Simply The Best Herbs-January

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“best among the good plants for hot, sandy soils
are the ever blessed lavender and rosemary,
delicious old garden bushes that one can hardly dissociate.”

Miss Jekyll Home and Garden 1900

 

I am continuing my monthly series, Simply The Best this year with Herbs.  I grow many culinary annual herbs like rosemary, cilantro, dill, basil, parsley and the like.  And I have many perennial herbs throughout different areas of my gardens: sage, thyme, chives, lemon balm, oregano and mint.  I have always been fascinated by herbs and discovered many of my wildflowers are also herbs.  So I wanted to add some more perennial herbs to my zone 5b garden that can be used for medicinal and culinary purposes.  I decided to revamp 2 areas of the back gardens IMG_5373into herb gardens.  One will have herbs that like a moister environment, and one with herbs that prefer drier soil.  As these plans and gardens develop, I will share them with you.

But until those are designed, planted and photographed, I thought I would start with a much loved herb already growing in my garden, lavender.  It grows all over my front gardens and in some other interesting areas where I have pushed the limits of their growing conditions.

Lavender is a real standout in any herb garden.  For me the love begins with the wispy delicate gray green foliage, and moves to the incredible smell the flowers give off when the wind gently blows through them or I brush up against the plant.  On hot days the oils are released more and attract pollinators.  And if that is not enough there are the many uses. But I’ll get to those shortly.

I’ll be linking in with the meme, Dozen for Diana at her new blog, Elephant’s Eye on False Bay.

Lavender can be tricky to grow as it requires full sun, and sandy or loose well drained soil.  I find the hottest spots are the best so I grow mine near stone, brick and the black top of my driveway and the road.  I have never tried to grow lavender from seed as it is slow to germinate, but it can be grown from stem cuttings which might be fun to try.

 

 

Name

The English word lavender is taken from the Old French lavandre, and Latin lavare (to wash).  

IMG_6093The common names used for many of the species are, “English lavender”, “French lavender” and “Spanish lavender”.  “English lavender” usually refers to  L. angustifolia, also known as “Old English Lavender”.  The name “French lavender” refers to  L. dentata, and “Spanish lavender” usually refers to L. stoechas.

 

 

 

About

Lavender or Lavandula is comprised of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. Lavender is native to the Old World, and is found in warm climates especially in the Mediterranean and southern Asia.  Now you know why I grow mine in the hottest spots in my garden.

Lavandula angustifolia (formerly named L. officinalis) or English lavender is the most widely grown species, and what grows in my garden.  It is also the most aromatic and can grow into a 4 x4 foot bush on woody stems.  There are many cultivars that I have that grow white or pink flowers, or are dwarf and barely grow a foot.  Besides L. dentate and L. stoechas there is also Spiked lavender, L. latifolia.  These other lavenders are not hardy to my zone 5b garden.

The whole plant is fragrant, but the flowers have the strongest perfume.  It is best to pick the flower stalks at midday when they show some IMG_5967color but are not fully open.

Of course the color lavender is named for the flower, but some of the flowers are violet or even blue.

Because so many cultivated lavenders are planted worldwide, they sometimes have escaped and are found growing wild where they are considered invasive; for example in parts of Australia and Spain.

Lavender needs very little fertilizer if any because when it grows in less fertile soils it yields more oils.  One thing lavender does need is good air circulation. If you grow them where there is high humidity, like my garden, be careful of root rot due to fungus. Use of gravel mulch is best to prevent the fungus.  Where I have mulched mine with organic materials, I make sure they grow near my brick walkway or the stone of the wall.

 

 

Folklore

The ancient Greeks and Romans originally grew the species L. stoechas.  It was called nardus after the Syrian city of Naarda.

Lavender was one of the herbs used in the biblical Temple.

The Greeks discovered early on that lavender if crushed would release a relaxing scent when burned.

Interestingly, in medieval times powdered lavender was used as a condiment.

 

 

Uses

Not many uses for lavender are found before the Renaissance.  But after this time period, it was said to cure hoarseness, aching joints and calm nerves.

Much of the lavender grown in temperate climates are used either for ornamental plants in the garden or as culinary herbs.  It is also grown commercially IMG_5917for the essential oils.  Essential oil of lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.  But there is one health precaution, since lavender oil can cause allergic reactions. It is recommended that it not be eaten during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

 

Culinary uses

In the 1970s, a herb blend called herbes de Provence was invented and included lavender.  Lavender has more recently become very popular in cooking.  The abundant nectar from the flowers makes a wonderful honey.  Flowers are also candied and used on cakes, or as other food decorations.  You can find lavender sugar, and many lavender flavored  baked goods and desserts; especially delicious with chocolate.  I have even tasted lavender blended with green tea.

 

Medical uses

Lavender oil was used to cleanse hospitals during World War I .

Today lavender oil is one of the most widely used scents in aromatherapy and medicinal infusions. It is believed to soothe insect bites, burns, acne, inflammatory IMG_5596conditions and headaches. With uninfected wounds, lavender honey is said to be best.  Lavender flowers can aid sleep and relaxation when used in flower sachets or an infusion of flowers added to a cup of boiling water. It is even said to repel insects.  I may have to try it.

Lavender has be used to treat different types of cancers, and although it has not been completely proven that it is effective, many studies have shown that lavender has led to stabilization of the disease and reduction of tumors.

 

Commercial uses

Lavender flowers are used in dried flower arrangements, in potpourri and as an herbal filler for sachets. If dried lavender flowers are placed with items of clothing they freshen them and deter moths. Dried lavender flowers have recently gained popularity as wedding confetti. And of course lavender is popular in scented bath products.

 

 

Language of Flowers

Lavender has some lovely meanings:  serenity, grace, calmness.  There is one negative aspect of the plant as it has been said to mean distrust.  This meaning came from the superstition that poisonous snakes live under the plants, and is not associated with the actual flower meaning.

 

 

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“lavender, sweet lavender;
come and buy my lavender,
hide it in your trousseau, lady fair.
Let its lovely fragrance flow
Over your from head to toe,
lightening on your eyes, your cheek, your hair.”

Cumberland Clark Flower Song Book 1929

 

*All lavenders shown here are growing in my garden.

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Next up on the blog:   As February dawns, it will be time for another garden journal post.  Then there will be another Wildflower Tale featuring spiderwort just in time for GBBD.   Spring is getting closer and closer.  Seasonal Celebrations will be here on March 1st before we know it.

I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my current post now.

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All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2012.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.
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