controlled dispersal of lavender’s scent throughout a room or residence, you can use an essential oil diffuser to enjoy lavender’s refreshing scent, and for a calming experience.