Lavender’s allure begins with its aroma.

June 27, 2010 at 9:19 PM Leave a comment

Lavender’s intoxicating aroma is wonderful in the garden, but lends itself to crafts, hand creams and cooking too.

By Sean Conway, Tribune Media Services

June 27, 2010

The scent of lavender is unmistakable: clean, fresh and soothing. This aromatic member of the mint family gets its distinct aroma from the oil produced by the plant’s leaves and stems. Lavender oil’s restorative powers for skin cells have been known for centuries, so it’s no surprise that it’s commonly found in shampoos, conditioners and skin-care products, as well as in perfumes, candles, and carpet and room fresheners. It’s also used in aromatherapy and even foods such as ice cream and cookies.

Native to Mediterranean climates, lavender requires full sun and well-drained soil to thrive. Given the proper growing conditions, it can become a large semiwoody shrub. Lavender plants can tolerate below-freezing temperatures common in many parts of the United States, provided they are planted in soil that drains freely. If your soil has heavy clay content, as in many parts of the Midwest, augment it with sand or limestone pea gravel, and consider mounding beds. Lavender prefers to grow in areas with intermittent rainfall: Too much water or constant high humidity will cause the plants to rot.

There are some 39 known species of lavender, varying in size from small, rangy plants to large semiwoody shrubs. While Lavandula angustifolia and L. dentata are the species thought to produce the finest quality oil and are most often used in perfumes, a lavender hybrid called Lavandula x intermedia is the type most commonly grown in production due to this plant’s larger size and longer flower stems.

As lavender ages, the stems can become woody. To keep plants looking their best, pruning twice per year is recommended. After growth resumes in the spring, the plants will produce flower spikes. Depending on the species and the growing zone, this will be between April and July.

Plants should be judiciously pruned back immediately following flowering and, if possible, again in early August. The second pruning encourages multiple stems to grow before winter and prevents the plant from splitting during winter months.

Sean Conway is host of the TV show “Cultivating Life,” which airs on WGN-America on Saturdays. His Web site is

— Tribune Media Services

Putting lavender to work

Growing your own lavender is easy, but that isn’t the only way to enjoy the plant’s soothing properties. Brenda Brock, owner of the natural cosmetics company Farmaesthetics (, based in Newport, R.I., visited the set of “Cultivating Life” to show how easy it is to make skin-care products with lavender.

Heat 1 cup almond oil (you may substitute grapeseed or soy oil) in a double-boiler on medium heat; do not boil. Add 1 tablespoon grated beeswax to the hot oil. Stir until melted; remove pan from heat. Add 1/8 teaspoon vitamin E, 7 drops lavender essential oil and 2 drops peppermint essential oil; combine thoroughly. Pour mixture into container; let cool. Continue mixing to aerate and make mixture creamier.

To use, massage a small amount into hands, nails and cuticles to soften and protect the skin.

Copyright © 2010, Tribune Media Services,0,7712522.story

Entry filed under: Garden Crafts, Green Information, Nature Notes.

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