July is a popular month for lavender festivals in the Midwest.
Lavender farms host these festivals to educate the public about the beauty and benefits of lavender. And to sell their lavender products.
What is the draw to this ancient herb? It seems that lavender is in everything these days, from cupcakes to floor cleaners.
I’ve never had much luck growing lavender.
My mother-in-law introduced me to the plant about three decades ago. She had a few small plants growing in her perennial border. The lavender stood out with its gray-green foliage and a graceful silhouette.
Lavender loves sunshine and plenty of it. I’ve read that at least six hours a day is required, but I think it’s probably more like eight hours of full sun to grow healthy plants. And the soil should not be heavy, but loose and quick to drain.
And that’s where I went wrong trying to grow this plant.
A Native Mediterranean
The two most common types of lavender are English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and French lavender (Lavandula X intermedia), also known as Lavandin.
Both names are funny because lavender is native to the Mediterranean.
If you consider the climate of Spain, Greece, Italy, etc., you will understand that my wet soil and scare sunlight are the opposite of what lavender plants need.
So, why do I have a desire to grow lavender?
Well, there are a lot of reasons beyond the obvious beauty of the plant.
It’s a Mint
Lavender is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), along with many other garden and meadow plants like nepeta, sage, and deadnettle.
Mints tend to grow vigorously (some might call them invasive), but that’s only if you provide the proper growing conditions.
This family of plants is famous for aromatic foliage, which conveniently makes it unattractive to browsing animals. Deer and rabbits don’t like it. Hooray!
Lavender for Cleaning and Disinfecting
Not only do the blossoms and leaves of the lavender plant smell good, but they can also help you clean and disinfect your home.
Lavender has been used as a disinfectant for centuries. Those antimicrobial properties make it a desired ingredient in lotions, creams, soaps, and cleaning solutions.
You can make an all-purpose cleaning solution by mixing equal parts white vinegar and warm water, and then add 8-10 drops of lavender essential oil. Pour this into a spray bottle for cleaning surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. (Vinegar is an acid, so use caution on stone to avoid etching.)
A lavender essential oil can also be added to your favorite unscented liquid soaps for washing hands, dishes, floors, etc.
I’ve used a foot cream infused with lavender to soften calluses and discourage fungal growth. It is a fantastic treat for the cracked, dry skin on your feet.
Lavender Spa Therapy
You’ve no doubt heard or read that lavender is used for relaxation treatments.
There’s science to support the belief that lavender reduces anxiety. A Japanese study found that linalool, an alcohol found in plants such as lavender, affects the brain by signaling relaxation via the sense of smell. Read more about that here.
Every spa that I’ve ever been to infuses their signature massage oils and room diffusers with an herbal mixture including lavender.
You don’t have to do a spa trip to experience the benefits of lavender, though.
One of my favorite bath salts concoction mixes eucalyptus and lavender essential oils with magnesium to produce an outstanding bath soak for body aches. I used these salts when I had a terrible respiratory flu, and what a relief I felt after a warm soak!
Lavender can add flavor to a variety of foods and has become a trendy herb.
Dried lavender is a flavorful addition to cookies, iced tea, honey, craft cocktails, and cakes. You can buy the dried herb or a lavender sugar to substitute for regular sugar in your recipes.
What types of lavender are edible? Is culinary lavender something different than what grows in the garden?
The short answer is that all lavender is edible; but, with a caution.
French lavender has a higher camphor content and can cause stomach upset and toxicity in higher amounts.
Though it’s unlikely you’d ever eat enough to poison yourself, the milder English lavender is used in cooking and sold as culinary lavender.
Lavender farms, along with daylily farms and sunflower farms, are growing in popularity.
A little research on the web, and you’ll likely find a lavender farm that opens its doors to the public at least once a year.
In Madison, Ohio, I recently visited Luvin Lavender Farm’s lavender festival. The farm is also open to the public at various times (check their website here), and also offers many products in its online store.
I didn’t know there were so many varieties and cultivars of lavender until I visited the lavender farm. Some are compact and frilly, others are willowy and graceful. There are all shades of purple, but also pinks and whites.
The French lavender cultivar I tried growing (‘Fred Boutin’) would not be my first choice today. Based on what I saw, I would probably go with English lavender hybrid ‘Buena Vista,’ which blooms twice a season.
Or maybe ‘Mailette,’ another English lavender grown for its essential oils. In fact, ‘Mailette’ is the most widely grown variety of lavender in France for that reason.
Learning about lavender, specifically how to grow it, the varieties, and its many uses, inspire me to give this herb another try.
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