If You Have to Pick One Herb for Your Garden, Choose Lavender.
There are many types of lavender. I like the ones with long stalks and big flower heads. All lavender is fragrant and fantastic for medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary uses. Lavandula angustifolia, in its many varieties, are low maintenance and drought tolerant plants.
What’s not to love about lavender? It attracts beneficial insects, like bees and butterflies, and deer and rabbits don’t bother it.
Lavender will soothe and calm nerves and has been used in herbal preparations to treat anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness for ages. Known for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, it helps heal minor burns and bug bites.
Your herbal first aid kit should contain some quality lavender oil for use in emergencies.
What Are the Best Lavender Varieties?
There are more than 400 lavender varieties so choosing the ones that are best for your climate and needs can be quite a challenge.
Lavandula angustifolia aka the English Lavender or Common Lavender is the most popular one as it is the hardiest lavender variety, yields the highest quality lavender oil, and gives off a fairly strong scent. It is best used in cooking, as a moth repellent (more on this in a bit), and for cooking uses. It flowers from early summer to mid-summer for around 3 to 4 weeks. It is a Mediterranean plant and thrives in 5 to 9 hardiness zones.
Lavandula stoechas also known as French lavender or butterfly lavender is grown mainly for its highly aromatic leaves. With its trademark “ears”, it is a beautiful plant that can boost the curb appeal of any garden or yard. It is best used in potpourris and essential oil production. It loves a hot climate and thrives in 8-9 hardiness zones. Flowering time: late spring to late summer.
Lavandula x intermedia, or Lavandin, is the most fragrant lavender variety. This variety is a hybrid that gives the highest yields of lavender oil but it doesn’t match Lavandula angustifolias when it comes to the quality of the oil. Lavandin is great as an ornamental plant especially in hedges, as well as in potpourris and for culinary uses. It thrives in 5-9 hardiness and tolerates hotter drier conditions than the angustifolia. Flowering time: early to late summer.
It’s Harvest Time
May, June, and July are the months for harvesting lavender. If you want to encourage growth for next year, you need to harvest stems from this year’s plants.
By the third and fourth year, your lavender plant will fully mature and bring you the potential of hundreds of blooms. A plant, properly cared for, will live about 10 years.
Related: Growing a Lavender Hedge Year 2
The best time for your lavender harvest is in the morning when the plant is dry and the sun is less intense. This preserves more of the essential oil in the blossoms.
- Cut a bundle of lavender from your plant. You don’t have to to be gentle with it, just grab a bit and cut, moving along the plant. Just be sure to leave a few inches of green growth on the plant. This is actually good for it. Be careful , going down to the woody portion of the stem is too extreme and will stunt the growth for next year.
- When you have a lavender bundle to fill your hand, wrap a rubber band around the bottom of the bundle. Some people cut the bottom off all pretty – I didn’t.
- Open a small paperclip and use it as a hook to hang the lavender bundle on the hanger. Place them upside down in a dry, dark place. The darkness will help the lavender retain its color, and drying it upside down helps lavender retain its blossom shape.
- Let the lavender dry for about a week until there is no moisture remaining on the stems in the center of the bundle.
It is critical for the lavender to be properly dried. When drying lavender, though, do it in small bunches as larger bunches prevent evaporation and increase the risk of mold formation.
The ideal lavender bunch size is how much of the plant fits between your pointer finger and your thumb when you connect their tips in a circle. Place the bunches in a dark but well-ventilated area.
Now the fun part, decide how you will use your lavender harvest!
Use your lavender harvest:
1. Use lavender in soothing and calming bath salts to relieve tension, stress, and insomnia. To make 12 ounces of Lavender and Rosemary Bath Salts mix these ingredients in a non-reactive bowl or glass jar:
- 1/2 cup Epsom salt
- 1/2 cup Dead Sea salt
- 1/2 cup oatmeal, powdered in a blender
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
- 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 to 10 drops of lavender essential oil
Combine the ingredients and mix well. Transfer it to a mason jar with a lid and let it rest for a couple of days so the essential oils are incorporated. Add a handful of lavender bath salts to warm bath water.
The Epsom Salts in this recipe help relieve sore muscles and the lavender will help relieve stress. Here’s a related post on the surprising uses of epsom salt around the home and garden: 30 Uses for Epsom Salts. Enjoy!
2. Make lavender antiseptic spritzer with 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons of lavender infused witch hazel, 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil – all placed in an 8 oz spray bottle.
3. Make lavender lemonade with this recipe from Small Footprint Family. It uses honey, lemons, and lavender. Simple and scrumptious!
4. Make lavender infused sugar to give as a gift with your own specialty herbal tea blend. Organic Gardening has a fabulous tutorial for infused sugars.
