WAITSBURG, Wash. — Lavender has been used as a fragrance, a medicine and a seasoning for centuries.
Its only been in the past decade or so that lavender has re-emerged from the perfume bottle and linen closet to become one of the most popular multipurpose herbs.
It really became a favorite with everyone from perfumers to chefs in 1999, when it finally was recognized as an herb, said Linda Ham-Holbrook, owner of Sleepy Hollow Lavender in Waitsburg.
People try and experiment with different wines and cheeses, why not herbs? If youve ever used the herb mixture Herbes de Provence, youve cooked with lavender, she said. I put it in everything. Its part of the mint family, so if you dont have rosemary, use lavender. If you dont have marjoram, throw in lavender.
Theres so much you can do with lavender. You can use it all except the roots, she said.
Ham-Holbrook and her husband, Calvin, planted 3.5 acres of lavender in 2004, mainly the Grosso and Provence varieties.
Where we live, right at the foot of the Blue Mountains, lavender is something that will grow. Once its planted, you dont have to keep replanting it each year. And the deer dont bother it thats a big plus, she said.
Western Washington farmers have been growing lavender for decades, especially on the Olympic Peninsula in the Sequim-Port Angeles area.
Growers there put on an annual lavender festival at the end of July that features seven farms with a total of 60 acres of the fragrant herb. Together, the growers have more than 80,000 lavender plants in the ground, but there are nine other nurseries and growers who sell about 200,000 plants each year.
But as well as it grows in the damp dirt of the west side, lavender actually is a Mediterranean plant that likes the same growing conditions as wine grapes.
On the west side, they have to grow their plants in mounds to allow the rainwater to drain away. And it does not require full sun, it demands full sun, said Barbara Lauby. With our sunny, dry climate, we have the perfect growing conditions.
Barbara Lauby, her husband Jim Macica and her sister, Gerry Lauby owners of Bywater Farm Lavender in Prosser began growing eight to nine varieties of lavender commercially about 2005. They normally cultivate 500 or more plants though they didnt have quite so many last year.
(2011s) winter was hard on our plants. We lost most of the Super Bee (variety) and some others are coming to the end of their useful life for one reason or another, so were replacing them, Barbara said.
In Lowden, Karen and Jean-Paul Grimaud, owners of Blue Mountain Lavender Farm, grow 15 varieties on 10 acres, and Bella Terra Gardens in Zillah and Purple Ridge Lavender in Hermiston have several acres under cultivation.
There are two general types of lavender, angustifolia and lavandins. The angustifolia, sometimes called English lavender, grows to 2 to 21⁄2 feet tall and has narrow leaves and short stems with barrel-shaped flower heads. The lavandins are a sterile hybrid cross and grow as much as 3 feet high with wider leaves and spiky flower heads.
There are around a hundred, maybe more varieties of lavender, Barbara said. And theyre not all lavender, which surprises people. They come in many shades of blue-purple, from very dark to very light, plus pink and white. Everyone has a different look, a different smell and a different flavor.
The buds also vary in size, shape and texture.
Royal Velvet has a dark purple-blue flower bud that feels velvety. Grosso buds are medium to dark purple-blue and have a hard feel, Barbara said.
While the leaves and stems of lavender have some fragrance, the scent is mainly concentrated in the flowers.
Thats what we use for sachet pillows and bags and whats used to make the essential oils we use in the candles, lotions and soaps, Barbara said.
Bywater Farm Lavender products can be found on the internet at www.bywaterfarm.com. Or watch for Barbara Lauby and Jim Macica at Mid-Columbia arts and craft shows. For more information on the lavender festival, go to www.lavenderfestival.com.