example of culinary lavender buds stored in a mason jar on left with lavender being laid out to dry on dehydrator trays on the right.

How to Grow and Harvest Lavender for Culinary Use

by | Apr 6, 2024

Floral flavors tend to be highly divisive, don’t they? If you’re anything like me, I’m the person whose eyes light up when I see anything floral on a menu—lavender scones, rose lattes, chamomile infused ice cream—you name it, I’m probably ordering it. My passion for delicate, subtle, floral flavors is what compelled me to learn how to grow my own culinary lavender early on in my gardening journey. 

As always, be aware that any and all edible herbs and flowers have the potential to give individuals allergic reactions, like any foods.

Growing Your Own Culinary Lavender

Have you ever wondered what makes lavender “culinary” or not? It all comes down to the variety of lavender and how the buds are processed for the final product. Today I’m going to share how to grow culinary lavender, but also how to harvest and process your lavender to get the best quality—quality that rivals any storebought, culinary lavender. 

Lavender lends a flavor to dishes that is hard to describe. It’s not overtly sweet, but the best description I can come up with is “herbaceous,” like a slightly sweeter and floral rosemary. Obviously, if you don’t enjoy the taste of lavender, it’s probably not going to be high on your “must-grow” list. But, if you enjoy using lavender in cooking or desserts, there are many reasons to start growing your own culinary lavender at home:

-you can be sure your lavender is pesticide free and organic

-it’s budget friendly. Lavender plants are perennials, last for years, and will supply you with more than enough dried buds that are high-quality.

-lavender is simple to propagate, so ideally you wont ever need to buy more plants.

-lavender is beautiful, drought-tolerant, and can provide your garden with food for pollinators as well

It is April, so we are still in the perfect window for planting lavender in California. In mild climate areas you can plant lavender from Fall through Early Spring, but colder climates should wait until Early Spring when the weather starts to warm and it is less cold and wet. You can learn more about conditions and tips for growing lavender below.

Types of Lavender to Grow For Culinary Use

Have you ever heard that lavender “tastes like soap”? Using lavender for culinary purposes can be a delicate balance, but it is also essential that an appropriate variety of lavender is used as well. Some lavenders have a higher level of oil content that make them less suitable for eating (can lend a more bitter, soap-like flavor). Those types are better for other uses, such as essential oil production, fragrance, draying etc. Therefore, if you want to grow lavender for use in cooking, you’ll have the best experience if you start off growing the best variety for culinary uses.

These days, there are many types of lavenders (including hybrids), but most lavenders fall into three larger categories: English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), French (Lavandula dentata), and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas). While technically the majority of lavenders are edible, there is a big difference between “edible” and “palatable”. There are many plants in the world that are technically “edible”—meaning you can eat them without harm—versus plants that we might actually find “palatable” aka delicious to eat. Of course, this is also subjective.

In general, the best tasting lavenders for culinary purposes are English lavenders (Lavandula Angustifolia). In my own garden, I grow a variety of English lavender called ‘munstead’ and it’s incredible for cooking. Furthermore, I can also vouch for Munstead’s ability to grow and survive in Southern California zone 10,  even though it’s also one of the most cold hardy of the lavenders! Other gardeners I know highly recommend ‘hidcote’ as well for culinary purposes, but I’ve heard mixed reviews on how ‘hidcote’ grows in California climates.

side by of side of english lavender at the perfect harvest stage with swelled buds and the immature stage

Here’s a side by side of culinary lavender (english lavandula angustifolia). The left side shows the buds at the proper harvesting stage for culinary use. Can you see how swelled and colorful they are? The right side shows flower spikes that are still immature and not ready for harvest.

Should I start lavender from seed?

While you can absolutely grow lavender from seed, it’s not how I’d recommend starting with lavender if possible. See, lavender is not the easiest seed to germinate, and it does not grow as fast as many seedlings that are beginner-friendly (like basil or beans).  I’d recommend buying lavender from the nursery because it is a long-lived perennial that you can also propagate easily to make more plants! Actually, lavender is in good company with several other herbs I recommend buying from a nursery, like lemon verbena, but if you’d like to start from seed High Mowing Seeds sells munstead lavender seeds.

