Which Lavenders Are The Most Fragrant For My Garden?

A lot will depend on the weather, how much sun and rain the plants receive, how harsh the winter is, the type of soil that the plants are grown in when the lavender is harvested, and how soon after harvest you process it.

Here on the farm, we grow mostly English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) which are typically the most fragrant.  The cultivars that we like for fragrance include Buena Vista, Folgate, Maillette, Royal Velvet, Sharon Roberts and Tucker’s Early Purple. We have examples of each of these on the farm. Of the Lavandins (Lavandula x intermedia), the most fragrant cultivars are Grosso and Provence both of which we grow here.

Which lavenders have the best purple?

Again, English lavender cultivars (Lavandula angustifolia), have the darkest colors and include Hidcote, Imperial Gem, Purple Bouquet and Royal Velvet.

Which lavenders have the darkest blue?

English lavender cultivars (Lavandula angustifolia) have the darkest blues with Betty’s Blue, Blue Cushion and Violet Intrigue.

Which are our all-around favorite lavender plants?

We are often asked which are our favorite lavenders and it is really hard to answer because they all have different qualities that we enjoy!  If we had to pick our top 6 plants though, these cultivars would definitely qualify:

1. Lavandula angustifolia Folgate – this plant is amazing – it can withstand the colder temperatures we see here in winter; it is one of the first to bloom and the soft periwinkle blue flowers make great fresh cut bundles and dried bundles alike.  It is a really good all-rounder.

2. Lavandula angustifolia Buena Vista – A really sweet fragrance and rich purple color which has bloomed for us up to three times a year! We have also used this cultivar for cooking.

3. Lavandula angustifolia Royal Velvet – The color is rich and “velvety” and it has lovely long stems which are good for making wreaths and wands.  This is a favorite one for use in cooking as it has a subtle sweet taste.

4. Lavandula angustifolia Hidcote – This one we love for the color – it’s a really dark purple plump flower that looks great in a landscape setting

5. Lavandula angustifolia Purple Bouquet – we like the combination of long stems with rich purple flowers which bloom twice in the season.

6. Lavandula intermedia Grosso – This is the one we recommend for making lavender wands because of the very long stems and strong fragrance.  It also makes a wonderful dried product for sachets and pillows and looks stunning in the field.

How are English lavender plants (Lavandula angustifolia) different from lavandin (Lavandula x.intermedia) plants?

English lavender plants produce seeds and are the largest group of lavenders. The average size of a mature English lavender plant is 18-24 inches.  The fragrant foliage of English lavender is generally a green/ grey and they tend to have shorter leaves on the stems. The flower stems themselves are an average of 12 inches long.  The fragrance of the flowers is generally sweet. English lavender cultivars come in a wide variety of colors from light blue to purple and light pink to white.  In Southeastern Utah, our English lavenders start blooming in early to mid-June, usually finishing around mid to end July.  Some will bloom two or three times especially if the first flowers are harvested early in the season.

Lavandin is a cross between Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia. This hybrid, typically forms much larger, rounder plants – up to 48 inches in height. The flowers are generally lighter in color, the leaves are wide, long and grayer. Lavandins start blooming 2-4 weeks later than most English lavenders which in Southern Oregon is usually mid-July and into August.  All lavandin plants have long flower stems that grow in a fan-like shape from the plant, so they need to be planted further apart and have more space in the garden. These plants will grow faster than English lavender plants and they hold their shape better. The fragrance is less sweet and more pungent because of the higher camphor content in the oil produced by lavandin plants.

How do I take cuttings from my lavender plants?

Experiment a bit because methods vary from one grower to another but this is the method that works for us:

1. Make up your rooting soil using 60% perlite and 40% peat moss and place in a sterilized cutting tray with holes for drainage.

2. Take a hardwood cutting by finding a branch close to the top of the plant and feel for a “bump” indicating a leaf node. Using sharp sterilised pruning shears cut a 3 1/2″ piece at a 45-degree angle just below the node.

3. Remove the leaves from the bottom two inches of the cutting.

4. Using a sharp clean knife scrape the skin from the bottom portion of the cutting on one side.

5. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone powder and place in the rooting soil. Do not remove the cutting once you have placed it in the rooting soil.

6. Keep the soil moist and the cutting warm (68 – 70 degrees using a heating mat if possible) through the rooting process which may take up to 4 weeks.

