I tried to grow lavender as one of the first herbs I planted in my garden – and promptly killed it. Since then I learned to pay attention to what the plants need instead of where they'd look nice in the yard. In this post I'll share easy tips for helping your lavender plants to thrive, and some of my favorite lavender uses. It's a great garden plant for bees, and has a rich history of use as food and medicine.
A Little Lavender History
Lavender (Lavandula) is a genus of 47 known species. The five main types of lavenders are:
- English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia
- Portuguese Lavender Lavandula latifolia
- French Lavender Lavandula dentata
- Spanish Lavender Lavandula stoechas
- Lavandin Lavandula intermedia
The flowers range in color from a white-pink to a dark purple. Lavender is part of the mint family and is one of the most used and cultivated herbs worldwide.
One of the earliest recorded uses of lavender that I could find is from Dioscorides in 60 AD. Dioscorides wrote about lavender in “De Materia Medica”. De Materia Medica is a première historical source of information about the medicines used by the Greeks, Romans, and other cultures.
I found lavender use associated with King Tut's Tomb, Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I. The article Lavender Use and Lore notes:
Lavender is referenced throughout the Bible by the name spikenard, which was the Greek name for lavender. For example, John 12 1-10: reads, “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.” Spikenard was used as one of the Eleven Herbs for the Incense in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. A cross fashioned out of lavender was often hung over Christian household doors for protection in biblical times.
How to Grow Lavender
Lavender is a perennial with a typical lifespan of ten years, although some plants have been known to live up to 20 years! True lavender is native to the mountains of the Mediterranean region. The ideal environment for lavender is one which mimics the Mediterranean, where winters are cool and moist and the summers are hot and dry. Source
Lavender grows in zones 5-9, and sometimes up to zone 11. With care, lavender can be grown as far north as zone three, as demonstrated by my friend, Chris, from Joybilee Farm.
We live in zone 8 on the east coast and our lavender does really well as long as I remember to prune it for air flow. Our lavender is almost 4 feet tall and just as wide, which is average for a lavender plant.
Lavender Growing Tips
- Lavender needs 6+ hours of sun per day
- Grow in well-drained area
- If you have clay or hard soil, grow lavender in raised beds or pots
- For sandy soil, mix with rocks or shells for drainage
- Do not over water – let dry between waterings
- Plant with other drought-tolerant plants
- Water from the bottom, not overhead
- Allow for ample air circulation avoiding planting next to a wind block such as buildings
- No need to mulch – you don't want to trap moisture
- Prune your plants back in the fall
How to Cook With Lavender
Most varieties of lavender can be used in cooking, but flavor will vary. Grow your own or buy organic lavender or lavender sold specifically for culinary applications to avoid pesticides or other contaminants.
What is the difference between lavender and culinary lavender?
Plants or dried herbs sold as culinary lavender are generally harvested from the Lavandula angustifolia species. Lavandula angustifolia species possess a sweeter fragrance and spice. The flavor is floral, with lemon and citrus notes. Click here to purchase culinary lavender.
The leaves, flowers and stems of lavender are all used for cooking. Sturdy dried stems make handy skewers for kabobs. Just soak the stems for about an hour before loading them up and using them on the grill. Finely chop the leaves and sprinkle them on savory foods for a unique flavor twist.
- Cocktails, such as this Lavender Fields Forever Recipe
- Meat dishes
- Vinegar – see How to Infuse Herbs in Oil, Water, Vinegar, Alcohol or Honey
- Garnish – I like to dip my lemons in lavender and place by water or tea for my guests.
- Cheeses – I place goat (or other soft cheese) on a nice dish, sprinkle lavender flowers then drizzle with honey.
- Lavender infused sugar – wonderful for dipping the rim of your drink or sprinkling on scones.
How to Make Lavender Infused Sugar
You will need:
- Small glass jar with lid
- Lavender blossoms
Place a layer of sugar in the bottom of the jar, and top with a layer of flowers. Use roughly four times as much sugar as flowers. (For instance, about one cup of sugar and 1/4 cup blossoms.) Repeat layers until jar is filled. Place jar in a cupboard or pantry for 4-6 weeks, shaking occasionally to distribute the lavender flavor. Use as you would regular sugar. Leave flowers in or sift out – your choice. The sugar dries and preserves them.
If you don't have your own fresh lavender, you can buy lavender sugar ready made.
Medicinal Lavender Uses
Lavender is my go-to for many of our medical issues – I use it for everything from migraines to burns.
Some of the properties for lavender include:
Medicinal Uses for Lavender
Lavender is used medicinally for:
- Sleep disorders
- Muscle Pain
- Heals burns and wounds
- Improves eczema and psoriasis
- Heals burns and wounds
- Digestive Issues
Lavender Oil or Herb?
Many people will ask me which is better- Oil or Herb? I discussed this subject in detail in this article, Herbs or Essential Oils- Which is Better?
Always dilute lavender essential oil with a carrier oil. Never use essential oils on cats, small children, or pregnant/nursing moms.
Always ask your doctor or other medical professional when taking herbs or essential oils for health. This post is for general information only.
Other Lavender Uses
From cosmetics to teas, lavender has hundreds of applications. I use it in many natural pest control recipes, as well as craft projects.
- Perfume – Make Your Own Perfume With Essential Oils by Common Sense Homesteading
- Cold and Flu- Knock Out Cold and Flu Germs by Common Sense Homesteading
- Playdough – Easy Homemade Herbal Playdough by My Homestead Life
- Natural Pest Control- Natural Spider Repellents – 8 Ways to Get Rid of Spiders by Common Sense Homesteading
- Mosquito Repellent- How to Make A Mosquito Repellent Necklace by My Homestead Life
- Gifts- 10 Easy Herbal Gifts to Enjoy Now, Plus One Gift That Lasts All Year Long by Common Sense Homesteading
How do you use lavender? Did I miss something you'd like to know? Share your questions and comments below.
This post is by Amber Bradshaw of My Homestead Life. Amber is a environmentalist, garden and outdoor enthusiast. She is a wife, mother of three and owns a contracting business with her husband. Amber strives to get back into nature with a more sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle that fits a busy schedule and a tight budget.
She lives on the east coast with her family on a little over 1/4 acre and encourages others to do big things with small spaces.