Growing Lavender in the Ozarks
There’s just something about brushing up against a lavender plant on a warm summer day that’s intoxicating. Lavender has been used for over 3,000 years and the earliest cultivars may have originated in Arabia where it was used as a perfume. It was used by the Egyptians in the mummification process and as a perfume. Solid cones of lavender were placed on the foreheads of royalty where they would melt and then perfume the body after burial. It was said that Cleopatra was wearing lavender perfume when she seduced Marc Antony and Caesar. The Greeks were introduced to lavender as a perfume by the Egyptians and in turn passed this knowledge to the Romans. The Latin word for lavender is “lavare” to wash. Romans used lavender in their bath water and women dried clothes on lavender bushes and lined linen drawers with it. The herb spikenard mentioned in the Bible was actually lavender. Greek sailors brought lavender to the Hyeres Islands off the coast of France in 600 BC and it then spread throughout Europe and eventually to England in the 13th century. Pilgrims brought it to this country in the 1600’s.In the Middle Ages branches of lavender were strewn on castle floors to decrease odors and then burnt the next day to scent the rooms. Josephine gave Napoleon hot chocolate laced with lavender as an aphrodisiac. Dogs would sleep on beds of lavender to prevent fleas. It was worn during the plague to prevent illness. It was also used to aid in wound and burn healing during the First World War. Lavender oil massaged into the temples is said to relieve headaches and aid in relaxation before sleep. Queen Elizabeth the First used lavender to treat her migraines and insisted that fresh lavender bouquets be brought to her daily. The Shakers were the first to grow lavender commercially in this country.
Lavender is a fragrant annual or perennial in our climate depending upon the variety. There is much confusion in the naming of Lavender varieties .There is no such thing as English Lavender because lavender varieties known as English lavender originated in the French Alps. L. augustifolia is the lavender most associated with England hence those varieties are often identified as such and are the most cold tolerant to zones 4- 5. French Lavenders (L. dentata) have indented leaves and do not survive our winters outdoors usually but are the one variety that will live well in the house and bloom year round. Spanish Lavender (L. stoechas) are the most ornamental but not as fragrant, are tender perennials and also known as French Lavender in the U.K. The lavenders grown commercially in France are actually Lavandins which are a cross between L. spika and L. augustifolia lavenders and known as L. intermedia. The Lavandins have 5x more oil, more blooms, later bloom time and larger stems than either of its parents.
Lavender grown from seed may not always resemble the parent plant. A few lavenders like Elegance Purple or Lavender Lady which can be grown from seed may bloom the first year but most lavenders tend to bloom the 2nd year. It is a must to plant lavender in full sun and in a raised well drained area with sufficient calcium in the soil. You can add a cup of gypsum to the hole before planting for that purpose. Avoid mulching close to plant. Placing white sand or white gravel around the plant will increase essential oil and flower production by 771%. Lavender needs full sun and must be clipped back by 1/3 each spring for the first 3 years when the nodes on the branches begin to swell and after blooming or the plant will die out in the middle. After that just trim it back after blooming is finished but not late into the fall. Lavender will live inside with daytime temperatures of 50-60 degrees and nighttime temperatures of 40-50 degrees. Water sparingly if the plant is indoors til spring. Once the plants are established, use a low nitrogen fertilizer if needed. A side dressing of bone meal before blooming may give the plants a boost.
Lavender can be dried by tying bundles together and hanging them upside down or drying them flat for use in bouquets. Lavender wands may keep their fragrance for 20 years. We rarely water our lavender once it is established. Do not fertilize lavender in the late summer. The new growth may not have enough time to harden off enough to survive the winter. Long lasting heavy snows or a sudden change from mild fall weather to winter temperatures in the teens before lavender has adapted to cooler weather may kill your lavender. Repeated torrential rains like we’ve had in the last few years or overwatering will often kill the roots of lavender by preventing them from absorbing oxygen from the soil.
These are lavender varieties that we have grown.*denotes lavender varieties we have lost over the past 4 years.. Some are new to us and need another year to grow before we can evaluate how hardy and productive they are. Others have been grown for the past 10 years or so and we are pleased with their performance.
*Abrialli—12” stem length. Deep purple blooms. Good for dried bouquets and oil.
Buena Vista Culinary. Blooms twice a season. Dark blue calyxes with lighter blue flowers
Dentata, Green or Gray (French Lavender) Comes from Northern Africa. One of the few lavenders that will grow well in large pots and will live indoors. It blooms nearly year round if given at least 5 hours of sun daily. Light purple blooms.
Dutch Mill—16-20” stem length. Medium purple blooms. Heavy producer. Good for wands, bouquets and sachets. Reblooms in August.
*Fred Boutin 16-18” stem length. Light purple flowers with silvery foliage. One of the last to bloom in the season.
Goodwin Creek---6-8” stem length. Not winter hardy. Purple blooms. Continuous blooms starting in spring. Tolerates humid summers but needs winter protection. Only cultivar of L.dentata and L.lanata(wooly lavender).
Grappenhall—24-30” stem length. Dark aster blue lavender flowers on long stems. Largest of all lavenders and the last one to bloom for me most years.
Grosso- Deep violet blooms on long stems.90%of the lavender oil distilled in France comes from this variety. Good for potpourri and sachets.
Hidcote- 6-8inch stems. Plant height 12-20 in. Dark purple blooms. Culinary. Heavy first bloom and blooms sporadically much of the summer.
Impress Purple -24-30”” stems. Dark purple blooms. Good for fresh bouquets and wands Blooms early in the season for me.
