Lavender – characteristics, cultivation and use

lavender © Stephan Budke

Lavender is undoubtedly one of the most famous herbs. The fragrant plant with its purple flowers adorns many balconies, gardens and window sills. The herb is a real jack-of-all-trades. It is not only an extremely pleasantly scented ornamental plant for sunny locations, but also a medicinal plant with a soothing and antiseptic effect, whose grated leaves are even suitable as a spice for the kitchen. The delicate fragrance is used in oil or fragrance bags. Lavender oil and the substances linalool and linalyl acetate contained therein, have a positive effect on sleep and mental well-being. Especially for sleep problems and nervousness, the oil should help. Even in the kitchen leaves and flowers can be used for many dishes.

Profile of lavender:

Scientific name: Lavandula angustifolia

Plant family: mint family (Lamiaceae)

Other names: true lavender, English lavender, garden lavender, common lavender, narrow-leaved lavender

Sowing time / Planting time: February – March

Flowering period: May – September

Harvest time: June – September

Location: full sun to sunny

Soil quality: dry rather sandy, calcareous and nutrient-poor soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: depression, difficulty falling asleep, nervous restlessness, stress, bloating, bloating, inflammation of the gums

Use as aromatic herb: meat dishes, fish dishes, desserts, sauces

Plant characteristics and classification of lavender

Origin and occurrence of lavender

The true lavender is a classic Mediterranean plant that is wild, especially in the countries of the Mediterranean, like Greece, southern France and Italy. It can be found there especially in dry, barren and sun-drenched altitudes in regions with calcareous soils. A region that is very attractive to tourists is French Provence, where lavender fields are very common.

Due to its great popularity, the plant has been introduced and cultivated in many countries. Significant cultural occurrences of it can be found next to France in England, Morocco and the United States.

Plant order of true lavender

The true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It also belongs to the botanical subfamily Nepetoidaea, which includes many other known herbs such as rosemary, sage or peppermint.

The genus of lavender plants (Lavandula) includes more than 30 different types. In addition to the true lavender, Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), broadleaved lavender (Lavandula latifolia) and French lavender (Lavandula dentata) are well-known representatives of this genus.

These types of lavender are available

True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

French Lavender (Lavandula dentata)

Fernleaf lavender (Lavandula pinnata) – native to southern Madeira and the Canary Islands

Provence-Lavender / Hidcote Giant (Lavandula x intermedia)

Topped lavender / Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas)

Silver-leaved lavender / Richard Gray / Sawyers (Lavandula x chaytoriae)

broadleaved lavender / spike lavender / Portuguese lavender (Lavandula latifolia)

fringed lavender / French lavender (Lavandula dentata)

Characteristics and look of lavender


In the botanical sense, lavender is a perennial subshrub that can reach heights of growth up to 140 cm (55 in). Most of the plants, however, achieve much lower stature heights of 40 to 70 cm (16 to 28 in). It forms elastic, stable and relatively short roots.


Its leaves are quite distinctive and easy to recognize. They usually have a light green to greyish green color. The lanceolate, entire and elongated leaves are up to 5 cm (2 in) long and are covered on both sides with a white felt / leaf hair, and sit on the upright branches, on which they are arranged opposite. The branches are usually heavily brachiate. As grow older, the leaves turn greener.


The true lavender usually flowers between late May to mid-September. There it forms striking violet, rarely white flowers, which are arranged in so-called pseudowhorl. These in turn form pseudospiklet, in which the lip-shaped flowers sit. Each flower consists of four stamens, a two-part upper and three-part lower lip and a four-part ovary.


After the flowering period, at the time of fruit ripeness, small brownish nut fruits are formed.

a painted lady / cosmopolitan butterfly on lavender
a painted lady / cosmopolitan butterfly on lavender © Stephan Budke

True lavender – sowing and care

Although it is usually easier to transplant plants from the hardware store or garden center in the garden or on the balcony, it can sometimes be more sustainable to grow it from your own seeds. Many purchased plants are sometimes overfertilized, so they survive only one season.


