All About Lavender!
Lavender is one of the most recognizable plants in the world, both by sight and by scent. But did you know lavender actually grows great here in Northern Nevada? Those beautiful fragrant shrubs are quite cold hardy compared to most flowering plants, and while they’re non-native they do provide all sorts of pollinators with a food supply. On top of being great for your garden and pollinating garden visitors, lavender is also incredibly versatile. Sachets, soap, bath products, baked goods, meat seasoning, drinks, there’s almost no limit to what you can make! If you want a slice of the lavender pie (which is a real thing!) then read on and learn all about this plant and what you can use it for at home.
When you hear “lavender”, you probably think of a universal profile: a shrub-ish plant with long stems and those delicate purple flowers. It may come as a surprise that there are 45 different species of lavender! All species of lavender belong to the genus Lavandula which is part of the Lamiaceae family along with mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, catnip, and sage (the culinary kind, not the Nevada kind which is part of a separate genus). Lavender’s natural range is mostly centered around the Mediterranian Sea with some species extending into more northern parts of Europe, Portugal, and northern Africa.
Between the 45 distinct species and various hybrids and cultivars, there are quite literally hundreds of different types of lavender grown the world over. Each has a different scent and strength, plus there’s some variety in color, height, leaf shape, flower shape, and size. There are 5 main types that are the most common however: English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), French lavender (Lavandula dentata), Portuguese lavender (Lavandula latifolia), Spanish or Greek lavender (Lavandula stoechas), and Lavandin, which is a hybrid between the English and Portuguese varieties. Lavandin was specifically created to have the best cold and heat tolerance of the bunch so it’s one of the most popular for gardens, but as each has a different aroma and growth conditions they’re all grown for different purposes worldwide.
All lavender does best in full sun with well-draining soil and relatively low amounts of water. Some species prefer more or less soil acidity, humidity, or heat than the average though which is why there are so many types used in gardening. The best types for Nevada are Lavandin and English lavender, as they’re the ones of the bunch that can best tolerate our dramatic desert temperature swings and need less humidity. According to Campie’s Lavender Patch, a lavender farm near the town of Stagecoach, Nevada, the high altitudes here also result in more fragrant essential oils from the plants, go figure!
Lavender has been used by humans for over 2,500 years. The plant was used in perfumes in Ancient Egypt as well as being part of the mummification process. In Ancient Greek, it was called nard or nardus after the Syrian city Naarda and used for religious ceremonies, as an insect repellent, and to scent rooms, among other things. The name “nard” was then transformed into “spikenard”, which is the name lavender was known by in India. Spikenard is also how lavender is referenced in the bible, though both nardus and spikenard now refer to different plants. Ancient Romans used lavender to scent fresh laundry and their famous public bathhouses, and the Latin word lavare which means “to wash” is most likely how it got its modern common name.
While it was used extensively in ancient times for its scent or sometimes flavor, it was also used as a medicine. Though unproven by the FDA in the current day, throughout history lavender has been used to treat a breadth of ailments including heartburn, toothaches, sore throats, burns, and even to ward off the plague. Modern timeve recognized lavender more for its soothing properties, and many swear by it to help with sleep issues, joint and nerve pain, and insect bites.
Cultivation of lavender may have begun in seventh century Arabia, though it became more widespread in Europe in following centuries. In the 800s the Holy Roman Empire grew it specifically for its medicinal uses, and in the 1300s it was grown and sold in England where it was used again to scent clothes, as a perfume, and as an insect repellent. From then on its popularity only grew. Today, it is a common garden plant and regularly grown and sold by farms dedicated entirely to lavender.
Unfortunately, lavender isn’t all sunshine and aromatic rainbows. In Australia, Spanish lavender is so well adapted to the conditions that it has “escaped” gardens and become a threat to local environments across the island continent. Victoria, a state in southeastern Australia, has been so overrun with the plant that it was declared a noxious weed there in the 1920s. While “garden escapes” of lavender are mostly harmless, it’s important to remember that outside of the Mediterranean region this plant isn’t native and unwanted spread should be properly controlled.
If you’re ready to start growing your own lavender, then it’s always a good idea to start by checking your local nurseries. There’s no guarantee they’ll have them, but it’s an easy way to both get plants without having to worry about shipping costs and support a local business! Here in Reno, your first stop will likely be Moana Nursery. Other local places that might be able to help are Rail City Garden Center or Old Stone House Gift and Garden, among others. If you can’t find any lavender in town, check online for sources willing to ship to your area.
Our next section is all about at home recipes for lavender goods, but if you’re not so confident in your skills then Side Hill Spring Lavender, Campie’s Lavender Patch, and Welcome Lavender are just a few local businesses that sell a variety of products made with lavender grown right here in Nevada. Farmers Markets are always good spots to check for lavender products made locally too!
If you don’t have any DIY or cooking skills yet, that’s ok! This “recipe” only needs lavender buds, a breathable baggie of your choice, and a funnel or spoon to make one of the oldest and most universal lavender products.
Mesh drawstring bag (you can also buy fabric and sew your own bag if you know how!)
Lavender buds, either bought or you can take them off your own plants
Make your bag if you want to, make sure to leave one side open. With your handmade or drawstring bag, put the funnel in the open side.
Add lavender buds through the funnel, a spoon may help
Close/sew shut your bag. That’s it!
This is optional but you can always decorate your bag before or after adding the lavender using paint, stamps, ribbon, or anything else crafty you can think of!
If lavender isn’t a summer symbol enough on its own for you, you can add it to lemonade! The floral taste of lavender pairs well with the sweet-sour balance to lemonade, and can be a great secondary addition to fruity lemonades like blueberry or strawberry. Make sure to use only food grade lavender for this, which means it must be grown without any pesticides whatsoever!
Now we mentioned lavender pie at the beginning, but all you have to do for that is add lavender to the filling of your choice and proceed with the pie as usual. Here’s something a little more challenging: donuts! Lemon and lavender are a popular pairing for desserts just like with the lavender lemonade, and blueberries aren’t too far off again either. For something different though, here’s a recipe that pairs lavender glaze with Earl Grey tea flavored baked donuts.
Lavender Bath Bombs
Did you make a mess from trying those last 2 recipes and drooling over how great they were? Then it’s time for a relaxing lavender bath! This recipe shows you how to make a simple bath bomb at home. If you’re feeling adventurous, feel free to add in other skin safe ingredients like body safe colorants, rose petals, rosemary sprigs, epsom salt, or certain essential oils to make the bath bomb of your dreams! You’ll still want to use food grade lavender for this one, and be careful to keep pets away from any essential oils as they can be overpowering or even toxic to animals.