A little whiff of fresh lavender or spirits of lavender oil is said to calm the soul, relieve tension, or cure a headache. The scent of lavender can reduce the stress level of an entire room of people. Try using lavender in a mist bottle in the office to lower the tension and calm the nerves. Lavender-beautiful, fragrant, tasty and healthy! What more can you ask from a plant? Lavender, derived from the Latin “lavare” which means “to wash,” was long ago used for bathing, cooking and healing. Lavender is now one of the most popular herbs, used for medicinal and culinary purposes as well as for cut and dried flowers, potpourri, perfumes and oils as well as beauty in the garden.

Lavender has recently made a comeback as an enhancement to both the appearance and taste of food.

Lavender flowers, buds, and leaves can be added to food and drink recipes to create a unique flavor. A lady told me the other day that she always sprinkles some over her fried chicken. I haven’t tried this, but who knows!

Long considered a cure-all herb and a necessity for the medicine cabinet, antique medical books proclaim lavender to cure brain damage, dyspepsia, headaches, faintness, sight problems, gout, hysterical vapors, epilepsy, rheumatism, flatulence, paralysis, convulsions, dropsy, jaundice, liver and spleen disorders, shivering, nervous palpitations, laryngitis, worms, vermin and insects. Some herbal remedies today make almost the same claim. Not much has changed in 300 years. This is not medical advice, we are not doctors. Do not try at home without consulting your doctor.

There are lots of new cultivars of lavender available for gardeners in a variety of sizes, colors and fragrance. Remember, when choosing a plant you will want to consider growth habit, hardiness, and flower form. The true English lavenders have a wide range of colors. They provide excellent flower colors and outstanding fragrance. They are one of the main sources of oil for the perfume industry. The lavardins are a cross between French and English lavender. They are sterile and can only be grown from cuttings. The fragrance is much sharper and used primarily for cosmetics and soap.

Plant lavenders in sunny locations with open exposure and well-drained soil. Wet feet, especially in the winter, will usually spell the end of a plant. They need good air circulation to discourage disease. They prefer a slightly alkaline soil, lots of sun and good soil to produce masses of fragrant summer flowers. In order to catch essential oils at their peak, the flower stems should be harvested at the swollen bud stage just before the flowers start to open.

To dry: tie small bundles of flower stalks, hang them upside down in a dry, warm, and well-ventilated room with no direct sun. Place paper beneath the bundles to catch any flowers that drop off, and after drying the remaining flowers can be stripped for use in cooking, crafts and potpourri.