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Lavender Varieties & History of Lavender


Lavandin is the name for a variety of lavender that comes from a cross of English and spike lavender. Commonly grown in France, it dates from the 1820"s. A specific cultivar of lavadin known as "Abrialii" or "Abrial" or "Abrialis" formed the basis of the French lavender industry from 1935 to the 1970"s.
However this variety was susceptible to disease from a pathogenic microorganism. The disease cut the plant life from around eight to ten years to three or four. In 1972 "Abrialii" was replaced by "Grosso" and since 1975 "Grosso" has been the dominant cultivar. Also in use today is the variety "Super" discovered in the foothills of the Alps.
In the 1920"s the lavender grown in France was about 90% self sown seed and the crop was small -a mere 1 to 2 tons of oil. Today France grows lavadin in large amounts- 28000 acres yielding 936 to 1102. Most of this oil is used to scent detergents and soaps. A perfumist would describe lavandin in general as fruity, fatty, harsh, turpentinelike, eucalyptus fresh, camphoraceous, sweet, aromatic, and possessing a warm wood smell.
The plants make great landscaping and produce high quality oil. All lavandins are much less susceptible to the fungus that can ravage the English lavenders. Here in the U. S. "Grosso" has become the favored aroma for soaps, room fresheners, candles, and culinary use. It has a harsh, terpenic note and is more pungent than another popular lavandin known as "Provence".
Lavandula x intermedia (also known as "French lavender").
Flower Description; Large heads, 3 in. by 7/8 in. A few flowers may pop up below the actual flower head along the stem. Blooms not as rich in color as "Grosso", but solid violet with light purple highlights. Aroma is milder/sweeter than other lavenders. Described as heady, grassy, fruity, herbaceous, and mildly woody. Becoming popular for potential use in perfumes, potpourris, sachets, lavender wands, and culinary uses. Bloom Period In eastern US, mid-June-mid-July. In moderate zones early to late July, two or four weeks after L. angustifolia.
Plant and Foliage Description: Leaves longer, wider, and grayer than species form of English lavender. Foliage gray-green, 12-18 inches tall. Flower stems 12-16 inches above foliage. Trim after bloom for best results. Canopy can be cut back to 8-10 inches high and 1 ft. wide, new growth will quickly fill in. Hardiness and Planting Range Hardy to 0°F perhaps a bit colder. Similar to "Grosso". Typical Landscape Use Mass plantings, in pottery over 24 inches in diameter, and accent plant. Plant every 18 inches for quick foliage fill. At 24 inches plants will just touch. Culinary Use Sweetness makes ideal for desserts, ice cream, sorbets, and bread. Also can be used in heartier fare. Stronger than English lavender so decreases amount if recipe calls for English. Heat and cooking affects flavor and strength of all lavenders/lavandins so experimentation is advised.
Comment: Relative abundance of oil in comparison to English lavenders and sweet aroma lends "Provence" to tinctures. Use 4 pounds of blossoms for 1 ounce of essential oil or 66 12 pounds for 17 ounces. If using English lavenders 8 to 16 pounds are needed for each ounce of oil.
Lavandula agustifolia (Twickel Purple)
Common Name: Twickel (or "Twickes" or "Twinkle") Purple Lavender also called "Nana Compacta" or "Compacta" by some (both of which are often sold in North America as Munstead, which is actually another variety)
Flower Description: Stems, spikes 6 to 12 inches long with tapered flower heads. Spikes grow in a fan shape on the Twickel Purple lavender. Flowers usually 1 or more inches and much longer than width. On average they also have 6 to 10 whorls of flower buds along the stem below the flower heads. Half-inch-long trumpet-like corollas bloom out from calyxes of each bud. Calyx appears as brownish or greenish tissue enveloping the bottom of each corolla. Corollas open at random not all together. The Twickle Purple blooms are deep mauve.
Bloom Period: Once in June in most zones; mid to late May through to early June in Zone 7. Plant description: Small shrub, 2 to 3 feet in height and width. Foliage forms dome-like shape. If uncut branches may fall away from each other and leave plant open looking. Because of this all English lavenders are typically sheared to a tighter, denser version than they naturally would assume. Leaves narrow and lance shaped and up to 2 inches long. Grey-green foliage.
Hardiness and Planting Range: Most cold resistant of all lavenders. Hardy form Zone 5 (lows of -20 to -10°F) to Zone 11. Can even be grown below USDA Zone 5 if micro-climate is right. Low of -25°F is the cold weather limit.