Mailette---Used for oil production in France til the 1920’s when a soil disease killed much of it. Very fragrant and hardy. A favoriteof mine.
Munstead---6-8” stems. Medium purple blooms. Semi-dwarf lavender. Has been planted from seed and cross pollinated so often that many plants do not resemble the original and may not look the same from plant to plant Culinary. Blooms periodically throughout the summer.
**Phenominal New cultivar from Grosso lavender reputed to be the most winter hardy of all lavenders and trademarked so I don’t propagate it. Was one of the least hardy of any we’ve grown three years in a row.
*Pink Perfume—c Grown from seed. Prolific pink bloomer. Culinary.
Provence- 24-30” stems. Light purple blooms. Culinary Does not stay well on stems once dried. Good for sachets.
Royal Velvet-- 10”stems. Dark violet blooms. Blooms darken as they dry. Prolific bloomer. Dries well on stem. Good for wreaths, fresh or dried bouquets. . Best variety for dark purple wands. Small to medium sized plant.
Sachet--Stem length 6-8”. Light purple blooms. Very fragrant one for sachets.
Seal(Seven Oaks)--12”stems. Tall light purple blooms. Good for sachets.
Spanish Lavender-Not hardy. Grows from seed Pungent with different fragrance. Purple, yellow or red
Super (Arabian Nights)- 18-20”stems. Light purple blooms. Commercial oil crop in France
*Tucker’s Early Purple—4-6”stems .Medium purple blooms. Good for growing in pots. Blooms down the stem and continuously throughout the season..
*Twickle Purple---10-12’stems. -Blooms down stem. Bloomed early June and late August. Similar to Royal Purple.
Violet Intrigue—10-12’stems.. Dark violet blooms. Very fragrant blooms and leaves. Good as a fresh cut and dried flower. One of my new favorites.
Always use a culinary lavender when cooking if you don’t want the flavor of soap in your food. It is the camphor content of many lavender varieties that makes them undesirable to use in cooking but makes them so great as an oil and in potpourri. The best culinary lavenders are Munstead, Hidcote, Buena Vista, Royal Velvet, Provence, Melissa and Pink Perfume. Until you are used to cooking with and eating lavender, use a little less than the recipe requires.
Combine 4-6 cups water, 1 cup sugar or honey, 2 tblsp dried lavender or 4 tblsp. fresh lavender. Bring to a boil and let steep for 20 min. Strain, add 1 cup lemon juice and serve over ice. Garnish with lavender sprig or lemon slice.
Mix 1tblsp dried culinary lavender buds with 1 cup sugar. After 2 weeks sift out the lavender and put sugar in an airtight container. You could also put the ingredients into a spice grinder or food processor initially and grind to a fine mixture and proceed with recipe, omitting the sifting part.
Herbs de Provence
1 tblsp dried thyme leaves 2tsp. dried rosemary leaves
1 tblsp. dried basil leaves ½ tsp. dried summer savory leaves
2 tsp. dried culinary lavender buds ½ tsp. dried marjoram leaves
Crush with mortar and pestle or use an herb grinder. Store in airtight container.
Lavender Shortbread Cookies with Lemon Butter Cream Frosting
Cream til light and fluffy, about 3 min: 3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature with 2/3 cup sugar and 2 tsp. ground dried lavender buds. Add 2 1/3 c. flour, ½ c. cornstarch and 1/4 tsp. salt and mix well. Divide in half and shape into 2 squares. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour. Then roll or pat out each square into a3/8 inch thickness. Cut dough into round or heart shaped cookies and place on parchment covered cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. Prick cookies several times with a fork. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake 20-25min. til golden. Do not brown. Cool slightly, transfer to rack and cool.
Frosting: Cream 1/3 cup softened butter with ½ tsp. lemon zest. Gradually alternate adding 3 cups sifted powdered sugar and 2 tblsp lemon juice. Spread the frosting and immediately sprinkle lavender buds on top of each cookie.
Dried bouquets Tie small bouquets together with ribbon or raffia or use a rubber band Hang out of bright light until dry or lay bouquets flat until dry. There are optimal times in the bloom cycle of each lavender cultivar when they should be picked for drying. Always harvest midday after the dew has dried.
Sachets: May dry blossoms on a screen or dehydrator dry out of bright light til dry or in dehydrator at 95 degrees til dry. Rub dried lavender off stems with your hands or sift through a screen. Put into an airtight container or in sachet bags.
Lavender Wands- 17 fresh long stemmed lavenders or any odd number over 13. Remove leaves and any flowers not on the main bloom. Tie 24-30’ 3/8’ ribbon directly under the end of the flowers into a knot, leaving one end free. Bend stems evenly back over flower heads. Start to weave ribbon over and under 2 lavender stems at a time until flowers are covered. Tie loosely. Tighten when dry and wrap stems as desired, ending with a bow.
Sources for Recipes: -The Lavender Lover’s Handbook by Sarah Berringer Bader, The Lavender Cookbook by Sharon Shipley, The Lavender Gourmet by JenniferVasich.
Sources for Lavender Plants: Goodwin Creek Herbs, Pantry Garden Herbs, Richters’ Herbs, Purple Daze Lavender, Colonial Creek Herbs, Red Barn Herb Farm.
Books on Growing Lavender-The Lavender Lover’s Handbook and Lavender, the Growers Guide
Lavender or Herb related questions? You can contact me at email@example.com or 417-732-1510. Our website is www.redbarnherbfarm.com