Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Characteristics, cultivation, use, and healing properties
The purple flowers of lavender give the herb bed an unmistakable splash of color and its wonderful scent enchants everyone’s senses. Lavender is an integral part of French cuisine and can be found in every herb-of-Provence mixture. Because of its particularly intense aroma, it is advisable to dose lavender very sparingly. The herb is good for flavoring meat dishes, but also desserts, jams, and drinks get a unique touch with a touch of lavender. The flowers can also be used for salads and dips.
Origin and occurrence of lavender
The real lavender is a classic Mediterranean plant, which occurs wild mainly in the countries of the Mediterranean, including 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 of lavender that is very attractive to tourists is French Provence, where lavender fields are very common.
Due to its great popularity, lavender has been introduced and cultivated in many countries. Significant cultural occurrences of lavender can be found next to France in England, Morocco and the United States.
The true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, sometimes also Lavandula officinalis) is a member of the labiate (Lamiaceae). It is also part of the botanical subfamily Nepetoidaea, which includes many other well-known herbs such as rosemary, sage, savory or peppermint .
The genus of lavender plants (Lavandula) includes more than 30 different types of lavender . In addition to the real lavender, lavender lavender (Lavandula stoechas), broadleaf lavender (Lavandula latifolia) and French lavender (Lavandula dentata) are well-known representatives of this genus.
Characteristics of lavender
In the botanical sense, lavender is a perennial subshrub that can reach heights of growth of up to 140 cm. Most of the plants in this country, however, achieve much lower stature heights of 40 to 70 cm. Lavender forms elastic, stable and relatively short roots.
Lavender leaves are quite distinctive and easy to recognize. They usually have a light green to greyish green color. The lanceolate, ganzrandigen and elongated leaves are up to 5 cm long and are on both sides of the leaves with a white felt (leaf hair) occupied. The leaves of the lavender sit on the ascending and upright branches on which they are arranged opposite. The branches are usually heavily branched. As you grow older, the leaves turn greener.
The real lavender usually flowers between late May to mid-September . There it forms striking violet, rarely white flowers, which are arranged in so-called Scheinquirlen. These in turn form false notes, 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.
Real lavender – sowing and care
Although it is usually easier to transplant finished lavender plants from the hardware store or garden center in the garden or on the balcony, it can sometimes be more sustainable to grow the lavender 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 lavender pure in commercially available potting soil or in clayey or clayey garden soils. If no optimal substrates are available, the soil or the soil should be mixed with aggregates such as pumice, lava or zeolite.
The sowing succeeds best in Vorkultur on the window sill or in a room greenhouse. Since germ temperatures around 20 ° C are required, the 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 transplant the young plants into the field or on the balcony. Germination requires some patience. Germination can take up to four weeks. It may be advantageous to use a mineral growing substrate for sowing. A 50:50 mixture of vermiculite and perlite appears optimal. Always keep the seed soil moist, but not too humid.
A sowing in the field is also possible, though 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. Since the lavender is a light germ, the grains should be incorporated 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.
Fertilization: Lavender is used to nutrient-poor locations 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.
Water supply: The herb needs only a little water. Therefore, should only be poured when the soil or 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.
Overwinter: Lavender is considered frost tolerant, ie the plant can survive short periods of freezing. If you want to let the plant hibernate outdoors, you should take some measures. The cover appears optimally with very coarse mulch material, straw as well as twigs and foliage. The latter protects against dehydration. Without cover, the water freezes in the near-surface soil layers, so that the lavender can no longer absorb water. It is important that the lavender branches should be cut back already in late summer, otherwise frostbite may occur. Lavender plants that are in pots can be stored in the garage or in the basement in unheated but frost-free areas (see Making herbs winter proof ).
Lavender and its uses
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 lavender 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 numerous recipes. The flowers, the leaves as well as entire branches are used. Care should always be taken to use the real lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and not the shaggy lavender. The real lavender has a distinctive spicy and camphor-like flavor, which is sometimes flowery and slightly bitter.
Chased or chopped lavender leaves provide a refined taste in many cheeses such as goat cheese, soft cheese, gorgonzola or raclette cheese with lavender. The aroma of lavender is also suitable for hearty creamy soups. In principle, the dosage should always be handled very sparingly, since the leaves are usually very aromatic and produce an intense taste.
