Lavender has a steady tradition of health use since the time of Dioscorides, a first century AD. Greek naturalist. It possesses tonic, stimulant, antispasmodic, carminative, sedative, stomachic, and diuretic qualities. Lavender tea, oil, or inhalants can be used to help support headaches, neuralgia, migraines, muscle spasms, joint pain, and other ailments.
Lavender oil contains linalool, linalyl acetate, lavandulyl acetate, and over 100 other components. In tests with mice the oil has been found to be a central nervous system depressant.
Lavender is one of the most appreciated of fragrant herbs. Lavender oils are used as fragrance in preparations and in cosmetic dreams, lotions, soaps, perfumes, and colognes. I distinctly remember my first cup of lavender tea. It tasted more like a bar of soap than a beverage. Both L. angustifolia and L. stoechas are commercially produced for dried flowers and essential oil.
General Herb Information
There are about twenty species and numerous varieties of lavenders occurring mainly in the Mediterranean region, though some hail from as far east as India.
English lavender L. angustifoIia is a two- to three-foot-tall perennial shrub with slightly hairy linear or lance-shaped leaves up to 2 1/2 inches long. It produces one-half-inch-long blue-violet flowers arranged in whorls of six to ten blooms on loose 3 1/2-inch-long spikes. Leaf-like bracts are in an opposite arrangement below each whorl. They are usually shorter than the three-sixteenths inch calyces. English lavender has many cultivars including the dwarf early blooming 'Munstead' the white flowered 'Alba', 'Hidcote', a deep purple-flowered cultivar, and 'Rosea', with rose-pink flowers, to name a few.
French or dentate lavender, L. denlatti, grows to three feet in height. The leaves are grayish in color and covered with a soft fuzz. They are about 1 1/4 inches long, linear-oblong with well-defined rounded teeth at the margins. The tight spikes are up to 1 inches long and one-half inch in diameter. The one-fourth inch long purple flowers are offset by thin, purple, oblong- to oval-shaped bracts up to one-half inch in length. One variety has green rather than gray leaves.
L. multifida, fern leaf lavender, has lacy; finely divided fern-like leaves. Each segment is one-fourth to three-fourths inches long. The spikes are often in threes or solitary; up to 2 1/2 inches long with one-half inch-long bluish corollas.
L. stoechas, Spanish lavender, is a shrub growing to four feet tall with linear to oblong, lance-shaped leaves about three-fourths inches long. The spikes are short and plump up to 1 1/2 inches long eighths inch flowers are dark purple. This lavender is native to Spain and Portugal.
L. x kybrida albiz ex Gingins (L. hetervphylla, Sweet Lavender, Taylor's Herb Garden's name) is a fast-growing perennial reaching four feet in height. The leaves are fuzzy, broad, lance-shaped to spatular-shaped, 1 1/2 inches long, with compact groups of leaves. The compact spikes are up to three inches long. The bracts have sharply pointed tips, become enlarged toward the top of the spikes, and are sessile toward the top. Once flowering commences it continues through the growing season. This hybrid is found only in cultivation.
Lavenders can be grown from seed, cuttings, or root divisions. Cuttings taken in spring or fall are the best means of propagation. Seeds take about a month to germinate and should be planted indoors six to eight weeks before spring's final frost. Plants from cuttings or seeds grow very slowly the first year, often reaching only six to eight inches in height. They must be mulched or otherwise protected through the first winter.
Lavenders like a light, well-drained, gravelly soil well-supplied with lime; pH should be between 6 and 8.3. L. angustifolia is the only species I've listed that will survive a hard, cold winter. The others hardly stand a freeze. Wet soils will inevitably winterkill the crown. A protected south-facing location is best. A heavy mulch should be provided after the ground freezes in late fall.
Harvest the buds just as the flowers are about to open. Dry in a well-ventilated space with subdued light.
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