Gray santolina – planting, care and tips

Gray santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus)
Gray santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus) © Stephan Budke

The gray santolina is a plant with a future, because the leaf- and flower-scented subshrub is absolutely drought-tolerant.

Profile of gray santolina:

Scientific name: Santolina chamaecyparissus

Plant family: daisy / aster family (Asteraceae)

Other names: cotton lavender, lavender-cotton

Sowing time: spring

Planting time: spring, after frosts

Flowering period: June to August

Harvest time: flower: during bloom – leaves: summer to autumn

Location: sunny

Soil quality: stony to sandy, nutrient-poor to moderately nutrient-rich, low in humus, calcipholous

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: digestion, insects bites, irritated skin, menstrual cramps, mosquito bites, stomach cramps

Use as spice herb: salad, tea

Use in: flowerbeds, borders, stand-alone, group planting, flower garden, mediterranean garden, rock garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 7 (-15 °C / +5 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of gray santolina

Plant order, origin and occurrence of gray santolina

Santolina chamaecyparissus, the gray santolina or cotton lavender, is assigned to the aster family (Asteraceae). Its natural habitats are on limestone gravel soils and dry and warm dwarf-shrub heaths in the Mediterranean, from Spain and the Balearic Islands to France, Corsica and Italy including Sardinia and Sicily to the Balkans and the Middle East. It is no longer possible to understand where the plants actually grew originally and where they were naturalized, since the gray santolina has been in culture since the late Middle Ages. In addition to its use as a medicinal plant, scented herb or moth herb, it was used as an ornamental plant in Mediterranean regions very early on.

Characteristics of gray santolina


The gray santolina, usually found under the perennials, is actually a subshrub. From the shoots that lignify at the base, which remain present in winter, additional fresh shoots sprout from so-called renewal buds in spring. Santolina chamaecyparissus grows up to 30 centimeters (12 in), with flowers up to 50 centimeters (20 in) high and, thanks to the rich branching, forms dense, rounded bushes.


The evergreen foliage has an intense scent and appears gray, due to a white, felt-like covering that protects it from excessive evaporation in the usually hot and dry natural locations. Each leaf looks like it is made up of many tiny leaflets. This impression is created by the fact that the leaves are deeply incised on both sides and thus divided into 9 to 14 sections and each of these up to 2 millimeters (0.08 in) long sections is rolled up.


The small, spherical, yellow flowers of Santolina chamaecyparissus appear between June and August. They also smell aromatic, sometimes almost like vanilla. However, the smell seems to have a deterrent effect on most insects, such as fruit flies and food moths.


The infructescence of the gray santolina is inconspicuous.

Flower of gray santolina / lavender-cotton
Flower of gray santolina / lavender-cotton © Stephan Budke

Gray santolina – cultivation and care


The gray santolina which is absolutely warmth- and even heat-tolerant, needs a very bright and sunny place. A sheltered location is also advisable, especially in colder areas, so that Santolina chamaecyparissus survives the winter.


A very permeable soil is essential for the plants to feel good over the long term. It should also be calcareous and not too rich in nutrients.

Planting gray santolina

Basically, potted plants can be planted all year round, but it is better to plant the gray santolina in spring after the last frosts, so that it has enough time to take root and grow well before its first winter. It is suitable for standing alone, arranged in small groups or in a row as a border. The recommended planting distance in the bed is about 40 centimeters (16 in), for hedges, so that they become dense and fast, 25 centimeters (10 in).


Watering is not necessary, even in longer dry periods.


It is better not to use fertilizers.


After flowering, it is advisable to cut back slightly to the upper leaves of the stems, this will keep the plants more compact. If the shoots of the subshrubs fall far apart, this can also indicate that the soil is too nutrient-rich. Unlike typical perennials, the shoots of Santolina chamaecyparissus are neither cut off near the ground in autumn nor in spring. However, you can shorten them if necessary.


The subshrubs can be propagated by cuttings, which are cut from non-blooming shoot tips in summer. For this purpose, cuttings with a length of 15 to 20 centimeters (6 to 8 in) are cut, freed from the leaves and placed in the ground in a light, partially shaded place. It should only be watered moderately until it grows. In the following spring, the cuttings can be replanted to a sunny location.

The species Santolina chamaecyparissus can be propagated just as well by sowing. If what has withered away is not cut off, the plants sometimes even sow themselves if the location is suitable.

