What is French Lavender?

J.M. Densing

French lavender is a perennial, shrub-like herbal plant with interesting foliage and purple blossoms prized for their fragrance. Its scientific name is Lavandula dentata, and another common name is fringed lavender. French Lavender originated in Spain, and it can be found growing in the wild in much of western Europe. French lavender had several interesting uses historically, and is still used for some purposes today outside the garden. It makes a lovely garden plant in temperate climates with warm winters, and can be grown as a houseplant as well.

French lavender attracts butterflies.
French lavender attracts butterflies.

French lavender typically grows to a height of about 1 to 3 feet (0.3 to 0.9 m) and spreads out approximately as wide as it is tall. The long narrow leaves grow in a radial arrangement with the flower stem rising through the middle. The leaves are a silvery grayish green color, with fringed edges like a fern, and they have a distinct aroma like the flowers.

Lavender has a pleasant and calming scent.
Lavender has a pleasant and calming scent.

The flowers of the French lavender plant bloom from early summer through to autumn, and can appear year round in an indoor environment. They grow in spiked clusters of individual florets at the tip of the stem and range from a darker bluish purple to lavender in color. The flowers have a fragrance that has been described as fresh and clean, and is used in many scented products.

The original native area of French lavender is southern and eastern Spain, and the plant has naturalized to many areas of Europe. It thrives in temperate climates with mild winters and moderate rainfall. Preferred habitats include open wooded areas, thickets and meadows, and it will grow in a variety of soil conditions.

French lavender, and other varieties, has several historical uses. The ancient Romans used it to scent the public baths, the Greeks used it medicinally to treat several ailments such as insomnia and backache, and the Egyptians dipped shrouds in it before wrapping the dead. Currently the oil from the plant is used in scented toiletries and candles; dried flowers are also used for potpourri, and dried stems are burned as incense. The fragrance is thought to have a calming, peaceful effect.

In gardens, French lavender is often used flower beds, borders, edging, containers, and natural looking areas, and it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. It's a very low maintenance plant. It needs to be planted in well draining soil and the soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings to prevent moisture related problems like root rot. It can be pruned or pinched back to encourage a full, bushy shape. In areas with a harsh winter, it needs to be protected from the cold or brought indoors until warmer weather.

Lavender oil is often used to ease headaches.
Lavender oil is often used to ease headaches.

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