Growing Lavender: From Harvesting to Using

Take advantage of the many healing aspects of this calming plant by growing your own lavender.

| July/August 2014

  • Lavender can grow from 1 to 2 feet tall and when in bloom, form purple flowers.
    Photo by iStock
  • The beauty and aroma of a lavender plant is known to envoke a sense of peacefulness.
    Photo by Veer
  • Lavender essential oil can be used in a variety of natural rememdies.
    Photo courtesy Veer
  • Lavender is best grown in a sunny spot with well-drained soil.
    Photo by Jerry Pavia

I visited an organic lavender farm last summer. About a half-mile down the road I knew I was close, as I could smell the fragrance wafting through the air. The rolling hillside was full of stunning, silvery-green and purple lavender plants. While I’ve never been to France, I imagined this is what the French countryside must look and smell like. I felt immediately transported to a peaceful place. How much was linked to the actual aromatic effects of lavender or the natural beauty of it in this lovely environment, I’ll never know. Either way, it was a memorable experience.

It’s not as hard as you might think to experience the beauty and healing properties of lavender by growing fresh lavender for use in food, body care and more. Lavender is easy to grow in pots or outside in your garden.

A Brief History of Lavender

Lavender has been used for at least 2,500 years, when it was applied in mummification and perfume-making by the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians and Arabs. Ancient Romans are also believed to have used lavender for cooking, bathing and scenting the air. In Roman times, a pound of lavender flowers sold for the equivalent of a farm laborer’s monthly wages. The flowers were used to infuse water in Roman baths, which lead to the modern name for lavender (the Latin word lavare means “to wash”). In Medieval Europe, lavender was thrown on the stone floors of castles to help disinfect and deodorize them.

Growing Lavender

Many lavender varieties range from 1 to 2 feet tall and form mounds of silver-green foliage topped with purple flowers when in bloom. The plants are simple to grow and require minimal care, making them ideal for the lazy or novice gardener. Shorter varieties make great edging along walkways, while taller kinds make beautiful hedges.

Lavender is a perennial plant that grows best in a sunny location with well-drained soil. In places where winters are wet, it may not survive the winter and should be treated as an annual. Pay attention to the spacing recommendations on the plant’s tag when purchasing lavender plants, as some varieties can grow more than a few feet in diameter. You can also grow lavender from seed either indoors in pots or outdoors by sprinkling the seeds over the ground. While it’s not necessary to cover the seeds with soil, a dusting of earth to cover them helps prevent birds from eating the seeds. Lavender hates being overwatered: It needs watering to get started but only infrequent watering after the plant takes hold—even during hot weather. Water once or twice a week unless you’re in a hot, dry climate, then you can water slightly more frequently.

Harvesting Lavender

To harvest, wait until the plant blooms and cut about one-third of the way down the stems, leaving some of the stems on the plant. Place cut stems in water in a vase or pitcher to give the air a fresh, sweet smell. They last about a week. 

7/15/2014 9:27:36 PM

Lavender is certainly one of the most amazing plants I've ever come across. When one of my daughters was little, she started her own herb bed…and of course Lavender was one of the plants she started with. Hardy, easy to grow and so beautiful, it’s one of those plants a gardener never grows tired of. We use it for dried sachets, tea and of course it’s a lovely presence in a vase on our kitchen table. My favorite variety of Lavender is of course English Lavender:

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