Diseases and pests

The essential oils contained in the plants protect them from bacteria, fungi and pests.


Depending on the location and area, it is advisable to protect the plants from frost with a cover made of brushwood. In the cold season of the year, the gray santolina is generally more endangered on too well fertilized and too moist subsoil. Plants in the pot are better kept frost-free, but in a brightly place.


Cut the flowers to dry

The flowers play an important role in naturopathy. They are mostly used dried.

To do this, cut off the fully bloomed inflorescences so that a longer stalk remains on the flower. It is best to cut in the morning when the plants are no longer wet. The flowers are tied in bouquets and hung upside down to dry.

You can also place the fresh flowers as a bouquet in a vase or bowl on the garden table to ward off mosquitoes and fruit flies.

Harvesting leaves for the kitchen

The green leaves of the gray santolina are not only used in medicine, but also as a spice in the kitchen.

To do this, cut or pluck some leaves from the plant and chop them as fresh as possible.

Use in the garden

Gray santolina can be used wonderfully in rock gardens or gravel beds or in other dry, warm, sunny beds, ideally together with other Mediterranean plants such as lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Russian sage (Perovskia), muscatel sage (Salvia sclarea), germander (teucrium), southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), mullein (Verbascum), olive herb (Santolina viridis) or thyme (thymus). Because the plants are cut-resistant and attractive all year round, they make good use of formal hedges. Gray santolina also feels at home in the potted garden.

Gray santolina in the kitchen

The leaves refine salads and the flowers are used as an effective home remedy. All parts of the plant are edible.

Fresh leaves of the lavender cotton give salads a spicy note. An aromatic tea, which has a stimulating effect, can be prepared from all parts of the plant, fresh or dried.

Proven home remedy against mosquitoes and moths

The strongly fragrant flowers of the gray santolina are a tried and tested home remedy for all kinds of pests that occur in the kitchen and household.

Place fresh flowers with their stems in a vase or just put the flowers in a water bowl. Put them on the garden table or windowsill to keep mosquitos away. In the kitchen itself, its flowers drive away fruit flies and mill moths.

Put dried flowers in little sacks and distribute between your laundry. Bedding, wool sweaters and other items of clothing not only smell pleasant afterwards, but are also protected from moths.

Gray santolin can be used all year round when dried

Flowers and leaves can be kept dry all year round.

Collect the plant parts on a morning that is as dry as possible. The flowers are bundled in bunches and hung upside down in an airy, but not directly sunny place to dry.

The leaves can be dried in the in an airy place. They are then kept in a glass in a dark place.

Gray santolina as a medicinal herb

Gray santolina comes from the Mediterranean region and has been known there as a medicinal herb since ancient times. In Central Europe, the perennial has only been used as a home remedy, as a seasoning in the kitchen and as a remedy in natural medicine since the 17th century.

Applicable internally and externally

The herb can be used both internally and externally. The plant is not poisonous in any of its parts.

Gray santolina should only be used as a supportive measure for complaints. So far there is no scientific proof of its effectiveness. In the case of serious illnesses, a doctor should definitely be consulted.

Internal use as a tea infusion

Leaves, flowers and seeds can be used for tea made from gray santolina. The ingredients are brewed either fresh or dried.

The tea has a stimulating effect due to the essential oils. Bitter substances and tannins promote digestion and relieve stomach cramps. Some naturopaths also recommend the tea for menstrual cramps. The effect is probably triggered by the tannins and bitter substances it contains.

The effect of the external application of the gray santolina

The herb is said to have a calming effect on irritated skin. To do this, the bathtub is filled with water that is not too hot and the ground leaves are added as a bath additive.

Treat mosquito and other insect bites

The essential oils and resins of the lavender-cotton show a healing effect on the bites of mosquitoes and other insects. It reduces itching and helps the skin to regenerate the wounds.

To do this, fresh leaves are ground and made into a paste that is spread on the bite wound.

Seeds of the gray santolina as a worming agent

The seeds are used in natural medicine as a de-wormer/anthelmintic. It is said to fight worms and other intestinal parasites.

Gray santolina can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • anthelmintic
  • digestion
  • insect bites
  • irritated skin
  • menstrual cramps
  • mosquito bites
  • stomach cramps

Side effects

Not known. But do not use during pregnancy.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

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