What is more wonderful than Lavender? Well that would be Lavender with Thyme, Roman Chamomile, Peppermint, Oregano, Lemon Balm, Chives and…….any HERBS really. Culinary, medicinal, fragrant, and beautiful all together. I have always preferred herbs to cultivated or ornamental plants. Many landscape plants as well as “weeds” are actually herbs. Using, growing and understanding herbs is a forgotten thing but I am reviving it here at Alba Ranch. The flowers on most herb plants are stunning. If you harvest your herbs all the time, you may never see the flowers. I am a lazy gardner so I routinely see my flowers. HA!
Well what is a weed? A weed is nothing more than a plant growing where you do not want it. Herbs may seem like flowers to some, weeds to others, and just herbs to others. They are all that to me.
What is Lavender? Lavender is a Mediterranean bush like perennial. There are numerous types of Lavender but the average person thinks of Lavender as either English or French. Not all Lavender is culinary. Not all Lavenders are hardy in colder climates.
What most people think of as English Lavender is Lavendula Angustifolia. There are over 400 cultivars in this Lavender family and with proper care an Angustifolia will live 15 years…perhaps more. This is the family of lavender used for culinary and generally these cultivars are small to medium in size. Their flavor can be a sweet floral, citrus, piney, complex flavor and scent. Some will flower two times a year and many have short stems. The colors come in white, pink, lavender, purple, periwinkle and nearly blue. These are the true lavenders or common lavenders. Lavendula Angustifolia are used in essential oil distillation and by aroma therapists for their oil properties. The oil yield is lower on the smaller L. Angustifolia but the quality is higher of whatever oil you do get.
Most Lavendula Angustifolia are grown from cuttings taken from an established plant. They can be grown from seed but tend to not be true to the parent plant with changes here and there in the new “children”. Grow from seed if you want to expierment and don’t mind slow growth. Grow from cuttings if you want uniform plants and want a head start on growth.
The lavender family most people call French is the Lavandin family. It is a cross between Lavandula Angustifolia and Lavandula Latifolia. It is a hybrid or an Intermedia. The seeds are sterile so it can only be grown from cuttings. These are a much larger lavender plant and live usually closer to ten years. This family of lavender is NOT for culinary as it has a lot of camphor in it which is why it has such a strong smell. It is traditionally used in the perfume, cosmetic, and cleaning industries for the high oil content and strong smell. Using this in your cooking will result in your food tasting bitter and like soap. The one exception is the Intermedia x Provence. It is the Lavender in most Herbs de Provence blends but is still used very sparingly. The color of this lavender family is less bright than the Angustifolia and generally flowers about a month later. They have been bred to have more of the hardiness of the Angustifolia but still keep the larger size and longer stems of the Latifolia. These are used to weave wands and are used in floral arrangements both dried and fresh.
Here at Alba Ranch, we are starting out and choosing our varieties. Lavendula Angustifolia will be the bulk of the lavenders here. I have chosen to go this way because I am an aromatherapist. The essential oils used by aromatherapists is the Lavendula Angustifolia family. I will have a few of the hybrids but they will only comprise about a quarter of my varieties.
As the lavender plants grow, I will find out which thrive in my micro climate so close to Lake Michigan. My list of cultivars may change as I go along and see what thrives. Here is the best place to see which varieties are at Alba Ranch. Alba Ranch will not be a large Lavender farm but we will have many varieties to enjoy.
(English) Lavendula Angustifolia that are here at Alba Ranch are:
Folgate (nice purple) excellent for dried/fresh bunches, culinary
Martha’s White (white bud that opens to light pink) Folgate natural seed offspring that seems perhaps a bit too delicate for here at Alba
Lodden Blue (dark blue purple) short stemmed and intense color
Munstead (light lavender) rather floral in smell and taste
Vera (light lavender color) true lavender and only one I have from seed and cuttings both
Royal Velvet (dark intense purple) favorite for culinary and hydrosol distillation, dried bunches
Royal Purple (purple) longer stemmed than most
Miss Katherine (taller pink flowers) favorite for culinary. Super sweet.
Melissa (short white bud opens to pink flowers) favorite for oil, hydrosol and culinary
Melissa Lilac (lavender cotton candy looking flower) hardy and grows well at Alba Ranch
Buena Vista seems delicate for Alba climate, excellent culinary
Jean Davis also known as Rosea (pink) sweet culinary
Hidcote Pink (pink flowers) favorite for hydrosol and oil distillation
Avis Hill (darker purple) a bit more delicate, excellent for culinary, distillation for hydrosol and oil
Hidcote (dark blue purple) intense color, herbaceous smell and flavour, excellent dried bunches
(French) Lavandin x Intermedia that are here at Alba Ranch are:
Hidcote Giant (purple)
Gross Bleu (dark purple) retains color well in dried bunches, silver green foliage
Grosso (purple) used for bunches and buds
Cathy Blanc (white)
Phenomenal (purple) used for bunches, distilled for hydrosol and essential oil for linen and room sprays
Platinum Blonde (purple) variegated foliage