Lavender flowers are often used for sweets. For example, fruit juices that receive berry fruit can develop a very excellent aroma when mixed with a few lavender flowers. Lavender is also very suitable for cakes (eg Guglhupf), truffles and ice cream.
A special feature is lavender honey , which tastes lovely and has a fine floral aroma. For high-quality honeys the lavender taste is fine. Lavender honey is also considered very healthy due to its many minerals.
Gerebelter lavender leaves are occasionally contained in herbal mixtures such as herbs of Provence. However, the herb is not an ingredient in the original French herbal blend . Although lavender is listed as an ingredient in many sources, this seems to be more of a German peculiarity, mixing herbs from Provence with lavender.
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 the lavender to be an almost sacred herb. In the Roman military, the plant was used as a wound healing and stimulant, among other things. Both Greeks and Romans used lavender as an ingredient for their bathwater. The Roman physician Dioskurides has already reported in detail in his book Materia Medica (1st century AD) about the lavender and its applications.
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 in many diseases and complaints. Hildegard von Bingen described the lavender as a warm and dry herb, which was administered by her among other things in lung and liver diseases as well as in psychological conditions. Paracelsus already knew its calming effect and used the herb as a sedative and for the treatment of heart and digestive complaints.
The medicinal herb is mentioned in almost all medieval herbal books . In the herbal book by Pietro Andrea Matthioli (late 16th century) numerous internal and external applications have been described. For example, lavender has been used to treat paralysis, cramps, stomach disorders as well as liver and spleen disorders. There it was recommended to boil the lavender in wine or water (tea) and to drink it or to spread it on the arteries as schnapps (distilled water).
In addition, the lavender was recommended for various dental diseases, language problems and body aches. He was also given to pregnant women who have contractions. In the latter, pure lavender 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 lavender have been confirmed in many scientific studies. Responsible for the calming, sedative effects are certain essential oils in lavender, vader fabric linalool .
In addition to the sedative effect of the ingredients of the lavender also have antibacterial (including Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli), antifungal, chiral and anticonvulsant . For the antibacterial and antifungal properties, especially the essential oils are responsible. Depending on the variety and growing area of more than 40 essential oils may occur. The cholagogue properties are mainly caused by the containing tannins.
Preparation of lavender tea
For the preparation of 250 ml of lavender tea, cover a spoonful of lavender leaves or flowers with 250 ml of boiling water. The tea should last at least 7 minutes, but not longer than 10 minutes. The tea should not be sweetened if possible.
Lavender tea can be drunk in nervous restlessness, insomnia and minor stomach and intestinal complaints such as bloating or diarrhea.
To prepare a herbal bath with lavender, pour about 40 to 50 grams of lavender flowers with one liter of boiling water in a container and leave for about 15 minutes. The container can then be poured into the prefilled tub. Even if the lavender bath is quite relaxing and soothing, the bath should be stopped after 25 minutes at the latest.
Some ingredients of lavender may also help in the treatment of so-called Hodgin lymphoma. Under laboratory conditions, lymphoma cells could be inhibited in their growth (proliferation).
Another medical research approach is the use of lavender extracts in Alzheimer’s disease. For example, learning deficits in Alzheimer’s patients could be reduced, or the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which plays a role in the onset and progression of the disease, can be sustainably inhibited.
Buying lavender – here is what to pay attention to
Lavender is available in all imaginable shapes today. Fresh lavender plants can usually be bought in early summer in supermarkets, hardware stores and garden centers. If you want to buy the lavender as a useful plant, you should pay attention to the botanical name (Lavendula angustifolia). Sometimes also the Schopflavendel comes into the trade, which looks very similar to the real lavender.
It should also be ensured that the leaves do not hang, the soil is not too wet and that the ratio plant height to pot size fits. A lavender plant that is three times as high as the pot should not be purchased if possible.
Dried lavender 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. The herbs should be packed aroma-tight and spread when opening a strong lavender-scented aroma. Lavender flowers are usually much more expensive than lavender leaves.
For aromatherapy, scented candles, lavender soaps or lavender bath also finished lavender oil can be purchased. If you want to use lavender oil for aromatheurotherapeutic purposes, you should be careful to get real lavender oil. There are many synthetic products available on the market, but they are not suitable for this purpose.