Culinary use: Sweetest scented and flavored of lavenders are the English varieties which Twickle Purple belongs to. Can be used in all recipes calling for either flowers or foliage. Great in ice cream, sorbets, baked desserts, and candied flower assortments. Comments: Grouped with what are known as the "Hardy" or "English" or "true" lavenders They are called English lavenders due to their adaptation to life in the cold climate of England. They were not however resistant to a fungal disease known as shab that swept through the English crop in the 1960s. These English varieties are a primary source for perfume. They have insecticidal uses against aphids and repel cockroaches. The Twickle Purple variety is from Twickle castle in Holland. It is one of the oldest varieties.
Variety from Hitchin, England selected for by the Herb Farm in Seal, Kent by one Miss D.G. Hewer. Strong color, productivity, and fragrance. Stems one to two feet long and 1200 to 1400 pewr bush. Fanlike growth of stems. Leaves are gray-green and the flowers are rich mauve and last up to four months. Plant may grow to almost three feet wide.
Sweet Lavender (Lavendula heterophylla: L.dentate x L.latifolia)
Flowers: These plants have long narrow flower heads and pale blue-violet individual flowers. The flowers smell strongly -a bit different than other types of lavender- but, they have the sweetest smell of all non-English lavender types. The stems tend to be tall and straight.
Plants and foliage: Fast grower up to 3 ft. tall and up to 3 feet wide. Long narrow leaves can be serrated and are a felted, gray-green. Vulnerable to sooty mold.
Hardiness: Hardy to 15°F.
Culinary Use: Much like English varieties can be used in recipes from desserts to meats. Notes: This variety of lavender is the earliest variety of lavender to bloom in the spring. The plants are very oily and Nigel says they are the ones that leave the strongest scent on the pickers when being harvested. Great as potted plant. Leaves dimorphic.
Hidcote Giant
A Lavandin variety similar to Grappenhall except color differs. Very fragrant, grows vigorously, is however, coarse. Compressed flower heads with rich deep lavender-purple flowers. Stems extra long -up to 60 cm. Grown by Major Lawrence Johnston at the lovely and spectular garden at Hidcote Manor in England. Resembles Hidcote Pink which was also grown at Hidcote Manor garden.
Grosso (L.angustifolia "Grosso")
Also known as "Fat Spike lavender"
Flower Description: The flower heads are 3 to 6 inches long and up to 1 inch wide. Flower is on a stem up to 2 ft. long. Flower buds are a mix of green and violet. Blooming corollas are rich violet with some dark purple. Is a member of the Pterostacjys - winged spikes- grouping of lavenders. Bloom Period: Blooms Mid-June to mid-July in east US. Here in Northern California mainly blooms in late Junebut, and can bloom again in the fall if pruned mid summer. Also known as "Fat Spike lavender"
Plant and Foliage Description Evergreen if not too cold. Has thick, medium-width, true bluish gray green leaves which are long and tapered to form a dense, well-behaved canopy that is quite nice, even when the plant is not blooming. Differs from other lavenders in that it grows wider than its height -on average 8-16 inches tall with a width of 3 ft. Has curved flower stems especially if planted alone. Also known as "Fat Spike lavender"
Hardiness and Planting Range Hardy to 0°F but not as cold resistant as L. Angustifolia. Unable to withstand continuous cold without snow cover or protective covering. Some catalogs say hardy to -20°F but, safer to assume zone 6, -10°F to 0°F. Typical Landscape Use Nice in mass plantings. Plant close in parallel rows (about 36 in. apart). Curved flower stems bunch up and stand tall and the stems from opposing rows meet to form a noticeably darker, more richly colored violet band where they mingle midrow. If planted tight enough in both directions a lovely crosshatching of shimmering dark purple-violet coloration becomes visible between the rows. If planted alone leave plenty of space for the curved stems to arc out from the plant. Mulch helps keep dirt from splattering on plant. In humid areas a sand mulch -white salt free sand- 1-2 inches deep, may make for a healthier plant and increase oil content dramatically. Culinary Use Due to strong, hearty flavor and aroma not used in most dessert and bread recipes. Leaves and flowers are good to experiment with for grilled meats and hearty stews. Perhaps also use in marinades. Also known as "Fat Spike lavender".
Comments: sterile seeds necessitate use of cuttings to propagate.
A Lavandin variety (aka "Giant Grappenhall" and "Gigantea") Late blooming with long spikes. Dark, rich purple flowers. Plant is quite vigorous.
A Lavandin variety (differs from/ not the same as L. angustifolia) Vigorous plant. Has slightly whitish pink flowers. Leaves are wider than typical L. augustiolia.
(The Lavender Garden, Robert Kourik)


The historic use and recognition of lavender is almost as old the history of man. As an herb, lavender has been in documented use for over 2,500 years. In ancient times lavender was used for mummification and perfume by the Egyptian"s, Phoenicians, and peoples of Arabia.
