Lavender: All-purpose ‘Swiss army knife’ of fragrant herbs |
More Lifestyles

Lavender: All-purpose ‘Swiss army knife’ of fragrant herbs

This lavender is ready to transplant. Lavender is a fragrant herb with Mediterranean origins that has been hybridized to such an extent that it can survive even Toronto winters.

Lavender is a species with a Mediterranean ancestry, but it has been hybridized to such an extent than it can survive Toronto winters. This perennial evergreen shrub is a prized ornamental but its utility is endless.

The fragrant herb can be grown from seeds or transplanted cuttings, and is easy to manage once you meet its basic needs, said Susan Harrington, who operates an online course in growing and marketing lavender from her Labyrinth Hill Lavender property in Hansville, Wash.

“Six or eight hours of full sun, preferably afternoon sun,” Harrington said. “Give it excellent drainage or it will root rot. It prefers the alkaline soils (6.5 to 7) of its Mediterranean origins.”

The biggest concern is freezing winds, she said: “Lavender needs wintertime protection.”

Commercial growers often describe lavender as the Swiss Army Knife of fragrant herbs, she said. It can be used in the kitchen and medicine cabinet, as well as in garden areas or in pots placed where its delicate scent can be appreciated.

Health benefits

Its health benefits range from aromatherapy to sanitizing cuts. Lavender’s fragrance lends itself to soaps, sachets and a variety of body-care products. Cooking options include brightening up cocktails and enlivening the taste of grilled meats, omelets, salads and desserts.

“Most people equate lavender with fresh aromatic bundles, as well as dried for floral arrangements,” Harrington said. “The longer the plant is allowed to bloom, the more intense the lavender essential oil.”

Lavender also is a pollinator-friendly plant, favored by a variety of bees and butterflies.

“It’s unique in its ability to track honeybees,” said David Salman, founder and chief horticulturist at High Country Gardens. “It’s a native of the Old World, as are honeybees. When bees and lavender moved to North America, the affinity to each other stayed the same.”

Lavender is a great perennial for arid regions as well, he said.

“In the West, it’s a terrific low-water plant,” he said. “Also, it’s browse- resistant from rabbits and deer, which is another plus.”

In hot, humid climates like Florida’s, lavender will do well in containers. Choose compact varieties to fit in pots or small gardens. They don’t require much if any fertilizer.

Deer deterrent

Some gardeners plant lavender around their roses to deter deer, which don’t like its scent, Salman said. The same goes for rodents and bothersome insects, Harrington said.

“Oftentimes, people put dried lavender in packets and in places where it seems to discourage fleas and moths,” she said. “I know of antique car owners who store the lavender bags in their vehicles in winter so mice won’t get into the heating ducts.”

Lavender flowering typically lasts three to four weeks, but it depends on location and weather.

Salman prolongs the blooming season in his Santa Fe, N.M., landscape by combining lavender types: cold hardy English (late spring through early summer), French hybrids (late spring to late summer) and Spanish (summer to fall).

“By doing this you can have them in bloom from late spring through fall, which is exceptionally important to bees,” Salman said.

No matter which type or variety you choose, lavender will supply a fulsome harvest, Harrington said.

“Even as few as 10 plants in your backyard can provide you with 5 pounds of dried lavender,” she said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.