Who wants to sow lavender, should know how the natural habitat of the plant is. It thrives magnificently on sun-exposed slopes, with calcareous, well-drained and nutrient-poor soils. It is therefore recommended not to cultivate the plant pure in commercially available potting soil or in clayey garden soils. If no optimal substrates are available, the soil should be mixed with aggregates such as pumice, lava or zeolite.


The sowing succeeds best in preculture on the windowsill or in a room greenhouse. Since germination temperatures around 20 ° C / 68 ° F are required, lavender seeds should also have a correspondingly warm environment. Ideally, the pre-culture should take place between the end of February and the end of March in order to replant the young plants outdoors or on the balcony. Germination requires some patience. It can take up to four weeks and it may be advantageous to use a mineral growing substrate for sowing. A mixture of 50:50 of vermiculite and perlite appears optimal. Always keep the seed soil moist, but not too humid.

Sowing in the field is also possible, although a bit more difficult. Here it should be ensured that no more night frosts occur. The seeds can be easily pressed into the ground at a distance of about 30 x 30 cm (12 x 12 in). Since lavender is light germ, the grains should be pressed only about 0.5 cm deep into the soil. The best time for sowing outdoors are the months of April and until the end of May.


Sometimes, even in rock garden, lavender sows itself. Here you can easily get the little plants and re-plant them to the desired location in your garden.

Likewise, you can propagate the herb by cuttings.

This is how you do it:

  • Cut off about 10 cm (4 in) long shoot with pruning shears. The shoot should still be soft and not woody. Besides, it should not be branched. If it has flowered, cut off the flower remnants
  • Remove the lower leaves – about one-third to one-half
  • Fill a flower pot with potting soil
  • Insert the cutting into the soil up to the leaf base and pour it well
  • Place the pot in a bright, warm place. In winter it should move inside. The young plant is considered frost sensitive
  • Keep the cuttings well moist. In a growing house the soil does not dry out so fast
  • In the coming weeks, the cuttings will take roots. This could take a while. You generally recognize that it forms new leaves
  • Cut back as soon as it drips out: The plant then grows more compact and branches more


Lavender is used to nutrient-poor habitats and therefore does not need a lush supply of fertilizers. It is usually sufficient to provide the plants once a year with compost or light NPK fertilizer. If you have plants in tubs or smaller pots, you may need to fertilize a little more often.


The herb needs only a little water. Therefore, it should only be poured when the soil is almost dried out. The plant will cope without any problems for a while without water. Significantly more harmful is an oversupply of water. Too much water can promote root rot and other diseases.


Lavender is considered to be frost tolerant, meaning the plant can survive frost for a short time. If you want to let the plant overwintering outdoors, you should take some measures. Optimal for cover is very coarse mulch, straw, brushwood and foliage. The latter protects against dehydration. Without cover, the water freezes in the shallow layers of the ground, so that the plant can no longer absorb water. It is important that the branches should be cut back already in late summer, otherwise frostbite may occur. Potted plants can be stored in the garage or in the basement in unheated but frost-free areas.

How do you cut lavender?

In order for the plants to remain compact over the years, a regular pruning of the herbaceous shoots is necessary from the beginning. The slogan is “one-third, two-thirds”. After flowering, all shoots are cut off by a good third, for which you can even use a hedge trimmer. If no strong frost is expected in spring, cut the shoots back by two-thirds. Attention: A pruning into the wood is not possible, then the plants do not shoot or only very unwillingly again.

Dry lavender properly

In order to dry lavender, you need to harvest it at the right time. This is just before the flower completely, because then they have the strongest aroma. The perfect time to recognize this, is that some small flowers already open, others are still closed.

To dry, it is best to cut off the stems 10 cm (4 in) below the flowers. Make sure that there is no morning dew or wetness on the flowers, otherwise mild mold can form. Ideally, you should harvest in the late morning or midday, as the flowers are then usually completely dried. Tie together the stems tufted with a thread or a loose wire. Rubber bands are ideal because the stems lose water and shrink during drying. Hang the bundles upside down to dry. The place for it should be dry, rather shady and not too warm. Because: Too much heat and sunlight bleach the flowers and reduce the fragrance of the essential oils. Nor is it recommended drying in the oven. It is important in any case that the air can circulate well. In addition to the simple hanging on a string, there are also special herbal spirals, which are suitable for fastening. Even herbal dryers with several floors and floors on which the stems and flowers are laid out, can be used for drying.

