Lovely Lavender

Prized since Ancient Egyptian times for its relaxing aromatic, culinary and medicinal properties, lavender is an excellent plant for attracting pollinators to the garden- reap the benefits for yourself!

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There are many reasons lavender has been so popular throughout the ages.  Lavender’s  ambient aroma reduces anxiety and improves mood.  It is also widely used as a sleep aid.  Its oil contains Linalool, which has been identified as the pharmacologically-active component in lavender’s anxiety-reducing ability.  With its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties,  lavender has also traditionally been used to treat wounds, burns and other skin ailments.  The oil can also be used to repel biting insects.  The buds are beautiful and have inspired countless poems.  And if all of that isn’t enough to convince you that you indeed should be growing some, too, it attracts beneficial pollinators to your garden.  Beneficial insects like bees, butterflies, and flower beetles participate in myriad symbiotic relationships throughout the garden, and can contribute to noticeably improved harvests.

Lavender belongs to the genus Lavandula, part of the Lamiaceae family of mint, sage, and thyme.  Most lavender grown in America falls under four sections of the genus Lavandula: Stoechas, Dentata, Latifolia,  and  Angustifolia.

Lavandula stoechas commonly called Spanish Lavender, was the most popular distilled oil in the Middle Ages, and is now prized for its long and recurring blooming season.

Lavandula dentata  is the oldest known lavender, often called Spike Lavender.  In ancient references it was called Spikenard or Nard.

Lavandula angustifolia was nicknamed English Lavender because of its importance to the English lavender-oil industry, even though the plant is thought to have originated in the French Alps.  The L. angustifolia scent is more delicate, has a lower oil content (compared to the flowers of the Lavadin hybrids, which also contain more camphor) and is the most appropriate for kitchen use, with a long history of culinary delicacy dating back most famously to Queen Victoria, who drank up to ten cups of lavender tea daily to alleviate migraines.  Popular varieties include: ‘Royal Purple‘, ‘Hidcote‘, and ‘Munstead

Provence‘ and ‘Grosso‘ are two of America’s most common lavenders and are actually Lavadins, a sterile hybrid of Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia.  The botanical name of Lavandin is Lavandula x intermedia.  The x stands for “cross”.  For example: Lavandula x intermedia Provence‘ or Lavandula x intermedia Grosso‘.  ‘Grosso‘ was developed in Europe for it’s disease resistance and ability to produce a higher oil content than other varieties.  It is one of the tallest lavender varieties, blooming in June and July, making it’s structure especially popular in landscaping.

Tips for Growing Lavender

– Choose plant varieties that have been proven to grow in your area

– Choose a spot with at least five hours of direct sunlight daily

– The soil must drain well– lavender does NOT like wet roots.  You may amend the soil with sand, small rocks or pearlite to increase drainage

– Lavender prefer a slightly alkaline soil, with pH between 6.5 and 7.5.  You may add lime, to increase alkalinity

– Cut flowers in the first year to send the plant’s energy towards the development of a strong root system.

– Overhead watering is not recommended, as the foliage rots easily.  Instead, use drip irrigation or water at the base of each plant

– In Fall, before the plant becomes dormant, prune back the flower wands to the plant’s core (if you haven’t already done so when harvesting the stems)

– Fertilize with composted Chicken Manure and Bone Meal when planting

– Keep weeds at bay around the plant by pulling by hand or applying weed cloth

– Do NOT use mulch around the plant– lavender is extremely susceptible to fungal issues caused by increased moisture

Recipe for Lavender Love Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) Butter
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons lavender buds

Preparation

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the sifted flower and lavender buds, reserving a few for later.  Mix together and knead to form a smooth dough.
  3. Roll out on a lightly floured board and cut with a heart-shaped cutter.
  4. Sprinkle the remaining buds on top.
  5. Bake on a greased tray at 325 degrees F (160 degrees C/gas mark 3) until firm to the touch and golden in color.  Cool on a wire tray.

Recipe from The Book of Magical Herbs: Herbal History, Mystery, and Folklore by Margaret Picton

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