5. Lavender wands – these sell for big bucks in specialty stores!
1) Use freshly picked lavender but make sure it is not wet from rain or dew. You need the stalks to be bendable. Begin with an uneven number of stalks, the bigger the bundle the bigger your wand.
2) Tie ribbon around the stalks and under the flower bundle to secure and
3) Fold the stalks down evenly over the flower head bundle.
4) Weave the ribbon over and under each stalk, around and around, until you have enclosed the entire flower head.
5) Tie off the ribbon at the bottom.
6) Be sure to give the finished wand a roll between your palms to release that wonderful lavender fragrance.
6. Natural Moth Repellent. Lavender is a healthier alternative to mothballs as the aroma compounds in this plant can successfully repel moths and deter a full-fledge infestation from taking hold.
Grandma probably knew this, and people have been using dry lavender in muslin sachets around the house since time immemorial to prevent moths from feasting on their clothing made of natural fabrics such as linen or wool.
Keep in mind that lavender does not kill off moths. It just keeps them at bay, just like garlic is supposed to do with vampires. So, make sure that the place where you plan on using them is moth-free in the first place.
Is lavender more effective than mothballs? The jury is still out on it, but lavender seems to be just as effective as mothballs in the short run. Nevertheless, over time, lavender loses its potency, that’s why you need to replenish it every now or then.
Even though mothballs retain their efficacy over time longer than lavender, they release toxic fumes which can be a problem for human health in the long run. For this reason, some countries have banned naphthalene-based mothballs and have been encouraging people using lavender instead.
Here’s how to make a lavender sachet.
You can use almost any type of fabric bags in this project, but organza bags are the best since they allow the lavender to breathe and give off its nice insect-repellent smell. You can use whatever size for the bags as you like. Just fill the bags with dried lavender buds, close them and secure them with a knot. You can use the lavender stems too as long as they are cut very small.
It is critical for the lavender to be properly dried. When drying lavender, though, do it in small bunches as larger bunches prevent evaporation and increase the risk of mold formation. The ideal lavender bunch size is how much of the plant fits between your pointer finger and your thumb when you connect their tips in a circle.
Place the bunches in a dark but well-ventilated area. Here’s some helpful tips on how to properly dry lavender in your home. It’s not rocket science.
Lavender loses potency over time when it comes to repelling moths, so you might need to revive the scent by applying lavender essential oil to your sachets. The good news is that you can make lavender essential oil (sort of) at home.
7. Make lavender essential oil. For this project, you’ll need:
- Lavender buds (if you’re low on them you can buy them online.)
- Coffee filters
- Grain alcohol (rubbing alcohol is not recommended as its smell is too overpowering)
- Mortar and pestle (here are some tips on picking the best mortar and pestle for your needs)
- A couple of dark-colored jars.
Check out Essio’s website for a step-by-step guide to making lavender essential oil at home.
Lavender essential oil has multiple health and beauty benefits. It can help alleviate anxiety and improve mood even in new moms, who are at a higher risk of severe depression and anxiety after giving birth.
When combined with lemon and peppermint oil, lavender essential oil can ward off allergies, as lavender is a natural antihistamine. In some cases, diluted lavender essential oil can even prompt new hair growth when used along with cedarwood, thyme, and rosemary.
You can add lavender essential oil (5 drops) to distilled water (5 oz) to make a 100% natural and refreshing lavender water. Use the water as a tonic on your face and body or as an air freshener. Also, you can make your own lavender-infused massage oil by adding lavender essential oil (around 10 drops) to a non-scented plant oil such as jojoba or almond oil (40 oz).
8. DIY Natural Ear Infection Remedy. Lavender has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which make it a boon for your health when an ear infection kicks in. The risk of ear infections quadruples in the warm season, when swimming becomes such a popular activity for both kids and grownups.
But children face the highest risk of recurrent ear infection. So, having a natural but highly effective remedy for ear infections at hand can be a lifesaver while on a family vacation.
- Course salt (1/2 cup)
- 2 drops lavender essential oil/ ½ cup dried lavender buds
Fill a muslin bag with the salt and lavender buds and heat it until warm. If you’re using essential oil, add it after you have heated the bag with the salt. Place the bag over the infected ear but ensure that it is not too hot to burn the skin.
Warm the bag again and repeat until complete relief. This remedy, however, is designed only to alleviate the pain and discomfort of an ear infection. It should not replace professional medical assistance so check with a medical professional to make sure that the infection has been completely treated.
Want more? See also 50 Ways to Use Your Lavender Harvest from Naturopathic by Nature. Share your favorite way to use your lavender harvest in the comments section below.
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