Tips for Growing Lavender

The first tip for growing great lavender is to consider climate. For example, lavender grows so readily here in Southern California. In fact, it’s probably one of the easier landscaping plant choices for zone 10. Whereas lavender is going to be a struggle to grow in climates lower than zone 5 or climates that have high levels of humidity and moisture. Lavender is used in landscape designs all around our area, as we have the very warm, dry summers and mild winters that lavender prefers. For gardeners in zones with more moisture (lots of rain or humidity) you could look into growing lavender in a pot so you can have more control over the conditions. Potting mix can provide better drainage and mitigate water-logged soil. While variety selection is important to growing lavender successfully, we are focusing on culinary lavender (aka English Lavandula angustifolia) today.

Lavender grows and blooms best in full sun, and can tolerate a wider range of soils as long as it doesn’t stay too wet. A gardener once told me that lavender doesn’t like “wet feet”—meaning it doesn’t like constant moisture—and this matches my experiences growing lavender in my garden. Amend your soil will some good compost upon planting, but you can stay very light with the fertilizer or even leave it out. Lavender does not need lots of fertilizing.

In my Basic Herb Growing Guide, we cover the difference between annual and perennial herbs. Lavender is a perennial herb, meaning you don’t need to replace it each season. Perennial herbs will come back each year, although some perennial herbs die back and stay dormant in Winter while others can be more evergreen in a warm climate. Most importantly, many perennials will take some time to grow huge. Specifically, lavender can take up to two or three seasons to really grow to its full size and potential. So, just a little heads up on what to expect when you grow culinary lavender in your garden.

Harvesting Your Culinary Lavender for the Best Quality

Now that we have gotten some growing tips out of the way, I’m thrilled to share with you how we take this fragrant flower from garden to table. Most of the lavender harvest pictures in this blogpost were from late May through June, as this is when my English lavender first starts to bloom in the garden. If you harvest your lavender buds in the Spring/Early Summer, this will give your lavender plants a chance at a second bloom sometimes.

The part of lavender that is used for cooking is actually the buds—not to be confused with the full flower spikes. For culinary purposes, there is an “ideal” stage for harvesting the lavender buds. Ideally, you want the lavender buds to start showing color, but not blooming into open flowers. If you pay close attention, you’ll see that the lavender flower spikes start off as mostly grey-green. Slowly, the buds seem to plump and will start to reveal some of their blue/purple color. The perfect time to harvest your English lavender for culinary purposes is when the buds are colored and plump, but not yet bloomed open into tiny flowers. Some sources say you can let twenty-five percent or so of the buds open per flower spike, but a lot of those sources are also covering lavender being used for essential oils, herbalism, or fragrance/drying, not food. In the end, knowing how you plan to use your lavender will determine a lot of your choices when growing and harvesting lavender at home.

Try and harvest your lavender buds early in the morning after all the dew has dried. Obviously, these are just ideal guidelines, so don’t worry too much if you have to harvest at your own pace.

Notes on Cutting Lavender or The Initial Prune

Personally, I like to do a mini-prune or first prune on my lavender right after the Spring harvest. This can be done two ways: First, you can simply cut your lavender stems as you please and then go back and prune down a couple inches from where the stem was cut. Alternatively, you can prune at the same time you harvest your lavender bunches. When you go to cut, follow the flower stem down to where the leaves start again. At that point, trim just an inch or two down. Afterwards, I’ll take my bunches of lavender and cut the bottoms to match neatly like a bouquet without any leaves. Remember, don’t cut into woody growth on lavenders, as this can be too much and cause the plant to die back. 