7. Do not allow the cuttings to become too hot or to dry out completely

8. Check for roots by gently tugging on the cutting – you should feel resistance if roots have formed.

9. Transplant the cuttings into a larger container – water and then allow them to get a little dry.  Water occasionally but do not allow them to get too wet.  Feed with an all-purpose fertilizer to promote growth. Protect from extreme temperatures.

10. When the cutting begins to grow it will produce a top shoot that will need to be snipped off to promote branching.  Remove foliage from the bottom of the start.

When is the best time to prune lavender plants?

We have found that pruning lavender plants in September and then lightly in the Spring helps them to look and grow better over a longer period of time.  This has worked well for us in our location, but not everyone growing lavender will work to this pattern.  Some like to prune heavily in the Spring and only lightly in the Fall.

Whatever the pattern you chose you should begin pruning when the plants are young, but not too much in the first year. Your plants will have a better start however if they are not allowed to flower the first year so as soon as you see spikes forming cut them off;  that way all the new growth will go into the foliage and roots and will produce less woody looking shrubs that have more growth at the base of the plant.

English lavenders and Lavandin plants will live for many years if they are pruned well. Most lavender plants will hold their shape at least 10 years if you start pruning them when they are young and you prune them hard at least once a year.

In late June and throughout July, we harvest lavender for fresh and dried bouquets.  We cut the flowers with as long a stem as possible so the stems have a few sets of leaves on them.  At this time, we are lightly pruning the plants to encourage new growth.  Some of the English lavenders will bloom again if the plants are harvested early on in the season.

Established plants may be pruned back by 1/3 to 1/2 their size.  If necessary, they can be cut back to three sets of leaves from the base. This drastic pruning may help revive some older lavender bushes.  Lavender plants that have not been pruned become woody sooner. If you already have old woody bushes, it may be too late to revive them. If they have reached three years of age or older and have never been pruned, then pruning at this stage may not help.  You might be better off replacing the plants.  If you can see young green growth just above the woody part, the plant may be pruned back to within 2 inches of the new growth. But, if you cut it back too far, it may die.

When is the best time to pick lavender for drying?

Both the English lavender and the lavandins can be dried successfully on the stem. There are certain cultivars that dry better than others; more of the buds (calyxes) will stay on the stem when dried. On mature plants, it is hard to cut all the flowering stems at the perfect stage, without sacrificing some that are not really ready but it is easier to cut all the flowers on a plant all at once, instead of individually.  You will have to watch closely as the plants begin to show more color.  Usually, the lavender is ready to harvest when the colors are dark or bright; most of the flowering stems are in the bud stage; the buds are plump, and just a few of the flowers (corollas) have opened on each stem. Another good indication is when the bees begin to start working the plant!

It is best to harvest the flowers in the morning after the dew has dried. You will not want to pick the lavender flowers if it has rained within the last 24 hours.  A good size bundle is usually around 100 stems. Use a sickle to cut your stems (a curved serrated blade with a wooden handle).

How do I dry lavender?

To speed up the drying process, you should strip the leaves off the stems.  Hang the lavender bundles (use rubber bands to secure each bundle and an opened paper clip to serve as a hanging tool) upside down. Choose a drying area that is warm but not in direct sun, with good air circulation and low humidity.  The lavender bundles should be dry within 3 to 7 days. Remove them from the drying room and store them loosely in a covered cardboard box, in a cool area.

No matter how carefully you dry your lavender, you can expect that a certain amount of the buds will fall off but you can collect these to use in crafts.

Creams, Lotions, and Salves

Dry, itchy skin? Cuts, scrapes, infected wounds, or rashes? They can all be soothed and renewed with the healing nourishment of herbs applied in a moisturizing base – the realm of creams, lotions, and salves. Of course, your skin is your largest eliminative organ. It’s often exposed to the elements, and it’s somewhat delicate {no fur or scales to protect it!}. This means that it can take a beating from the weather and can be prone to wrinkling and drying. Because your skin breathes and eliminates toxins and other substances from your body, you may experience conditions such as rashes, acne, or boils as your skin releases these substances.

Creams, lotions, and salves are all marvelous ways to apply healing herbs to the thirsty, damaged or troubled skin, but they’re each formulated slightly differently.