After about one to two weeks – as soon as the flowers crumble between your fingers – the herb is completely dried. Now you can strip the flowers from the stems and fill in scented or moth bags and sew. In airtight containers they retain their aroma even longer. You can also hang the bundles as an ornament or as a bouquet of fragrance in a vase without water. Whether as a shroud of a lantern, in a bouquet or as a table decoration, the dried plant can be staged in many ways. Dried true lavender is also ideal for preparing a soothing tea.

Lavender and its use

The lavender is not only a popular ornamental plant, it is also a very versatile herb. As a fragrance, it is used in numerous cosmetic products. As a culinary herb it lends a spicy touch to many Mediterranean dishes and as a medicinal herb it can sometimes cause minor miracles.

Lavender in the kitchen

Lavender is considered an excellent culinary herb that can be used for many recipes. The flowers, the leaves as well as whole branches are used. Care should always be taken to use the true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and not the Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas ). The true lavender has a distinctive spicy and camphor-like flavor, which is sometimes flowery and slightly bitter.

Fresh branches, for example, flavor all sorts of meat dishes. Chicken, lamb and fish dishes have an excellent taste when lavender is combined with thyme or rosemary.

Rubbed or chopped leaves provide a refined taste in many cheeses such as goat cheese, soft cheese, gorgonzola or raclette cheese. The aroma of lavender is also suitable for hearty creamy soups. In principle, the dosage should always be handled very sparingly, as the leaves are usually very aromatic and produce an intense taste.

Lavender flowers are often used for sweets. For example, fruit salad with berries can unfold a very excellent aroma when mixed with a few lavender flowers. It is also great for cakes, truffles and ice cream.

A special feature is lavender honey, which tastes lovely and has a fine floral aroma. For high-quality honeys, the flavor is fine. This honey is also considered very healthy due to its many minerals.

Lavender as a medicinal herb

The true lavender looks as a medicinal herb on a long and impressive history. The Romans, Egyptians and Greeks considered it to be an almost sacred herb. In the Roman military, the plant was used as a wound healing and stimulant. Both Greeks and Romans used the herb as an ingredient for their bathwater.

The herb and its healing properties were also known in European countries, so that it was cultivated in many monastery gardens and was also used for many diseases and complaints. Hildegard von Bingen described lavender as a warm and dry herb, which was used by her, for lung and liver diseases as well as in psychological conditions. Paracelsus already knew its sedative effect and used the herb as a sedative and for treatment of heart and digestive complaints.

The medicinal herb is mentioned in almost all medieval herbal books. Numerous internal and external applications have been described. So lavender was used to treat paralysis, convulsions, stomach discomfort, and liver and spleen disorders. There it was recommended to boil it in wine or water and to drink it or to paint it as schnapps on the arteries.

In addition, lavender was recommended for various dental diseases, language problems and body aches. He has also been given to pregnant women who have contractions. In the latter, pure branches were placed on the stomach.

Today, lavender is mainly used for nervous restlessness, mild depression, insomnia and as a mild sedative. The sleep-inducing, sedative and muscle-relaxing effects of the plant have been confirmed in many scientific studies. Responsible for the calming, sedative effects are certain essential oils, here it is the substance linalool.

Lavender can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • asthma
  • cough
  • erysipelas
  • eye circles
  • fatigue
  • fluid retention
  • headache
  • heart problems
  • high blood pressure
  • inflamed wounds
  • insomnia
  • migraine
  • neuralgia
  • nervous debility
  • nervousness
  • poor circulation
  • rheumatic pains
  • shingles
  • stomach cramps
  • tension headaches

Medicinal properties

  • antiflatulent
  • antiseptic
  • antispasmodic
  • diuretic
  • reassuring

Lavender is used in natural medicine as a tea or as a bath additive. Other dosage forms are the aromatherapy with essential oils or the use of lavender pillows.

