About Lavender

The lavender family covers a wonderfully diverse range of plants from the well loved fragrant drought resistant plants we know so well to some tender exotic species that can smell downright horrid! The growing area ranges from the Canary Islands in a broad band across the Mediterranean extending as far as India. But the lavenders that have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and for perfume are found naturally growing in the south of France, the Italian Alps, the Pyrenees and southern Spain.

Lavandula latifolia, also known as Spike Lavender grows naturally from 200m to 800m in scrubby rocky places and has a strong camphorous scent but it is not hardy in England. It is one of the parents of the hybrid lavender Intermedia or Lavandin which is the most popular and hardy garden plant. The oil has a very pungent smell and has been known for medicinal use since before the 11th C. It was recommended for use as an insecticide by Hildegard of Bingen in her ‘Physica’ written around 1150 and is in fact still used today in many veterinary insecticidal preparations. ( I know, I keep chickens!)

Lavandula latifolia growing in our greenhouse

Lavandula angustifolia (often referred to as English lavender) is a naturally occurring species that grows wild from 800m to 1500m (i.e. mountain areas up to 5,000 feet above sea level). Not surprisingly, it is extremely hardy. It grows mainly in the Pyrenees, French and Italian alps, flowering from late June to the end of July and has a sweet fragrance. The essential oil from this species is highly prized and frequently used in quality perfumes and aromatherapy. There are many cultivated varieties which have been selected for colour – dark blues, royal blues, lilac, mauve, purple, pink and whites – and for scent. Very attractive to bumble bees, butterflies and moths – and honey bees (but less so) angustifolias are the best type to use in cooking as they generally have a sweet floral perfume with little of the camphorous element.

L. angustifolia growing wild in Val de Vallon, French Alps

Lavender x intermedia (often referred to as lavandin) is a natural hybrid plant between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia. The oil yield is much greater than L. angustifolia and as widely grown for commercial use. A beautiful bushy plant is can grow to over 100cm tall with typically silvery grey green leaves and long purple flowers. There are also dark blue and white forms. It flowers from mid July to late August, some varieties flower on until September. It is now scarce in the wild.

Small copper butterfly and bumblebees on L. x intermedia ‘Impress Purple’

L. angustifolia flowering in late June

 

Where lavender grows

The natural growing area for all lavender species ranges from the Canary Islands in a broad band across the Mediterranean, through the Gulf states and extending as far as India. However, the lavenders that have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and for perfume are found naturally growing in the south of France, the Italian Alps, the Pyrenees and southern Spain.

For centuries lavender found growing in the dry mountain conditions, was harvested and sold to distilleries by peasant farmers to supplement their income. It was only from the 1920s that lavender was grown on a commercial scale and great fields were planted up in long rows for ease in mechanical harvesting.

Today, as well as the established cultivation of lavender that has been part of the culture of Southern France, particularly Provence, commercial cultivation of lavender extends throughout west and eastern Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand. There are also lavender farms in Japan and China

 

Mountains near Sisteron, South France.

Lavender grown in Britain

It is unknown whether the first lavender plants were brought to Britain by the Romans or later on during the mediaeval period. Chaucer makes a mention of lavender and by 1573 it is well known as a fragrant strewing herb (Thomas Tusser – Five hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie). It is said that Queen Elizabeth I knew of the soothing effects of lavender tisane drinking several cups a day to assuage migraines.
Books on gardening published in the 16th and 17th century frequently mention lavender as being good for bees and a recommended plant for the pleasure garden. John Parkinson, apothecary to James I, wrote in Paradisi in Sole published 1629 – ‘the whole plant is of a strong sweete sent, but the heads of flowers much more, and more piercing the senses, which are much used to bee put among linnen and apparrell’.
By the mid 19th century, lavender was being grown on farms for the purpose of lavender essential oil production. The oil was used as a base for eau de cologne and for perfuming soaps and was prized by Queen Victoria herself.

However, lavender gradually fell out of favour, with the advent of synthetic perfumes which were much cheaper to produce. It also suffered for a while as having a ‘granny’ image. However in recent years there has been a strong resurgence of interest in natural products and many people have begun to be wary of chemical additives used in the products they buy, fearing that their health can be compromised. In parallel with this movement towards the use of natural products, there has been a strong growth of interest in lavender and its many uses.

There are now well over 30 lavender producers in the UK, including Shropshire Lavender which is located near Newport Shropshire.

The lavenders we grow and the plants sell

We cultivate two different intermedia lavender plants for dried loose lavender / essential oil – Grosso and Impress Purple.

We cultivate several different varieties of angustifolia lavenders. Maillette is used to produce dried culinary lavender and essential oil. The following varieties are used for producing dried lavender bunches: Melissa Lila, Imperial Gem, Hidcote, Gros Bleu, Folgate and Royal Velvet.

In addition, we stock many different varieties of lavender plants. The main varieties we sell are listed below (subject to availability). Note – lavender plants can only be purchased from our farm shop or by contacting us for collection.

 
Intermedia Angustifolia Angustifolia
Blue ice Maillette
Blue Rider Melissa Lilac
Edelweiss Cedar Blue Miss Dawnderry
Grappenhall Elizabeth Miss Katherine
Grey Hedge Folgate Nana Alba
Gros Bleu Hidcote Peter Pan
Grosso Imperial Gem Princess Blue
Impress Purple Little Lottie Rosea
Loddon Blue Royal Purple
Loddon Pink Royal Velvet

The many uses of lavender

Lavender was used in early Arabic medicines as part of preparations for heart complaints. In the 11th century lavender was known to Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Germany, to be good for headaches, stress and migraines. In 1910 the French Professor Renee Gatfoss suffered ‘stinking gangrene’ after his arms and hands were badly burnt in an explosion in a laboratory experiment. Fearing imminent amputation or worse still, death, he bathed his wounds with a solution of lavender oil, and to his amazement (and relief) the wounds healed very quickly and left little scarring. He dedicated the rest of his life to researching medical applications for essential lavender oil alongside his research for the perfumery industry.

Lavender can be used for a wide range of applications; including but not limited to:

  • Oils perfume industry / soaps, shower gels, cosmetics, room sprays
  • Oils aromatherapy and massage oils
  • Oils – relief for insect stings / nettle stings (antihistamine effect)
  • Oils relief against hay fever (inhale the vapour)
  • Oils soothing helps to heal wounds – burns / cuts, etc
  • Oils treating moth attacks in carpets / curtains
  • Oils treating dog and cat fleas
  • Distillate facial wash and hair rinse
  • Distillate ironing water
  • Dry flowers moth deterrents in clothes cupboards
  • Dry flowers smelling bags
  • Dry flowers pot pouri
  • Dry flowers tisanes / herbal teas
  • Dry flowers culinary uses (cakes, scones, ice cream, chocolates)
  • Bunches wedding bouquets / church flowers, other events, in the home
  • Sprigs table decorations / church pews / favours, etc.

In addition, our lavender cultivation is without the use of fertilisers or pesticides, and is therefore extremely beneficial ecologically, especially to the vast numbers of bumblebees, butterflies and moths that are attracted to our fields each year. These insects are struggling to survive amidst the plethora of chemicals used by the farming community. We also host several colonies of honey bees that are tended by staff from Harper Adams Agricultural College which is located in nearby Edgmond.