What type of herb is Lavender?
Lavender (Lavandula) is one of most popular plants in today's herb garden and is particularly useful in borders, edges, as internal hedges and on top of dry walls. It is cultivated all over the world, growing in well-draining soil and warm sunny climates. However, Lavender will adapt to semi-shade as long as the soil requirements are met.
Lavender is from the family Lamiaceae. There are many different species of Lavender and we have many in Jekka's Herbetum, in particular the two main species are:
- Lavandula angustifolia: this group of Lavenders are tough, hardy and very popular. They make good hedges, with a compact habit and narrow grey, green aromatic leaves, and short compact flower spikes
- Lavandula x intermedia: these large elegant Lavenders are a cross between angustifolia subsp. angustifolia (meaning narrow leaves) and latifolia (meaning broad leaves) and are often called Lavadin. They have long flower spikes.
Mythology & history around Lavender
Long before the world made deodorants and bath salts, the Romans used Lavender in their bath water; the word Lavender is derived from the Latin lava, meaning to wash.
It has also been used as a strewing herb for its insect-repellent properties and for masking household and street smells. It was often carried as nosegays to ward off the plague and to deter pestilence.
How do you grow and maintain Lavender
In general, the cultivars of Lavender are grown from cuttings enabling them to run true to species. You should take cuttings from non-flowering stems in spring before flowering or in the autumn after flowering. Once the cuttings have rooted, it is advisable to pot them up and winter the young plants in a cold greenhouse rather than plant them out in their first winter.
In the summer you should trim after flowering to maintain its shape. Jekka says “cut back one 8th in the 8th month", this translates to prune in August to an 8th of the green (non-woody) stem. Make sure that you stay within the green, not cutting back into the old wood otherwise this will not re-shoot. In the UK all pruning should be finished by October giving the plant time to heal before the first frosts.
Lavender as a culinary herb
As a family we use Lavender sparingly in cooking. It is particularly useful in winter when you want another flavour rather than Rosemary. It is also extremely good infused in sugar for making cakes, biscuits and puddings.
Harvest the leaves before flowering with the best flavour being in early summer. The leaves can be used fresh or dried. Cut the flowers in summer, just as they open, to use fresh or dried. The flowers can be used to flavour sugar which in turn is used to cook biscuits and cakes.
For cooking, we recommend you try Hidcote Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote').