by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.
If you want to grow and use your own herbs, or if you simply desire an attractive plant for the landscape, you can’t beat lavender. Cultivated for centuries, this charming low growing perennial has wonderfully fragrant flowers and leaves.
The name of the plant is derived from the Latin “lavare,” meaning to wash. Leaves and flowers have been used for several millennia to do just that, wash. Fragrant baths, hair rinses, to cleanse and treat skin ailments, and, in the past, to help eliminate lice and bedbugs from the household. Lavender essential oil is popular in aromatherapy. Tea made from leaves and flowers has been used to treat sleeplessness, restlessness, headache, flatulence, and nervous stomach. At this time, Commission E, a German-based group which scientifically studied herbal medicines, recommends using lavender for insomnia and circulatory and gastrointestinal disorders.
Lavender is easy to grow in our area. There are a number to choose from. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) both tend to be stressed by our summers, but grow well in a garden that gets only morning sun. The French or toothed lavender (Lavandula dentata) does best in my yard in full sun with some noon-time summer shade. Perhaps the fuzziness of the leaves helps reflect sunlight and reduce water loss.
Like most herbs, all of these lavenders do best in well drained soil. They will need watering during the dryer months, but can often survive on rainfall during monsoon or winter months. Fertilize in moderation or not at all to encourage greater production of the fragrant oils. Harvest and prune often. Like most herbs, lavender should be trimmed two to three times per year to control rampant growth and keep the plant producing quality blooms.
Ideally however, plant the native desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi), a shrub often found growing along area washes. Desert lavender is a shrub reaching 4 to 6 feet high and covered with fragrant gray green leaves. Summer brings spikes of fragrant purple flowers that butterflies adore.
Harvest stalks of lavender blooms as the lower-most flowers open. This gives you buds with optimum fragrance.
Dry your lavender, like all herbs, out of direct sunlight.
No matter what species of lavender you plant, you’ll be living green. Growing your own lavender reduces lavender imported from half a globe away, usually southeastern Europe. Growing your own also insures that you have a good source of quality organic lavender. For those exploring the energetics (chi) of products, growing your own lavender and harvesting as needed offers the many benefits of strong chi.
Native desert lavender or European species, lavender adds refreshing fragrance to your living spaces, both indoors and out.
Special Book Signing:
Eastside Costco, Saturday April 4, from 12 noon to 3 pm
Northwest Costco, Saturday April 11, from 12 noon to 3 pm
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and more. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
All photos (except where noted) and all text are copyright © 2015, Jacqueline A. Soule.
All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.