Lavender. If you’ve traveled the Mediterranean or California’s wine country, you’ve likely seen fragrant waves of it everywhere. A popular drought-hardy landscaping plant in Sonoma County, it’s also grown commercially for the oil found in its flowers, as well as for the dried flowers themselves.
If you’re a lavender lover, you’re in luck: Lynn Rossman, owner of Lynn’s Lavender in Sebastopol, will be the featured speaker at the May 15 meeting of the Windsor Garden Club. The free presentation runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the community room of the Windsor Senior Center, 9231 Foxwood Dr. Presentation begins at 6:45 p.m.
The lavender varieties we’re most familiar with are native to the Mediterranean, but it’s now grown around the world. (Not everyone’s a lavender lover; in Australia, one variety has naturalized so well there it’s been declared a noxious weed).
In Europe lavender has been cultivated in gardens since the 1500s. It started out as an herb grown for flavoring and medicinal purposes. Queen Elizabeth I was supposedly a fan of lavender jam. Traditionally, its flowers are harvested at the end of summer and crushed over heat to distill its oil. European herbal medicine used lavender oil or lavender tea as a tonic for upset stomachs and for coughs.
Lavender oil has been shown to have a mild sedative effect and lowers blood pressure slightly, and it’s also been shown to have mild anti-inflammatory properties. The Victorians combined it with other ingredients for something shocking: smelling salts used to revive those who swooned. Using lavender in bath water for its soothing effects is something that dates back centuries.
Dried lavender is also used for its scent, alone or mixed into potpurries. It’s reportedly a moth repellent, which explains why it’s popular for drawer and closet sachets. Some think lavender’s name comes from the root of a Latin verb meaning “to wash,” (all that association with lavender baths and soaps and oils for skin and perfume); other scholars think its name comes from the root of a Latin word meaning “blueish.”
If you want to grow it, you’ll need some sandy, well-drained soil in a garden space that’s hot and sunny in the summer.
Or you could just visit Lynn’s Lavender at the corner of Graton and Tanuda roads between Sebastopol and Occidental. While here on a working vacation, owner Rossman fell in love with the property, which includes a 3-acre vineyard and old-growth redwoods in addition to her lavender fields and drying shed. She’s also got a gift shop full of goodies, including the things she and her family make from all that lavender, as well as other natural ingredients. Why start a lavender farm? It was one of her dreams. “Having more guts than brains I bought the 10.5 acres because it had many outbuildings, a home, and most of all, a tractor. I'm originally from Iowa. Think John Deere,” she said.
She moved to Sonoma County full time in 2010, and now offers dried lavender bundles, sunflower oil sugar scrub, body balm, lavender and lavender-vanilla mist spray, and more on her farm. For details visit Lynn’s website at www.lynnslavender.com. For more on lavender history along with a treasure trove of herb and plant information, try Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, The Smithsonian Handbook of Herbs, and the Barnes & Noble Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants.