Issue: June 2005
Aromatic Lavender Livens Herb and Flower Gardens
For a colorful and useful addition to the home garden, try planting lavender.
It's well suited for New Mexicoís dry climate and alkaline soils, and few herbs match the uniqueness and versatility of lavender.
Known for its distinct fragrance in perfumes and soaps, lavender is a popular ingredient in candles, sachets, bath oils and shampoos. Itís also used in cut flower arrangements and wreaths, and in dishes such as barbecues, vegetables and desserts.
Almost all parts of the above-ground lavender plant are useful for cooking. The flower petals, or corollas, are the sweetest and most aromatic portion of the plant and are popular in desserts, such as cookies and cakes. Try adding stems to barbecue coals to flavor meats, and use fresh or dried foliage to season meats and vegetables.
Lavender has square stems like mint, its botanical cousin. A perennial, lavender comes in different sizes and shapes. Flower colors range from white and pink to blue and purple. The evergreen foliage ranges from silver to green. It tends to be hairy, with leaves that are either long and narrow or fernlike. Foliage may freeze back to the soil surface in colder areas of the state.
Of more than 15 species of lavender, the most popular is Lavandula angustifolia, or English lavender. Hidcote and Munstead varieties are also common. Most lavender blooms once from late May through June, depending on where itís grown. Plants will grow two to three feet tall with an irregular dome shape. In formal gardens, plants are often sheared at harvest into a more uniform shape. English lavender is the sweetest and most highly flavored of the lavenders. It's excellent for culinary purposes.
Lavandin is a natural hybrid of English lavender and Spike lavender. Lavandin produces more oil than English lavender, but the oil is of poorer quality because of higher camphor content. The oil tends to be harsher but is popular as an ingredient in soaps and candles. Popular varieties include Grosso and Provence. Both make excellent landscape plants.
Lavender likes full sun and well-drained soil. It thrives in relatively alkaline soil, and itís moderately drought tolerant. Overwatering can result in root rot.
Harvest lavender when the lower third of the flower spike opens. Shear it in the morning, leaving stems attached to the spikes. Arrange in bundles of 30 to 75 stems per bundle, tying the stems with strings or rubber bands. Hang upside down in a dark, relatively warm, dry room with good air circulation.
When thoroughly dry, strip flowers from the stems by hand. Broken stems and other debris may need to be separated by hand. Dried flowers can be stored in sealed, tinted jars or in the dark to prevent flower discoloration. Be sure flowers are thoroughly dried before storage to prevent mold.back to top
For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.
George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.