Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 09:00 pm
Lavender, originally a wild-growing shrub from the Mediterranean region, came across the Alps many centuries ago. Benedictine monks brought the intensely fragrant and extremely useful plant to Central and Northern Europe. Most lavender varieties are quite sensitive to frost, some varieties thrive in our region only in containers, such as the distinctive Schopflavendel with its striking false flowers.
Lavender belongs to the family of labiates (Lamiaceae). Its mostly purple or blue flowers stand together in axillary spikes and are strongly fragrant. Depending on the species, lavender grows between 30 and 60 centimeters tall, but can also grow up to 100 centimeters. Older branches become woody, so pruning down to the old wood should be done in the spring. The shrub blooms – again depending on the variety – between June and September. The strongly fragrant flowers are a popular meeting place for butterflies, bees and other insects.
Even the ancient Romans used lavender very eagerly, but not yet as a medicinal plant. The plant name, on the other hand, indicates its original use as a bath additive. The Latin word “lavare” means “to wash”. It was not until wandering Benedictine monks brought the herb across the Alps that it gained dramatic importance. From then on, lavender was cultivated in both monastery and peasant gardens. Hildegard von Bingen, the famous abbess and healer of the high Middle Ages, did not think much of the Mediterranean plant, but the herbalists of the late Middle Ages, such as Hieronymus Bock, saw things differently. For a long time, lavender was considered a protection against vermin and thus against contagious diseases.
Origin and distribution
Lavender grows mainly where it is warm, sunny and dry. In its southern European Mediterranean home, the half-high shrub thrives primarily on rocky and dry ground. Today, the numerous varieties of this species are at home throughout Western and Northern Europe.
The lavender is a very frugal plant, which prefers stony soil and does not make great demands on watering and fertilizer. It is only important that the perennial is cut back to about 30 centimeters immediately after flowering. Otherwise it will become woody and unsightly.
Harvesting and storage
Lavender flowers should be harvested quickly, as soon as all the flowers of a spike have bloomed. However, in order for them to retain fragrance and color, it is important to dry them.
The fragrant herb can be used in many ways:
- as a tea or in tea mixtures
- in sleeping and herbal pillows (e.g. together with balm, hops or rose petals)
- as a bath additive
- as a spice
- as a garnish for dishes.
- Both the dried flowers, the young leaves and the oil are used.
Tips & Tricks
Lavender sugar is great for aromatic sweetening of food and drinks. All you have to do is crumble the dried lavender flowers and mix them with sugar. It is best to store the mixture in an airtight container.