Sweet scented Lavender is one of the best loved of the aromatic herbs. Lavender, a native of the limestone hills of the Mediterranean coastal region was frequently used by the Romans to scent their bath water. It's name originated from the Latin word Lavare, meaning to wash.
The English also treasured the herb for it's scent and beauty and was often used to form the low hedges surrounding the flower beds in the Tudor knot gardens. Lavender was on board when the Pilgrims sailed to North America.
Today, the herb supports one of the largest herbal industries in the world; the cultivation of Lavender for commercial use in England and France.
There are three basic species:
English Lavender, (L. Vera), also known as True Lavender because it's oil is of the highest most fragrant quality. It is also most valued for commercial use. French Lavender,
( L.Stoechas), has a scent more like Rosemary. It is thought that French Lavender is the one that scented the Roman baths. The L. Stoechas species is a very tender herb and cannot be grown outside in England due to the cold climate. Spike Lavender, (L.Spica), produces a greater volume of oil then French or English but is considered to be of second-grade quality.
There are many subspecies of the basic three but the most popular in North America and England is (L. Angustifolia.) It is free of camphor present in other species and is the one used in the commercial English Lavender industry.
John Gerard,( 1545-1612), recommended it for "panting and passion of the heart"; known today as palpitations. It is used as an infusion in bath water to treat infections and relieve aches and pains.
In aromatherapy, it's used as a relaxant and reputed to reduce stress related headaches, indigestion and irritability. Soap made with Lavender oil is very soothing on the skin. The oil should not be taken internally, however, the dried flowers are often infused in water,(tea), and used to aid in mild depression or to induce sleep.
Cultivation: English Lavender.
Plant twelve inches apart in full sun in well drained soil. The soil should be of a neutral nature, not to acid or alkaline. Mulch with an inch or two of coarse sand. Do not over water. Plants need good air circulation to prevent foliage diseases.
It's best not to over fertilize, perhaps a diluted version of miracle grow or other liquid fertilizer in the Spring is all that it needs. Deadhead remaining plants not used for drying in late Summer. Once plant is established, cut all plants back in Spring to encourage bushy growth.
Dozens of cultivars, i.e. Lavender Lady, Munstead, Twickel Purple and Jean Davis. Twickel Purple reaching two feet in height. Jean Davis has pink flowers and grows to about one foot in height. Most of these cultivars are available at local greenhouses; one of which is Ladd's on Route 32 in South Windham.
Lavender germinates slowly from seed, with the exception of the cultivar Lavender Lady, and tends to be erratic. Propagate from stem cuttings, layering or division for better results.
Lavender is short lived, 5-7 years, so it may be advisable to propagate in the third year of growth to maintain your plantings.