Cream. A cream is a mixture of oil and water, with a little wax added for body and texture. It’s a bit like mayonnaise because it’s an oil combined with a watery or non-oily substance whipped together so they don’t separate {a process called emulsification}. With mayonnaise, oil and eggs are mixed, while with a cream, oil and tea concentrates are combined. Many commercial creams include an emulsifier such as borax, which prevents the oil and water from separating, or they include substances that add texture, such as lanolin, cocoa butter, or acetyl alcohol. My recipes also contain vitamin C powder, which acts as a mild preservative, but you can substitute an equal amount of ascorbic acid, which is available over the counter at pharmacies or in the canning area of the grocery store. Or you can add 2 or 3 drops of vitamin E or rosemary oil to the oil phase as a preservative. A cream moisturizes and soothes your skin.

Lotion. A lotion is similar to a cream, but it is lighter and contains more liquid. You can pour a lotion and spread it easily, which can really make a difference when you have inflamed, needy skin. By varying the ingredients, you can create lotions that are astringent, moisturizing, antifungal, antibacterial, or regenerative. My lotions also contain vitamin C powder, as a preservative, and you can substitute vitamin E or rosemary oil just as you might in a cream.

Salves. A salve is a wonderful way to use your infused oils. Salves are made of oils and wax and are typically somewhat solid, so they’re more convenient to use than oils. Although not as moisturizing as creams and lotions, salves last longer and provide a protective barrier that keeps bacteria out and moisture in. { Studies show that moist wounds heal faster than dry ones.} Salves keep the healing power of the herbs close to skin injuries, reducing inflammation and soreness and reducing cracked skin on feet and lips. Lip balms are a form of a salve. Salves can be made with a single infused oil or with a combination of several; customizing a salve for individual use is part of the challenge and fun of making it.

You’ll find a basic recipe for a cream, a lotion, and a salve, and then some sample recipes for you to try, using herbs from your garden. Be extra careful to wash all utensils, surfaces, containers, and your hands before beginning to make any of these recipes because this combination of ingredients is susceptible to spoilage. Keep everything as hygienic as possible will yield long-lasting remedies.

If you make creams, please be aware that they spoil easily, so store them in your refrigerator if you’re going to keep them for more than a few days. Don’t introduce bacteria by dipping your fingers into the cream; instead, use a little craft stick or a small spoon to scoop it out of the jar.

lavender flower spikes

Basic Cream:

Creams are composed mainly of oil and water, and each oil and water mixture is referred to as a “phase.” The two phases are prepared and heated separately and then mixed together in a blender. You’ll heat the two phases so they are close as possible to the same temperature {160 degrees to 175 degrees F} before you combine them.

An emulsifier is required to hold the phases together in a creamy state. I use ordinary household borax as an emulsifier because it’s a natural, gentle substance that does the job.

Oil Phase;

1/2 ounce {2-3 teaspoons} beeswax

1 tablespoon coconut oil

4 tablespoons infused herbal oil

10-20 drops essential oil or combination of essential oils of your choice {optional, for fragrance or additional healing properties}

Water Phase:

4 tablespoons tea concentrate {as you’d make for a dried tea} or strong tea infusion*

2 tablespoons aloe gel

1/2 – 1 teaspoon borax

1 teaspoon vitamin C powder

Heat the beeswax, coconut oil, and infused herbal oil in a saucepan over medium heat until warm to the touch, but not hot. Add the optional essential oil. In another pan, heat the tea, aloe gel, borax, and vitamin C powder over medium heat until warm to the touch, but not hot. {Both phases should be heated to 160 to 175 degrees F.}

Place the water phase ingredients in a blender and set it on high. Through the opening in the blender jar cap, dribble in the oil phase ingredients. When the cream is thoroughly mixed, pour it into jars. Let it cool, cap the jars, label, and refrigerate.

  • To make a strong tea infusion, combine 1 cup ground dried herbs and 1 cup freshly boiled water, and steep for 30 minutes, covered.

Skin Protection Cream:

This cream prevents drying and chapping. It’s formulated with glycerin, which is moisturizing and texturizing, making it lighter and extra creamy.

