There are many different types and species of lavender; in addition, to the “true” lavender species, there are also various lavender hybrids and cultivars.
Lavender is one of the most popular plants in the garden; it is also widely used for medicinal purposes. However, there are many types of lavender and not all lavender species are used for the same purposes. Although, in general, lavender species, cultivars and hybrids have the same appearance, there are distinctions between different types of lavender.
Botanical Profile of Lavender
Lavender is a member of the Lamiaceae plant family. There are approximately 39 species of lavender, although the various species can be further sub-divided into generic lavender family groups. In addition, one particular species of lavender can be known by different names due to the country in which it was grown in; for example true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) can also be known as English lavender or French lavender. Lavender grows worldwide, in various countries, including the Mediterranean, India, Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The different species of lavender are annual and herbaceous (including biannual and perennial) plants or shrubs. Lavender flowers are blue or lilac in color, leading to the name “lavender.” Most species of lavender have long, narrow leaves. However, because of the cultivar and hybrid lavenders now available, lavender can vary in color, size, shape and aroma. There are three types of lavender that are usually used medicinally; however, there are also many other varieties of lavender used for different purposes.
Uses of Lavender
Lavender is used medicinally, in culinary dishes and grown as ornamental flowers. Lavender is used medicinally in aromatherapy as an essential oil and as a plant extract in herbal medicine. Lavender is also found in many culinary dishes including traditional French cooking, lavender honey and as a flavoring in cakes and desserts. Lavender is used in potpourri, in sachets, as dried flower arrangements, and as confetti for weddings.
Medicinal Lavender Species
True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most common species of lavender used for medicinal purposes, followed by spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) and lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia). Both true lavender and spike lavender have a traditional history of medicinal use but lavandin is actually a newer hybrid lavender (developed between a cross of true lavender and spike lavender) with little traditional use in medicine. However, lavandin has similar medicinal properties to true lavender.
The chemical make-up of a lavender species can vary due to the elevation at which it was grown; for example, lavender grown at high altitudes (true lavender) will vary in its therapeutic properties to lavender grown at lower elevations (lavandin). True lavender is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and balancing; lavandin is similar but is particularly useful for respiratory conditions.
Lavender for Different Uses
Different types of lavender are often used for several purposes. Lavender species such as true lavender are used for medicinal and culinary purposes whereas a species of French lavender (Lavandula dentata), confusingly a native to Spain, is often grown for both its ornamental beauty and medicinal uses. Firstly, identify lavender by its Latin name and then establish the purpose and use of that particular species. However, all species of lavender are usually both aromatic and beautiful, whatever the intended purpose.