Preparation of lavender tea

Time needed: 10 minutes

This is how you prepare a lavender tea by yourself.

  1. put 1 level spoonful of lavender leaves or flowers in a tea strainer in a cup

  2. dash with boiling water.

  3. let steep for at least 7 to 10 minutes

  4. the tea should not be sweetened if possible

This tea can be drunk in cases of nervous restlessness, insomnia and minor stomach and intestinal complaints such as bloating or diarrhea.

Lavender as a herbal bath

To prepare a herbal bath, pour about 40 to 50 grams (1.5 oz) of lavender flowers with one liter of boiling water (33 fl oz) in a container and leave for about 15 minutes. The container can then be poured into the prefilled tub. Even if the bath is quite relaxing and soothing, the bath should be finished after 25 minutes at the latest.

Lavender as herbal pillows

Sewn into small fabric cushions, lavender pillows soothe infants, so they can sleep better.

In addition, these pillows dispel clothes moths when placed in cupboards.


An overdose of lavender tea over a longer period should be avoided. Its oil should never be taken pure, as it may cause irritation in the stomach.


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

Buy Lavender – What is there to pay attention to?

Fresh lavender plants can usually be bought in early summer in supermarkets, hardware stores and garden centers. If you want to buy the plant as a crop, you should pay attention to the botanical name (Lavendula angustifolia). Sometimes also the Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) comes into the trade, which looks very similar to the true lavender.

In addition, care should be taken to ensure that the leaves do not hang, the soil is not too moist and that the ratio of plant height to pot size fits. A plant three times the size of the pot should not be purchased if possible.

Dried leaves and flowers, which are used for teas, recipes and herbal baths, are available from many herbalists, sometimes in larger supermarkets or in numerous online shops. Again, the botanical name should be checked (Lavendula angustifolia). The herbs should be packed aroma-tight and spread when opening a strong lavender-scented aroma. Flowers are usually much more expensive than leaves. The prices are usually between 12 and 70 €/$ per kg / 2.2. lbs.

For aromatherapy, scented candles, soaps or bath also finished oil can be purchased. If you want to use lavender oil for aroma-therapeutic purposes, should be careful to get true lavender oil. There are many synthetic products available on the market, but they are not suitable for this purpose. The prices for 10 ml of pure natural oil are between 3 and 10 €/$, depending on the crop and plant quality.


  1. I am getting ready to plant a large lavendar garden with at least 4 vvarieties. Due to the multitude of characteristics (size, color, width, height, etc) I’m not able to choose the best for my purpose which is just a lovely display of lavenders (taller in the back row down to short in the front row, rows about 50 feet long, garden area about 50 x 10 feet). Do you know of a ‘chart’ that identifies the characteristics of lavenders so I can see it all in one place? Or helpful hints on how to find one of these charts? I thank you so very much for your help. And I love your web page.

    • Thank you. But I´ve never seen a chart like this.
      Maybe this overview helps a little:

      Lavender with low height

      ‘Dwarf Blue’ (height between 20 to 30 centimeters, blue flowering).
      ‘Peter Pan’ (between 25 and 35 centimeters tall, purple flowering)
      ‘Blue Scent’ (between 25 to 40 centimeters tall, blue flowers)
      ‘Munstead’ (between 30 and 50 centimeters high, dark blue flowering)

      Lavender with a medium height

      ‘Hidecote’ (height between 40 to 50 centimeters, dark purple flowering).
      ‘Miss Katherine’ (between 50 and 60 centimeters high, pink flowering).

      Lavender varieties that grow high

      ‘Imperial Gem’ (Lavandula angustifolia, between 70 to 80 centimeters, dark purple flowers).
      ‘Grosso’ (Lavandula intermedia, between 60 and 70 centimeters, purple flowers).
      ‘Hidecote Giant’ (Lavandula intermedia, between 60 and 70 centimeters, light purple flowers)

      (about 2.5 cm are 1 in)

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