Oil Phase:

1 ounce {about 1 1/2 tablespoons} beeswax

2 tablespoons coconut oil

4 ounces almond oil

10-20 drops essential oil of your choice {for fragrance}*

Water Phase:

2 ounces lemon balm, rosemary, or lavender strong tea infusion

2 ounces glycerin

1 teaspoon borax

1 teaspoon vitamin C powder

Heat the beeswax, coconut oil, and almond oil in a saucepan over medium heat until warm to the touch, but not hot. Add the essential oil. In another pan, heat the tea, glycerin, borax, and vitamin C powder over medium heat until warm to the touch, but not hot. {Both phases should be heated to 160 to 175 degrees F.}

Place the water phase ingredients in a blender and set it on high. Through the opening in the blender jar cap, dribble in the oil phase ingredients. When the cream is thoroughly mixed, pour into jars. Let it cool, cap the jars, label, and refrigerate.

  • For a sweet-smelling cream, try adding equal amounts of orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lavender essential oils to the basic cream. For an antiseptic cream to heal cuts and infections, stir in thyme, oregano, or tea tree essential oils. For a skin-protecting and age-defying cream, add rosemary essential oil and/or vitamin E oil {and use Gotu kola tea for the water phase}.

Anti-fungal Cream:

Use this handy cream for athlete’s foot, ringworm, and other common fungal infections. Prevention is the best medicine here. Don’t let an athlete’s foot fungus migrate into your nails, where it can be very difficult or impossible to treat.

Oil Phase:

1/2 ounce {about 2-3 teaspoons} beeswax

1/2 ounce {1 tablespoon} coconut oil

4 tablespoons calendula infused oil

10-20 drops oregano or thyme essential oil

Water Phase:

4 tablespoons strong thyme tea infusion*

2 tablespoons aloe gel

1/2 – 1 teaspoon borax

1 teaspoon vitamin C powder

Heat the beeswax, coconut oil, and calendula infused oil in a saucepan over medium heat until warm to the touch, but not hot. Add the essential oil. In another pan, heat the tea, aloe gel, borax, and vitamin C powder over medium heat until warm to the touch, but not hot. {Both phases should be heated to 160 to 175 degrees F.}

Place the water phase ingredients in a blender and set it on high. Through the opening in the blender jar cap, dribble in the oil phase ingredients. When the cream is thoroughly mixed, pour into jars. Let it cool, cap the jars, label, and refrigerate.

  • To make a strong tea infusion, combine 1 cup ground dried herb and 1 cup freshly boiled water, and steep for 30 minutes, covered.

Ginger-Cayenne Heat-Treatment Cream:

Here’s help for muscle aches and pains. You can make the infused oil yourself, using the recipe below,* with 1/2 cup ground or powdered dried ginger and 1/2 cup ground or powdered dried cayenne.

Oil Phase:

1/2 ounce {2-3 teaspoons} beeswax

1 tablespoon coconut oil

4 tablespoons cayenne and ginger-infused oil

10-15 drops wintergreen essential oil {optional, for fragrance and pain-relieving compounds}

Water Phase:

4 tablespoons ginger tea concentrate {as you’d make for a dried tea}

2 tablespoons aloe gel

1/2 -1 teaspoon borax

1 teaspoon vitamin C powder

Heat the beeswax, coconut oil, and cayenne and ginger-infused oil in a saucepan over medium heat until warm to the touch, but not hot. Add the optional wintergreen essential oil. In another pan, heat the tea concentrate, aloe gel, borax, and vitamin C over medium heat until warm to the touch, but not hot. {Both phases should be 160 to 175 degrees F.}

Place the water phase ingredients in a blender and set it on high. Through the opening in the blender jar cap, dribble in the oil phase ingredients. When the cream is thoroughly mixed, pour it into jars. Let it cool, cap the jars, label, and refrigerate.

* Basic Herbal Oil:

1 cup finely ground dried herbs {flowers, leaves, roots, barks, and/or seeds}

1 1/4 cups almond, jojoba, or olive oil

In a blender or food processor, combine the herbs and oil. Blend or process until pureed for greater extractability. Pour the mixture into a clean glass jar with a lid, making sure the plant material is completely submerged in the oil. If it’s not, add more oil until the herbs are covered by about 1 inch of liquid. Cover the jar and store it in a dark place, shaking it daily, for 2 to 3 weeks. Filter it carefully through cheesecloth, a muslin bag, or a square of linen, gathering up the edges and squeezing out the oil. Compost the herbs. Pour the oil into amber bottles, and label the bottles with the contents and date. Store it in a dark place.

