Picture this. After a stressful day at work, you have acquired a massive headache and are unable to fall asleep after you fall into bed. You toss and turn throughout the night and are finally able to drift off to sleep only to have the alarm clock go off soon after. “Where did the night go?”, you ask yourself. You get out of bed only to repeat the same pattern all over again. Sound familiar?
Did you know that there is a plant known as a ‘natural relaxant’ that can help induce sleep and even help to get rid of headaches? An herb that is simple to use, yet SO effective. An herb that is also a natural antidepressant and antiseptic? In fact, this herb and its essential oil have so many uses it is a must-have for any medicine chest. It could also be a huge step towards helping you to get your life back. The herb I am referring to is Lavender. This beautiful plant seems to be able to do it all. Beloved by many for its fabulous scent and flowers in the garden, it is also respected by herbalists across the globe for its healing powers.
Lavender can, however, be difficult to grow successfully by the home gardener. It originated in the coastal area of the Mediterranean Sea and prefers certain growing conditions to thrive. The good news is, however, that with a little bit of knowledge, this herb can be grown by even the novice gardener. And trust me when I say, once you have grown and harvested this herb you will never want to be without it! It is an experience unlike any other. Once you have successfully harvested your own Lavender or even if you purchase someone else’s bounty, you will find all sorts of uses for the pretty purple blooms.
Ok. So how does one go about growing Lavender? Lavender seeds are available but the germination rate is poor and growth is very slow. In our greenhouse, we try to plant Lavender seeds in January or February at the latest. These seedlings may be 2-3 inches tall come May if we’re lucky. Lavender seeds are frustrating for even the most seasoned gardener. Stem cuttings are a good option for obtaining plants though. If you know someone who already has an established plant (or two) ask them to cut a small piece of new growth off of the plant for you. Remove the lower leaves below a leaf nodule, (where the leaves are attached to the plant) dip it in rooting hormone powder (available at farm and home stores and nurseries) and place it in well-draining potting mix. (Lavender hates having wet roots and many plants have died because the soil remained too wet.) Potting mixes can also be mixed with perlite or vermiculite for better drainage. These are available in bags near the potting mixes. (They are the little white balls that look like styrofoam in potting mixes.) Just mix in with your potting mix to ensure better drainage. Place the cutting in a warm location with filtered sunlight watering whenever the soil is dry. After several weeks, check for roots by gently pulling on the cutting. Once a good root system has formed, the plant can be potted up in a larger pot. Do not plant it outside in the sunshine until after hardening it off. This process is done by placing the plant outside in the shade for several days, gradually bringing it into the sun. This will help the plant become acclimated to the outside climate. If you place it directly in the full sunlight immediately, the new plant will burn and all of your efforts will be wasted.
I know this sounds like a lot of work for a plant. If all else fails, Lavender plants are available on-line, in nursery catalogs, at some local home improvement stores and even (in early summer) from our herb shop, The Simple Heart of Life. These established plants will often flower the first year. Be sure and plant in full sun, amending the soil for optimum drainage and surround with larger rocks. These rocks will help prevent winter ‘heaving up’ of the plant from the ground. The rocks will also absorb the winter heat and help the plant to survive areas with cold winters. Water regularly to get the plant established and then water only when dry. Many different varieties of Lavender plants are now available. English types are the hardiest but French and Spanish varieties have unique blooms and leaves. Try to match the variety you choose with growing conditions for your area.
Once your Lavender plant is established and has started setting on blooms, you can harvest the blooms. Do this before the blooms open. Look at the stem and you will notice a couple of small blooms a few inches down from the main flowers. If you cut the stem right above this point, the stem will continue to flower and you may even get 1 or 2 more harvests of flowers in the same year. If you prefer longer stems, choose a variety known for longer stems. Lady Lavender is a favorite that has a lighter lavender bloom but longer stems. You can also just go ahead and cut a longer stem but may have fewer harvests. Wrap a bunch of stems with a rubber band and hang in a dark, dry area away from direct sunlight. After the bundle is dry, enjoy it complete as is or remove the blooms from the stem.
So just how do you access the wonderful effects of Lavender? The methods are endless. Place a small handful of dried Lavender blooms in a 2-3 inch square of pre-washed cotton fabric and make your own bed-time pillow insert. Stitch the squares together and place the pillow in your pillowcase for a relaxing nights sleep or to help get rid of headaches. This pillow can also be placed on your forehead while reclining in a chair or on the sofa at the end of the day. Close your eyes and inhale the sweet scent. A drop of pure essential oil can be placed on a soft cloth or on the temple area and inhaled for instant relaxation and relief. Lavender oil can be added to a spray bottle of distilled water to refresh your work area or home throughout the day. Diffusers are also available to assist by gently misting (any) essential oil into the air at regular increments. For many people, smelling Lavender in any form is enough to bring a smile to their face 🙂
As you can see, Lavender is as versatile as it is beautiful. It doesn’t matter whether you grow your own plants or enjoy the essential oil, Lavender’s benefits are available to us all. Try it out for yourself. You just might find yourself counting zzzzzzz’s again.
Lavender is definitely one of my own personal favorite simple pleasures of life! Thanks for reading.