A member of the mint family, lavender is an aromatic perennial shrub with spiky purple blossoms. It is also classified as an herb, and frequently appears in cooking and baking. Each of the 20-30 varieties have different characteristics. For approximately 2,500 years, lavender has been prized for its scent and its uses as an antiseptic, disinfectant, and relaxant. Ancient Egyptians used lavender in the mummification process, perhaps because of its antiseptic qualities. Ancient Romans scented their baths with lavender; in fact, the word lavender is derived from the Latin word "lavare," meaning "to wash." In the middle ages, lavender was used as protection against the epidemic known as the Black Death, which may have been somewhat effective—in addition to antibacterial properties, lavender is known to repel some insects, and may have deterred the fleas that spread the disease. Today, essential oil made from its blossoms is widely used in home remedies and aromatherapy products. Drought-tolerant varieties grow well in warm climates, but are hardy enough to be cultivated in a variety of locations. Originating in India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, lavender is now widely grown in southern France and is gaining commercial popularity in North America. Lavender is a good fit for Arizona, where its hardiness and low water use make this beloved herb a smart choice for desert landscaping.
Primary location: Arizona's commercial farms extends from the White Mountains to the hills of scenic Prescott in Central Arizona. Cultivation areas are approximately 4,500-6,500 feet above sea level in the rocky band that connects that Arizona's desert lowlands to the higher elevation Colorado Plateau.
Climate needs: Lavender plants can range from two to four feet in height, with different varieties having different qualities and needing different degrees of water and care. Varieties cultivated in Arizona grow best in well drained, gravelly soil in full exposure to sunlight and can tolerate warm to hot summer days. They often do not require heavy watering.
Cultivation: Commercial lavender cultivation is a type of floriculture, and therefore is considered to be a specialty crop. The Arizona Crop Census conducted in 2012 placed total open air floriculture production in Arizona (including all bedding/garden plants, cut flowers and cut florist greens, foliage plants, potted flowering plants, and other floriculture and bedding crops) at 65 farms over 152 acres (with an additional 74 farms that cultivate the aforementioned crops under glass or other protection), with a total value of $11,354,957. Floriculture activities have decreased significantly since 2007 when the last crop census was conducted.
As of 2015, Arizona boasts five large commercial lavender farms: Sedona Lavender Farm (Sedona); Lavender Herb Farm and Tea House (Chino Valley); Skull Valley Lavender Farm (Skull Valley); Windy Hills Lavender Farm (Heber); and Red Rock Ranch and Farms (Concho). The 120-acre Red Rock Ranch and Farm is thought to be one of the largest producers of lavender in the Western Hemisphere.
Farm to consumer opportunities: The Lavender Herb Farm, Red Rock Lavender, and Windy Hills Lavender offer seasonal opportunities to visit their farm. Skull Valley Lavender and Sedona Lavender Farm sell fresh products at their local farmers’ markets and maintain online stores. Click on the map to discover lavender agritourism opportunities and map them from your location.
History and significance (in AZ): Mike Teeple of Red Rock Ranch and Farms brought commercial-scale lavender production to Arizona with the planting of the first crops in his 120 acre farm in Concho, Arizona. After experimenting for nearly twenty years to find the most effective methods to propagate and cultivate lavender, he now serves as a consultant to lavender farmers around the world, and has helped some other Arizona farmers start production of their own ventures. Arizona’s other farms also offer consulting work in the field of lavender propagation. In addition to selling lavender products such as oils, cosmetics, teas, and dried herbs online, several varieties of live plants are available in large and small quantities for residential or commercial landscaping.
See lavender fields forever (well, during harvest time) at the annual Lavender Festival, held the last two weeks of June at Red Rock Ranch in Concho, Arizona. Watch the video below, captured in 2014, for details.
Lavender is a popular desert landscaping crop. Varieties grown in Arizona share a tolerance to heat and drought. Varieties of lavender differ in blossom appearance, plant height, growth rate, and even scent, and many are favored for one reason or another. Dozens of different varieties of plants will produce flowers that are dominantly fragrant, vibrant, or tasty.
Varieties: . A range of plant varieties is available for sale at Arizona’s lavender farms. The most popular varieties include:
Provence—a tall plant with light flowers used particularly in cooking.
Grosso—popular with landscapers, this variety grows up to 4 feet tall with a spiky, deep purple bloom. Most essential oil is made from grasso lavender, which has a strong, heady scent.
Royal Velvet—exceedingly fragrant, this variety dries well, staying attractive and keeping its scent. It is great for sachets and wreaths.
Jean Davis—this understated variety bears flowers that are white to pale pink with the classic lavender scent.
Loddin Blue—these tightly clustered blossoms are a purple so deep they are almost blue.
Dilly Dilly—a hearty, smaller version of Grosso, this variety can be used for cut flowers or culinary purposes.
Cooking with Lavender
Lavender is a common ingredient in teas, seasoning blends, and desserts. This versatile herb can add flavor to sweet or savory dishes. Most American blends of the spice mix known as Herbs de Provence contain lavender. Lavender florets can be used to flavor sauces, syrups, glazes, and can be added to baked goods.
Recipe: Lemon-Lavender Cream Scones
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons dried lavender
2 tablespoons sugar or decorative sugar
2 tablespoons lavender
1 beaten egg white or 1 tablespoon water
Instructions: Preheat oven and coat a cookie sheet with butter or cooking spray. Mix dry ingredients together, add the lavender and lemon zest, and add the vanilla extract and heavy cream. Stir gently, just enough for the mixture to stick together (do not overmix). Move dough onto a floured plate or cutting board. Coat hands in flour and pat dough into a roughly circular shape about 8 inches in diameter. Optional: Gently brush a little water or egg white on the dough and sprinkle lavender and sugar on top. Cut dough into 6-8 wedges and transfer wedges onto cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 22-27 minutes. For smaller scones, cut each wedge in half and adjust cooking time to 16-20 minutes. Serve warm.