It’s no secret to anyone who knows me well that I love lavender, Lavandula angustifolia. I love its scent, I love how I feel when I smell it and I love the plant itself. It makes a lovely edge for flower beds and pairs magnificently with roses. Many gardeners say that lavender strong fragrance keeps aphids at bay. I find this to be true in my garden. Aphids tend to stay away from the roses that neighbor lavender. Our previous house was attractive to moths, so I used to keep a sachet of dried lavender flowers in my wardrobe to deter them. Not only I no longer saw moths, the sachet kept my clothes smelling fresh.
The name, lavender, stems from the Latin lavare which means to wash since this plant was often used in wash and bath water. The flowers have therapeutic properties and are also used in gastronomy.
English lavender, common lavender and narrow-leaved lavender
Lavender is native to the mountainous areas of the Mediterranean basin.
Lavandula angustifolia is a short and strongly aromatic evergreen shrub with rough, woody branches.
Plant type: Perennial.
Height: 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 feet).
Width: 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 feet).
Flowers: Very aromatic, small, spiky and bright purple.
Leaves: Lance-shaped (lanceolate), grey-green.
Blooms: June to August.
Lavender can be cultivated in cooler climates but might need winter protection. Since it is endemic to the Mediterranean, it thrives in full sun and for that reason it won’t bloom in cold climates as prolifically as in warm climates.
Hardiness: Zones 4 to 9. Zone 4 with winter protection.
Propagation: Cuttings from soft stems, seeds.
Spacing: 40 cm (16 inches) between plants and 70 cm (28 inches) between rows.
Soil: Sandy and poor. Add a topping of compost every few years.
Soil Drainage: Well-drained.
pH: Neutral and alkaline.
Exposure: Full sun.
Water needs: Average to low.
Pruning: Important to keep the plant tidy, to help it overwinter and to encourage more blossoms.
Pests and diseases: Normally none .
Garden Design: Pair lavender with roses, add them to the edge of an herb, medicinal or vegetable garden. Pair it with pink flowering herbs.
Season of interest: Summer.
Companion plants: Roses benefit from lavender’s fragrant flowers as the essential oils in lavender help to repel aphids. Avoid planting lavender near wormwood.
For medicinal purposes, harvest lavender flowers when they are beginning to bloom but before all the flowers have fully opened. Cut the flowering stalks a couple of fingers above the leaves. It’s easier to harvest the flowers with the stems and garble off the flowers when dried than to pick the fresh flowers off the stems.
Place the flowering stalks on a flat surface in a dry and well ventilated room and dry them at 38 to 40 degrees Celsius (100-104 F). Keep it out of direct light to help maintain medicinal value and vibrant color. Lavender is fully dried when the stems are no longer pliable and snap easily. At this stage, the flowers rub off the stems easily.
1-3% essential oil (mostly monoterpene, high amount of linalool, terpinene); tannins; rosmarinic acid, flavonoids (luteolin), traces of phytosterols and triterpenes (ursolic acid).
Mild sedative, relaxing nervine, antidepressant, carminative, diuretic, antispasmodic, cholagogue
Intense, strongly aromatic and fragrant.
MEDICINAL USE OF LAVENDER
Lavender can be taken internally as an herbal tea to reduce symptoms of stress and restlessness. As a tonic for the nervous system, it helps alleviate nervous debility and exhaustion. Since it promotes natural sleep, it is a great remedy for insomnia. It is also used to stimulate the gallbladder, to improve digestion, to ease the expulsion of gas and to soothe muscle spasms. Externally it can help to soothe the pains and aches associated with rheumatism. Lavender honey (created from bees feeding on lavender plants) can be used very successfully on uninfected wounds and insect bites.
Used internally for:
- Nervous exhaustion
- Nervous stomach irritations
- Stress related headaches
- Roemheld syndrome
- Meteorismus (bloating caused by excess gas accumulated in the gastrointestinal tract)
Used externally for:
- Insect stings and bites
Recommended daily dosage
Per Commission E:
Tea: 1 to 2 teaspoons of lavender flowers per cup of boiling water. Infuse covered for 10 minutes. Drink 3 times per day.
Bath additive: 20-100 g lavender flowers per 20 liters of water.
- Infusion (tea)
- Infused oil
- Herbal pillow
Bees make a premium quality honey from the abundant nectar present in the flowers. The flowers add a floral and slightly sweet flavor to most dishes. They pair very well with chocolate and are used in many baked goods and desserts. The flowers can also be candied and used as cake decoration.
Lavender is not used in traditional southern French cooking. It wasn’t until the 1970s that spice wholesalers invented the herb blend Herbes de Provence causing it to become popular in cooking.
Uses of lavender essential oil
By distilling the fresh flower spikes, an essential oil is obtained. The oil is insoluble in water and colorless. It’s often used in the production of perfume due to its sweet overtones. Lavender oil is also used in balms, salves, lotions, creams, bath and massage oils and soaps. It is one of the few essential oils that can be used undiluted directly on the skin. Lavender oil is indispensable in the medicine cabinet.
The essential oil is also used for its soothing and relaxing properties. Its fragrance helps to reduce stress and anxiety, and to treat insomnia. Lavender is also known to improve concentration and focus and is, therefore, a great ally to students and people in stressful jobs.
Lavender essential oil can be:
- Added to creams and lotions.
- Diffused in a room.
- Added to massage oil and to a bath.
- Applied to a cotton ball and used as a wash.
- Used as a compress for arthritis, rheumatism and skin conditions.
Effects on the body
Lavender oil is antibacterial (also against S. aureus), anti-fungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic. It boosts blood circulation and lowers blood pressure, it promotes pain relief (analgesic) and wound healing (vulnerary), it stimulates the immune system and promotes natural sleep.
- Nerve pain (neuralgia)
- High blood pressure
- Oral care
- Abdominal pain
- Nervous stomach problems
- Skin irritation
- Cuts and wounds
- Muscle tension and spasms
Effects on the mind
A balancing essential oil, lavender is calming, soothing and uplifting. It induces a feeling of well-being.
- Fear and apprehension
- Nervousness and anxiety during puberty
Constituents: 40-50 % ester; 30-40 % monoterpenol (linalool, terpineol-4, borneol); 7-13 % monoterpene (ocimene); up to 8 % sesquiterpene (β-caryophyllene); up to 1.5 % oxide (1.8-cineol, linalooloxide); traces of sesquiterpene ketone, coumarin, eugenol, monoterpene ketone.
Aroma: Intense, fragrant
Aroma intensity: High
Note: middle to top
Blends well with: rosemary, clary sage, cedarwood, geranium, citrus oils (bergamot, neroli, lemon, lime, etc.), frankincense, peppermint
Side effects and contra-indications of lavender essential oil: None. People allergic to lavender should not use it.
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Wichtl M. 2004. Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals – A handbook for practice on a scientific basis. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: medpharm Scientific Publishers
Carpenter, C. Carpenter, M. 2015 The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing
Keville, K. 1994. Herbs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers
Hoffmann, D. 2003. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester: Healing Arts Press
Werner, M. Von Braunschweig, R. 2016. Praxis Aromatherapie. 5th ed. Stuttgart: Haug
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