Helpful Herbs: Lavender
If I were to venture a guess, I’d say that lavender is one of the most well known and admired herbs. It can be more picky to grow than some of the other herbs which we’ve covered in this series, but it’s still an easy keeper and its benefits are countless.
Lavender has been such a part of our history that its name is used not only to refer to the plant, but also as a name for anything of the soft shade of purple that matches its flowers. Lavender prefers well drained soil and only requires watering once the soil starts to dry: it does not like to be over watered. The herb is native to the Mediterranean and prefers full sun and warm temperatures. It requires little or no fertilizer. Lavender can be propagated from cuttings, but is more commonly started indoors from seeds and transplanted as seedlings.
As long as they are heavily mulched in the fall, lavender will over winter in most climates, and will need to be pruned in spring. When the plants start to flower they are ready for harvest. The flowers can be cut and dried in a cool, dark area or used fresh. If left unharvested, the purple blossoms will fill your garden with a sweet scent.
Lavender is best known for its wondrous medicinal properties. The scent of the flowers either directly, or from an essential oil, is often used in aromatherapy because of its power to reduce stress and aid in relaxation. Not only will the herb help you to relax, it has been shown to aid in general sleep quality and the scent has helped dentists in relaxing patients with severe anxiety related to their procedures.
In addition to its calming qualities, lavender is also soothing to your skin. It can be used in a salve to soothe irritations, burns, and acne, and has been used to help close and heal open wounds. Of course, it is also popular in the kitchen and not only because of its healing abilities. It has a woody, earthen herbal taste and before you start using it, remember that a little bit goes a long way in a recipe. Too much lavender can make a dish taste soapy. That said, it adds a delicious depth to a lot of recipes and is especially tasty as an ingredient in frostings, syrups, glazes, and puddings. A sprinkle of lavender is quite tasty in roast chicken or potatoes, and it is often used as a garnish on salads or in drinks.
Lavender has been recorded as part of our healing and culinary culture as far back as 2500 years ago. The Ancient Egyptians used it as a perfume and in their mummification process, and the Greeks believed it cured insanity and insomnia. The Romans prized lavender, selling a bundle for the equivalent of a month’s wages for a laborer. During the Renassiance it was a deodorant, and was a key remedy during the bubonic plague outbreak in the 17th century. Legend has it that lavender was the herb used by Cleopatra to seduce both Julius Casear and Mark Anthony. More recently, lavender was used in field hospitals in World War I to disinfect and heal soldier’s wounds.
Lavender can be grown as a commercial crop, and has become a rather popular way to sustain farms in recent years. A commercial lavender farm is quite a sight, with rows upon rows of beautiful purple flowering bushes. Approximately a quarter acre of lavender produces about 3,000 bunches, which is worth $18,000. One of the more well known lavender farms today, Purple Haze Farms in Washington state, grosses over a million dollars a year growing only about eight acres of lavender plants.
Whether you are growing a quantity of lavender for profit or just a bush or two for personal use, it is well worth adding to your farm. The number of benefits of lavender plants are countless and more healthy aspects of the plant are still being discovered.
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