Lavender (angustifolia) is the most common "true" species in cultivation. A wide range of cultivars can be found in shades such as purple, white, and even pink. Other commonly grown ornamental species are L. stoechas, L. dentata, L. multifida, and L. intermedia.
Flower spikes are used for dried flower arrangements. The fragrant, pale purple flowers and flower buds are often used in potpourris. Dried and sealed in pouches, they're placed among stored items of clothing to give a fresh fragrance and as a deterrent to moths. The plant is also grown commercially for extraction of lavender oil from the flowers. This oil is used as an antiseptic and for aromatherapy.
Lavender flowers produce abundant nectar, which yields high-quality honey for beekeepers. Lavender honey is produced primarily in the nations around the Mediterranean and marketed worldwide as a premium product. Lavender flowers can be candied and are sometimes used as cake decorations. Lavender is also used to flavor baked goods and desserts (it pairs especially well with chocolate), as well as make "lavender sugar". Lavender flowers are occasionally sold in a blend with black, green, or herbal tea, adding a fresh, relaxing scent and flavor.
Chefs in and around Provence, France, have been incorporating this herb into their cuisine for centuries, either alone or as an ingredient of "herbes de Provence." Lavender lends a floral, slightly sweet and elegant flavor to most dishes, and pairs beautifully with various sheep's and goat's milk cheeses. For most cooking applications, it's the dried buds (also referred to as flowers) of lavender that are used, though some chefs experiment with the leaves as well. Only the buds contain the essential oil of lavender.
The French are also known for their lavender syrup, most commonly made from an extract of lavender. In the United States, both French lavender syrup and dried lavender buds are used to make lavender scones.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Should lavender be pruned each year?
A: Lavender should be sheared back in the spring to about two thirds of their size. Cut one third of plant away. Do not prune back to the ground. You may cut as much or as little as you like for flower arrangements, potpourri, or cooking.
Q: How do you winterize them?
A: After the first heavy frost, plants will harden on the old growth. Foliage remains all year. There is no need to prune back until spring. If potted, bring inside if temperatures drop below 0°F.
Q: Can lavender grow in rocky soil?
A: These are excellent plants for rock gardens. In fact, the worse the soil, the more the lavender flourishes.
Q: Do they fade in the sun?
A: The purple flowers will fade to lavender and the light pink flowers to white. Early summer and early autumn flowers don't fade as much as summertime flowers.