Oils

Herbal oils are simply oils infused with herbs, much as you’d steep rosemary in olive oil for culinary purposes. Healing herbal oils can be taken internally for a variety of ailments, can be used externally for therapeutic or daily beauty routines, and can be incorporated into herbal salve recipes. Dried herbs are preferred since fresh herbs will sometimes ferment.

Basic Lotion:

Good choices for the strong tea infusions are calendula, chamomile, comfrey, ginger, lavender, Oregon grape, peppermint, plantain, and rosemary.

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup strong tea infusion*

Cosmetic clay

1/2 teaspoon vitamin C powder

25 drops essential oil or combination of oils of your choice {for fragrance}

In a small bowl, dissolve the salt in the tea. Stir in the cosmetic clay and vitamin C powder until the mixture is creamy. Add the essential oil and blend thoroughly. Bottle, label and refrigerate.

  • To make the infusion, combine 1 cup ground dried herbs and 1 cup freshly boiled water, and steep for 30 minutes, covered.

Poison Ivy or Poison Oak Lotion:

This lotion works quickly and thoroughly for anyone suffering the misery of poison ivy or oak, any rash or burn, and even for acne.

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup combination of plantain and/or calendula strong tea infusion* and/or aloe vera gel

Cosmetic clay

25 drops peppermint essential oil

1/2 teaspoon vitamin C powder

In a small bowl, dissolve the salt in the tea or aloe gel. Stir in the cosmetic clay and vitamin C powder until the mixture is creamy. Add the essential oil and blend thoroughly. Pour into bottles and cap, label, and refrigerate. Apply as needed to the affected area, avoiding your eyes and mucous membranes.

  • To make the infusion, combine 1/2 cup dried herb and 1/2 cup freshly boiled water, and steep for 30 minutes, covered.

Basic Salve:

Good choices for the infused oil in this recipe include calendula, cayenne, ginger, peppermint, rosemary, St. John’s wort and turmeric {turmeric can stain}.

1-ounce beeswax

1 cup infused oil

5-10 drops essential oil or combination of oils of your choice {for fragrance or additional healing properties}

Grate the beeswax into a small bowl. In a saucepan or double boiler, heat the infused oil gently to about 100 degrees F. Add the grated beeswax slowly, stirring as it melts. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before you add the essential oils. Stir to thoroughly combine. Pour your salve into jars and let it cool. Cap and label jars. Apply the salve as needed to the affected area. You can store a salve indefinitely.

Tips for Salves.

If you prefer a salve that’s harder or softer than this recipe, just add more or less beeswax or oil. You can test the consistency of the salve before it hardens by scooping out a spoonful and dipping the back of the spoon into a little bowl of ice water to harden the salve. If it’s too soft for your taste, heat the ingredients again and add more beeswax. If it’s too hard, heat the ingredients again and add a bit more oil. Test after each addition to get the consistency you prefer. Sometimes, after the salve is poured into a jar and when it’s nearly set, a small crater will appear in the middle of the surface. You can add a small amount of hot salve to the crater to create an even surface.

Healing Salve:

Use to reduce inflammation and lessen the possibility of infection from a skin injury.

1-ounce beeswax

1 cup infused oil, using equal parts calendula, yarrow, and St. John’s wort – infused oils

5-10 drops essential oils of your choice, such as lavender, orange, mint, or thyme {for fragrance}

Grate the beeswax into a small bowl. In a saucepan or double boiler, heat the infused oil gently to about 100 degrees F. Add the grated beeswax slowly, stirring as it melts. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before you add the essential oils. Stir thoroughly to combine. Pour your salve into jars and let it cool. Cap and label the jars. Apply the salve as needed to the affected area. You can store a salve indefinitely.

One of my favorite recipes is Healing Lip Balm:

A lip balm is no different than a salve in its formulation, except that you may wish to make it a little firmer. This one works wonders for chapped, dry lips.

1-ounce beeswax

1 cup infused oil {calendula, ginger, peppermint or spearmint, rosemary, and St. John’s wort are good choices}

5-10 drops essential oils of your choice {for fragrance}

Grate the beeswax into a small bowl. In a saucepan or double boiler, heat the infused oil gently to about 100 degrees F. Add the grated beeswax slowly, stirring as it melts. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before you add the essential oils. Stir to thoroughly combine. Pour your mixture into lip balm tubes and let it cool. Cap and label the tubes.