By: Justin Butts
The love of lavender is an English tradition. Queen Elizabeth I loved her lavender jam. Queen Victoria so loved the scent that she adorned all her castles in lavender flowers, perfumes, and potpourris. Her sheets were washed in lavender. Even the floor was mopped in lavender oil.
However, despite the fact that it originated in the dry heat of the Mediterranean, the French, until recently, had little use for lavender in the kitchen. As late as 1900, a celebrated French cookbook did not contain a single reference to the flower. The spice blend “Herbs de Provence”, which includes lavender, was invented in the 1970s by a commercial spice company – and is not French at all. Lavender, however, eventually found a place in French cuisine, and its scent has become a beloved fragrance around the world.
Lavender grows exceptionally well in the dry air of the Texas Hill Country, which is why so many gardeners here in the Coastal Bend are perplexed when their blooms die unceremoniously soon after planting. The problem is not our South Texas heat … it’s the humidity!
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) will not survive in the high humidity of the Coastal Bend. If you have had poor luck with lavender, chances are the failures were of the English variety.
The fantastic news is that French lavender (Lavandula dentata) and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoecchas) perform well in the heat and humidity of The Bend. If you can keep a lavender plant alive in the ground for a year, it should grow well for many years to come!
A NEED TO KNOW BASIS
If planting in ground: Grow only French or Spanish varieties. Minimum of eight hours of direct sun per day. Space at least 15” for maximum air circulation. Plant in sandy soil; must have perfect drainage. Add three to four cups of wood ash when planting for greater soil alkalinity. Water deeply, but infrequently. Mulch with rocks to decrease humidity of topsoil. Any standing water will kill lavender. Take flowers; no pruning.
If planting in pots: Pots must have perfect drainage. One hole in bottom of pot is not enough, requires several. Place gravel in bottom inch of pot to prevent wet feet. Use sandy soil or cactus mix and add a little gravel to soil for porosity. Add two cups wood ash to soil. Place pot outside in summer for eight hours direct sun per day. Over-winter in house in window with the most sun.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is probably the most familiar herb in health and wellness. From the Latin “lavare,” meaning “to wash,” this fragrant herb is often used for everything from inflammatory skin issues, like eczema, to insomnia, stress, and tension problems. It’s ability to relax the body in the presence of pain makes it invaluable for headaches, and even minor burns.
– LaDonna Rocha, R.H.
Arcane Moon Apothaceria
The lavender essential oils in commercial use come from English lavender, which doesn’t grow well in The Bend. The oil obtained from French or Spanish lavender is greatly inferior to that of English varieties. However, the gorgeous flowers of French and Spanish lavender have a wonderful, unique flavor. Lavender is in the mint family. Experiment with lavender flowers (use as you would rosemary) in your baking, especially scones and tarts!