June 17th, 2011
Ah. Summer is abound. So much to do. So little time.
In my boredom, I have once again resorted to my research mode. This time on Lavendula – or Lavender in common name form.
As my previous post stated, I did purchased a pot of French Lavender during Earth Day from SLO Botanic Garden. Since then, I have pay extra attention to any Lavenders that I met on the way. (Yes, I personify plants. Sue me.) And as an added bonus, I can now differentiate Lavender, Sage, and Rosemary from each other. I used to get a bit confuse – their flowers and bush bodies are quite similar to my eyes, especially since there are two type of Lavender flower buds. Now I learn that they key is in their leaves form. If there are still doubts, rub the leaves. Not that I would recommend thrusting a bare hand into a flowery and aromatic bush on a sunny day – the bushes tends to be swarm with bees.
Note to self – never plant lavender, sage, or rosemary next to a door or window. Do the bees love them!
I have, fortunately, discover that they are fairly docile when they having lunch in a bush of aromatic herbs. They may fly by to check people out, but as long as I don’t do anything silly – like thrusting my hand into their lunch – they circle around for a second and go back to their lunch.
My Lavender hasn’t attracted any bees though. In fact, after I brought the plant, it has since then refused to bloom. For a long time, I couldn’t comprehend why, as Lavender – along most other herb – are notoriously difficult to kill. They love sun and is drought tolerant. Some of them thrive on being neglect, with my Aloe Vera being a very good example. In fact, one could say they are borderline masochist!
Granted, I have my Lavender in a pot, but it is not a small pot, and Lavender can be a container plant. I told myself that its probably just shock by the transplanting process. When I brought my first Lemon Thyme – my container garden plant – the leaves turn yellowish and the plant look like it was going to die. But in the end, the Thyme rebounded fairely quickly. However, as the day goes on, my Lavender remain flowerless and its leaves yellowish. What is going on!?
And so I started looking. Then, I wanted to bang my head against the wall. Ah, if only I am not worry about damaging the wall with my own head… The problem with buying plants on an impulse without research is that, sometimes, certain plants have very specific blooming requirement. Yes, Lavender would take an idiot to kill it, but to make it bloom beautifully… it can be a bit fussy. The history, biology, and growth of Lavender is quite complex yet fascinating, and writing about it will definitely take more than one post. Good thing I am on summer break. So let me start off with the basic:
Lavender, or Lavandula, is part of the – lo and behold – mint family of Lamiaceae.
I know, my eyebrow shot straight up with a “Huh?” as well.
The most common Lavender, which most of the time Lavandula refers to, is the English Lavender. It is also known as True Lavender and Common Lavender. It’s scientific name is Lavandula angustifolia, with augustifolia meaning “narrow leaf”. It is the most used culinary lavender because it has less camphor oil. Camphor oil adds bitterness once cooked. The favorite plant of Queen Victoria, it was also named Lavandula officinalis in the old days to indicate that English Lavender is the only “official” medicinal Lavender. Other than the basic English Lavender form, English Lavender also have varies varieties – in fact, up to 40. The most well-known variety is Munstead because of its sweeter scent and taste, which makes it a better culinary Lavender than most.
For the same reason regarding camphor oil, Provence French Lavender (Lavandula x intermedia) – a sterile cross between English and Portuguese Lavender – is the second best culinary Lavender (Second, since Munstead is just a variation of English Lavender, not a different species the way Provence is). The land it named after, Provence, is the largest producer of Lavender in the world. Among the various species of Lavandula, Provence tends to tolerant moisture slightly better (Lavenders tends to like dry, well-drained soil in places with good sun).
I have the French Lavender (Lavendula dentata) – not the Provence one, just French. While it is called “French”, it is actually native to Spain. It’s Latin name, dentata, means “toothed” in references to its leaf form. It is commonly grown as ornamental plant and perfume ingredient. I was recommended to buy this instead of Spanish Lavender (the store only have French and Spanish) because I planned to use my Lavender for culinary and scent purposes.
Confusingly, some of the older text may refer the Spanish Lavender (Lavendula stoechas, also Topped Lavender) as French Lavender. To add to the confusion, it is also called Italian Lavender. It actually originated from the Mediterranean region (I know, “Huh?”), but can later be found in Italy, Spain, and France. Despite the confusion regarding its current name, it is easily distinguishable from the actual French Lavender because of its two spiked petals and pineapple-like body. In fact, some also nicknamed it “Rabbit Ears”. While it is more fragile than the English Lavender, it will self-seed on its own and upon attempts to cut it. Thus, it is consider not only an invasive species in Australia, but a noxious weed in parts of Victoria, AU (Note to self: Don’t plant it next to my neighbor’s garden unless they like Lavender too.)
I mentioned Portuguese Lavender (Lavandula latifolia, or Spike Lavender) earlier. It’s native to west Mediteerrian. It has a stronger fragrance and camphor content than most of the other Lavender, so it is grown mostly for aromatherapy use. However, because of its high camphor concentration, its oil produces a more methol aroma and thus holds less value than the English Lavender. As a result, it is often hybrid with the English Lavender to create the Provence French Lavender.
Those above are the most commonly mentioned and used Lavender. There are, of course, other hybrids and types Lavender out there. But I think go more into Lavender as whole now:
The Latin root of Lavender, lavare, means “to wash”; Is it any wonder why it is so popular in bath and body products? Well, it should be the other around I guess – is it any wonder it means to wash in Latin considering its use. Lavender is, after all, fame for its calming properties.
In addition, it is an antiseptic, antitoxic, antispasmodic, and antibacterial. It’s wonderful for massage and helps relive tension and stress from headache, depression, muscle pain, insomnia, to PMS condition.
As antibacterial, it’s great for acne. It can also work in case of sun burn, fungal infection, bug bite, and other skin disease. It is particularly effective if mix with Aloe Vera gel or Tea Tree oil, depending on use.
However, while Lavender in essential oil form is the least toxic oil, it can still irritate skin. Always test the oil, don’t put oil open wound if you don’t want a burning sensation, and don’t consume it in oil form.Since it is the least toxic, it can be used with children, but always test it out first. In its plant form, however, Lavender is great tea and cooking ingredient.
As for its growth conditions… I think I will left it to the next post – I am reaching to the second page of my OpenOffice document. A break, shall we?