How to grow Lavender for Skincare Recipes
Grow lavender to use in lotions, soaps, and handmade skincare
If you grow only one skincare herb, grow lavender. It thrives in temperate gardens and can even be grown in pots. Lavender’s grey-green leaves look beautiful clipped into a low hedge and once the flowers bloom they’ll keep your local bees in fragrant nectar. Best of all, it’s beneficial for the skin and you can easily grow lavender for skincare recipes.
The below tips show you how to grow lavender, propagate it, harvest it, and then transform it into handmade skincare.
As Rosemary is to the spirit, so lavender is to the soul
Lavender is a classic scented herb that’s been cultivated for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used it in cosmetics and perfumes, the Greeks used it in herbal medicine, and the Romans carried on the tradition and used it in the same ways. Fast forward to the middle ages and the plants are still grown for perfumes, edibles, medicine, and as a remedy to ward off the plague.
Today lavender is as popular as it ever was. It’s grown commercially for its flowers and oil across temperate to Mediterranean climates, especially in France. The fragrant oil is used in fragrances but it’s also been shown to help damaged and burned skin repair itself. It’s also a relaxing scent that calms the mind and brings peace.
Lavender flower oil
For the home grower, lavender is a traditional herb that can be harvested for its flower buds and leaves in summer. The flowers are especially rich in aromatic oils and they can be easily extracted on a small scale. You can grow lavender as a bee-friendly flower, as a pretty garden plant, for cooking, and for lavender beauty recipes.
There are 47 species of lavender and well over a hundred different varieties but the most common is English Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia. It’s the variety used to create essential oil and is also easy to source and to grow. Most varieties can be used to create lavender beauty recipes though.
Lavender at a glance
- Evergreen perennial
- Green to gray leaves and scented white, pink, or purple flowers
- Scented skin healing herb
- Aromatic oil is used in perfumes
- Anti-inflammatory skin soother
- Anti-septic properties
- Helps balance oily skin
- Treats acne, eczema, and psoriasis
- Speeds up the healing of burns and skin injury
How to grow lavender for skincare recipes
You can grow lavender very easily as long as you provide it with the right soil and situation. It likes planting in a sunny place in free-draining soil with an alkaline pH. Because of this, you’ll often see it growing very happily in poor chalky soil. It also grows well in arid climates and prefers dry feet to wet.
If your soil is more acidic you can amend the site with garden lime to bring up the pH. Lavender also prefers being on the drier side so make sure it has plenty of drainage. If you have heavy soil, it’s recommended to plant your lavender in spring along a free-draining ridge. You create this by adding compost, gravel, and stones to the soil and drawing it up.
Though some varieties of lavender can be less hardy, English Lavender can withstand very cold winter temperatures. That makes it a hardy evergreen perennial that will grow in zones 5 and above. You can see it growing in gardens from the American mid-west to India.
When planting lavender, space them a foot apart to create a hedge and three feet apart for an airier planting. Begin pruning the plants in their second year. After flowering, cut the spent flower stalks down and shape the plants. Some sources recommend taking off just a couple of inches and others say take up to a third of the plant. Taking too much off and exposing woodier bits can damage your plants so I’d recommend to err on the more conservative side.
English lavender growing guide
- Zone 5
- Full sun
- Well drained alkaline soil
- Plant height 1-3 feet with a 1-5 foot spread
- Flowers in mid to late summer
From experience I know that lavender can successfully be grown from seed. However, it’s much easier and quicker to increase your plants by propagation. This involves encouraging pieces of a parent plant to grow its own roots.
Propagating lavender is most successful when using semi-ripe cuttings from the current year’s growth but soft-wood cuttings can be used too. Lavender easily takes root so it’s an economical way to create more plants for free.
- Take cuttings 3-6” long
- Trim all but the top bunch of leaves
- Dip the end into rooting hormone powder (optional)
- Gently plant the cuttings around the outer edge of a terracotta pot
- Potting mix should be free draining and made with perlite or vermiculite with compost
- Water and place a clear plastic bag over the top to create a mini greenhouse
- Keep the soil moist but not wet and the cuttings should form roots within 4-6 weeks
Since lavender prefers drier conditions, it’s very happy growing in pots. Breathable terracotta types with a 12-18” diameter are best. Grow lavender in a free-draining mixture that incorporates one part vermiculite or grit with two parts multi-purpose compost. Top dress with grit and feed with an organic slow-release feed in the summer.
When growing in pots, keep lavender watered through the warmer month but drier in the winter. Remember that lavender doesn’t like wet feet and winter temperatures aren’t conducive to evaporating the excess off. If you have a greenhouse place your potted lavender inside for the winter. They’ll be happier for the slightly warmer temperature.
Another thing to take into consideration is that English Lavender doesn’t thrive indoors. It’s better to place your potted plants in the garden, on your balcony, or grow them in a window box. When you grow lavender for skincare recipes having it in a pot can be an ideal solution.
Harvest lavender flowers in the summer just before the buds bloom. They’ll have more of their aromatic oils intact on a fine, dry morning so pick them before the sun gets too high. When cutting, trim the stems just above where the plant’s main green foliage begins.
Tie the stems into bunches and hang in a cool, dark, and dry place. They’ll be ready to use within one to two weeks. Lavender loses its color in the sunlight so be aware of this while drying fresh lavender, or infusing the buds into oil.
The leaves can also be dried and used but they contain less oil than the flowers. When you’re pruning the plants, save the green leaves to dry and then use it in potpourris and bath teas.
Pure lavender oil is made using the steam distillation process. To make it yourself you’ll need a still and quite a lot of lavender to create even a small bottle. The way it works is that the flowers are steamed and then the lavender saturated steam is condensed into an aromatic liquid.
Lavender Beauty Recipes
Lavender has so many skin benefits that one could argue using it in every beauty recipe. Though you can use the fresh flowers in herbal teas for bath time or lotions, it’s best to preserve some for use throughout the year. Lavender can be dried as a whole flower, and then used on its own. You can also use the flower buds to infuse into honey, alcohol, or your choice of liquid oil.
One of the best oils to infuse with lavender is fractionated coconut oil. This light, nourishing oil is liquid at room temperature which makes it a great massage oil. It’s tasteless and odorless so it doesn’t compete with the scent and flavor of lavender. Some liquid coconut oil is edible so the infused oil can be used in the kitchen as well as your beauty regime.
To make infused lavender oil, fill a pint sized jar 2/3 of the way full with dried lavender buds. Fill the rest of the jar with oil covering the flowers by about an inch. Seal with a lid – I like to use BPA free plastic canning lids – and leave in a warm window to infuse for two weeks. If you’re using a clear glass jar, put the jar inside a brown paper bag to protect the oil and flowers from the sun.
Strain, decant into clean bottles, and use the lavender oil within a year. It can be applied neat to the skin or used to make lip balms, body balms, lotions, and bath oil among other things. Here’s some recipes to get you started.