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For The Garden

Drying Lavender

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: June, 2012, Page 94


DESERT GARDENING 101

Lavender thrives in Phoenix and the desert Southwest, adding beauty and fragrance to gardens. The perennial herb’s graceful purple or blue flower stalks are easy to preserve for aromatherapy, beauty products, bouquets and culinary uses. In late spring to early summer, the blooms are ready for harvesting in the low desert. Follow these tips shared by Christine Steeple, co-founder of Red Rock Lavender, located in Arizona’s White Mountains. The company grows and dries more than a dozen varieties of lavender.

• Harvest when flower stalks are be-tween half and two-thirds in bloom. Stems in full bloom have started drying out and will not maintain color or fragrance. Cut with scissors or hand pruners in the early morning, since cool temperatures help the herb retain its essential oils. During the heat of day, oils dissipate and fragrance is not as intense.

Morning hours offer another advantage: Bees are not as active when it is cool. Bees love lavender, and during warm, sunny days they plunder flowers for nectar. “Bees seem so mesmerized by lavender that I’ve never been stung,” comments Steeple. “Perhaps lavender’s calming effect on humans works on bees, also.” If you are allergic to bee stings, ask someone to harvest for you.

• Keep stems as long as possible, but avoid cutting more than an inch into the body of the plant’s foliage. Secure 1- to 2-inch-wide bundles of stems with rubber bands, which will continue to hold plant material snugly while drying. “String or twine won’t hold tight when stems shrink,” Steeple explains.

• Hang bundles upside down in a dark, humidity-free place, such as on a wire strung in a garage or a coat hanger hung in a closet. Steeple suggests using large paper clips to hang bundles. Partially unbend the clip, tucking one hooked end beneath the rubber band and hooking the other end over the wire. When hung upside down, essential oils remain in the flowers and stems stay straight. Some individual blooms will fall; spread a dropcloth to collect them for potpourri or sachets.

• Flowers dry within one week in arid conditions but will take longer in an air-conditioned setting or when outdoor humidity is high. Lavender stems maintain color and fragrance for years if kept dry and out of direct sun. “I have eight-year-old topiaries that still look great,” says Steeple.

• Store dried flower stalks horizontally in cardboard boxes until you are ready to use them. To use blossoms only, strip dried stalks by rolling them back and forth between your hands until the blossoms fall off. Use the bare stems as barbecue skewers to impart flavor, or toss in the fireplace to scent a room.

No lavender to harvest from your landscape? Cut your own at the 9th Annual Lavender Festival held at Red Rock Lavender in Concho, Arizona, in late June. Find dates and activities at redrocklavender.com.
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