Lavender botanically refers to Lavandula, a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family (Lamiaceae). Many members of the genus are cultivated in temperate climates as ornamental plants for garden and landscape use, for use as culinary herbs, and also commercially for the extraction of essential oils. The most widely cultivated species is Common Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), also known as English Lavender.
Lavenders are perennial plants that flourish best in dry, well-drained, sandy soils in full sun, and they need little to no fertilizer. In areas of high humidity (like the Southeastern states), where root rot due to fungus infection can be a problem, it is best to grow them as annuals. Avoid organic mulches because they can trap moisture around the plant’s base, encouraging the root rot. Consider gravel or crushed rock as mulch for better results.
Lavender is very versatile, and the main uses of it fall mostly into the following categories:
1. Lavender flower spikes are used for dried flower arrangements, and the fragrant, pale purple flowers and flower buds are used in potpourris. Lavender flowers are also dried and sealed in sachets (pouches) to be placed among stored clothes to exude a fresh fragrance and to deter moths.
2. Lavender is used extensively in aromatherapy. Lavender seeds and flowers placed in pillows aid sleep and relaxation. Lavender is also used as an ingredient to create some remedies believed to soothe insect bites, burns, and headaches. Lavender gathered in “bunches” repels insects.
3. Lavender is used as an herb in cooking to lend a floral and slightly sweet flavor in various food recipes. It pairs especially well with chocolate, and recipes for some baked goods and desserts list lavender as an ingredient. For most cooking applications, chopped/grated/minced portions of the dried flowers are used. Whole flowers can be candied and are sometimes used as cake decorations.