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Lavender - The Love Herb

Lavender - The Love Herb

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Anyone interested in lavender production needs to understand the complicated taxonomy of Lavendula species before attempting to choose a cultivar. Ask yourself whether the plant is to be used for essential oil production, cut flower production, or dried ornamental use.

Lavender has many important historical uses as an aromatic, expectorant, stimulant and as a cosmetic, culinary or decorative herb.

In the first century A.D., the Greek naturalist, Dioscorides, praised the medicinal attributes of lavender. Ancient Egyptians used it as a perfume and as an essential ingredient for incense. Lavender was a favorite ingredient in herbal baths of both Greeks and Romans.

The plant was considered an herb of love and was used as an aphrodisiac during the Middle ages. It was believed that a sprinkle of lavender water on the head of a loved one would keep the wearer chaste. Due to its insecticidal properties, lavender was strewn over floors in castles and sickrooms as a disinfectant and deodorant.

The name "lavender" comes from the Latin verb lavare "to wash" or "to bathe." Lavender species of commercial importance are native to the mountain of countries bordering the western half of the Mediterranean.

There are approximately 20 species of lavender with hundreds of various genotypes differentiated by variations ranging from growth form to chemical composition of essential oil.

Hardy Lavenders - English Lavender, Lavendula angustifolia, is the most widely cultivated species. The common narrow-leafed variety grows 1-3 ft high with a short, irregular, crooked, much-branched stem. The stem is covered with a yellowish-gray bark, which flakes off and numerous erect straight, broom-like branches.

Flowers are produced in terminating one-half-inch-long spikes from the young shoots, on long stems. The spikes are composed of whorls or rings of flowers, each composed of six to ten flowers. Flowering is generally from mid to late June to early July.

Larry A. Sagers
Horticulture Specialist
Utah State University Extension
Thanksgiving Point Office

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