Roman"s used lavender oils for bathing, cooking, and scenting the air, and they most likely gave it the Latin root name (either lavare-to wash or livendula- livid or bluish) from which we derive the modern name. The flower"s soothing ,"tonic" qualities, the insect repellent effects of the strong scent, and the use of the dried plant in smoking mixtures also added to the value placed in the herb by the ancients. Romans men also anointed themselves heavily with scents, lavender among them, at public bathhouses
Lavender is oft mentioned in the Bible, not by the name lavender but rather by the name used at that time -spikenard. In the gospel of Luke the writer reports: "Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment."
Another ancient Christian reference to lavender involves how it got its scent. The plant is believed to have been taken from the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve. However, the powerful perfume came later. According to legend the clothing of baby Jesus when laid upon a bush to dry by Mother Mary bestowed the scent. This may explain why the plant is also regarded as a holy safeguard against evil. In many Christian houses a cross of lavender was hung over the door for protection.
Perhaps first domesticated by the Arabians, lavender spread across Europe from Greece. Around 600 BC lavender may have come from the Greek Hyeres Islands into France and is now common in France, Spain, Italy and England. The "English" lavender varieties were not locally developed in England but rather introduced in the 1600s right around the time the first lavender plants were making their way to the Americas. In Medieval and Renaissance Europe the washing women were known as "lavenders" and they used lavender to scent drawers and dried the laundry on lavender bushes. Also during this time lavender was grown in so called "infirmarian"s gardens" along with many other medicinal herbs by monasteries. According to the German nun Hildegard of Bingen who lived from 1098-1179, lavender "water", a decoction of vodka, gin, or brandy mixed with lavender, is great for migraine headaches.
That it actually did ward off disease may have contributed to its holy reputation. During the Great Plague in London in the 17th century, it was suggested that a bunch of lavender fastened to each wrist would protect the wearer against the deadly disease. Furthermore, grave-robbers were known to wash in Four Thieves Vinegar, which contained lavender, after doing their dirty work. They rarely contracted the disease. In 16th century France, lavender was also used to resist infection. For example, glove-makers, who were licensed to perfume their wares with lavender, escaped cholera at that time.
Royal history also is filled with stories of lavender use. Charles VI of France demanded lavender filled pillows wherever he went. Queen Elizabeth I of England required lavender conserve at the royal table. She also wanted fresh lavender flowers available every day of the year, a daunting task for a gardener if you consider the climate of England. Louis XIV also loved lavender and bathed in water scented with it. Queen Victoria used a lavender deodorant and, Elizabeth I and II both used products from the famous lavender company Yardley and Co. of London.
Lavender is a unique fragrance produced by the combination of 180 different constituents and is widely used in the perfume industry to add a top or middle note to commercial products. In the world of professional sniffers it has a green, hay like sweetness and gives "fruity aspects" in perfumes and other scented products. For commercial use lavender s widely grown in England and the Provence region of France is widely renown as a world leader in growing and producing lavender.
In the United States and Canada it was the Shakers who first grew lavender commercially. A strict sect of English Quakers who most likely had little use for lavender"s amorous qualities (they were celibate), they developed herb farms upon their arrival from England. They produced their own herbs and medicines and sold them to the "outside world." Later a New York advertising firm picked them up and sold the simple products worldwide.
As an herbal medicine lavender is and has been very widely used. For soothing, relaxing qualities few herbs can be claimed as effective. Constituents of the oils found in lavender can treat hyperactiviety, insomnia, flatulence, bacteria, fungus, microbial activity on gums, airborne molds, and (in mixture with pine, thyme, mint, rosemary, clove, and cinnamon oils) Staphyloccus -aka "Staff"- bacteria. Compounds in the plant have even shown promise as a treatment for certain cancers. In mice these compounds reduced the size of breast cancer tumors. Lavender may even be useful against impotence. In a study of men the scent of pumpkin and lavender rated as the scent found most arousing.
Lavender and love are an ancient match. In an apocryphal book of the Bible we again hear of the use of lavender. Here the story tells us that Judith anointed herself with perfumes including lavender before seducing Holofernes, the enemy commander. This allowed her to murder him and thus save the City of Jerusalem. This overwhelming power of this seductive scent was also used by Cleopatra to seduce Julius Cesaer and Mark Antony. The Queen of Sheba offered spikenard with frankincense and myrrh to King Solomon
By the times of Tudor lavender brew was being sipped by maidens on St. Lukes day to divine the identity of their true loves. "St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me, In my dreams, let me my true love see." So went the chant. Lavender in the pillows of alpine girls brought hope of romance, while lavender under the bed of newlyweds ensured passion. Finally, this famous nursery rhyme:
"Lavender blue, dilly dilly" was written in 1680 and talks of "Whilst you and I, diddle, diddle... keep the bed warm." Lavender inspired loving strikes again.
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