However you choose to trim your lavender, this lighter trim during harvesting will actually promote more growth and another flush of lavender flowers. This small prune is different from the major pruning that we do towards the Fall.

lavender being gently washed in a stockpot of water on left and culinary lavender drying on a mesh try on right

Giving lavender a gentle wash before I prepare to dry it thoroughly in a dehydrator. See instructions and tips for how to dry culinary lavender without a dehydrator.

How to Dry Lavender For Culinary Use

In an ideal world, we could just take our organically grown lavender and dry it. You are welcome to do this if you feel comfortable. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that lavender flowers and leaves seem to hold a lot of dust, dirt, and grime from the city air—I’ve also noticed this for many other herbs, like culinary sage. Therefore, I actually wash my culinary lavender before drying. Over the years, I’ve found that the simplest way to do this is to fill a large pot with water and gently put the lavender in (see photos for some examples). Swish the lavender gently back and forth, and remove.

Since we washed the lavender stems, I tend to not gather my lavender in a bundle for drying—that could prevent the lavender from properly drying out and cause mold or mildew. Instead, I first roll my lavender up in a clean, lint-free kitchen towel to remove some of the major moisture and then lay the lavender stems out on dehydrator trays (mesh trays or anything for air drying herbs will do as well). In the end, you want your lavender bone, brittle, dry! You’ll know your lavender is dry when the stems no longer bend, and they easily snap when you try to bend them. Because I have a dehydrator handy, I like to dry them on the “herb” setting to speed up this process. Plus, using a dehydrator ensures that the lavender is truly dried out.

Alternatively, you can air dry your culinary lavender. Please keep in mind that air drying relies on finding a warm, dry spot (with no direct sun exposure) and good air circulation. I always have to be extra careful when inspecting my air dried herbs to make sure they are dry with absolutely no mold. It can be hard in certain climates to meet the right conditions to air dry herbs.

Lastly, you don’t have to dry your lavender with long stems intact. In fact, you can choose to remove the flower heads from the longer stems before starting the drying process if you’d like. I don’t always take the time to do this, but you can fit more lavender flowers heads on trays if you detach them from the stems first (I’m referring to the whole flower head, not the individual buds here).

How to Remove the Lavender Buds & Store Them

This last step of the process is more time consuming, but it is also thrilling. We are going to remove the precious dried lavender buds into a jar for a lovely finished product! Once your lavender heads are dried, use your fingers to gently remove the individual buds into a jar. This can be done by gently rubbing your fingers over the lavender flower head to loosen the buds and make them fall into the jar. This should be easy if the lavender was dried properly. Taking the time to do this last step will give you a jar full of organic, plump, vibrant, lavender flower buds with very little residual parts of the lavender. People pay good money for this quality of culinary lavender! Celebrate!

Store your jar of homegrown culinary lavender in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight! I keep mine in our kitchen pantry with all my other dried herbs and goods.

How to Prune Your Culinary Lavender

Now that you have learned how to grow culinary lavender, how to harvest the flowers, and how to dry and store the buds, there’s one more important maintenance step we have to discuss. Pruning! It’s important to prune your lavender each year to keep it producing and from getting too woody. Today I’m going to talk about pruning English lavender specifically, since we are focusing on culinary lavender. In general, these guidelines do apply to French and Spanish lavenders, but you should be less aggressive with pruning those varieties to start.

English lavender is best pruned in Fall, after the last flush of flowers. Pruning English lavender takes a little bit of observation. I like to take a look at the plant, lift up a side, and observe where the woody stems end and the little tufts of green leaves begins. See, for many woody plants (this even goes for salvias and sages) cutting too deep into the woody growth will stop new leaves from emerging. DO NOT cut into the woody growth when you prune. The best way to prune your culinary lavender is into a mound-like shape where there is 2-3 inches of green leaves left all around the plant on the stems.

diagram of where to cut english lavender when pruning

This is a mound of lavender that has been pruned after the last harvest of flowers for the year. Sam is lifting up one edge so you can see the woody growth underneath for a better idea of how to prune your English culinary lavender.

Propagating Lavender

Most perennial plants do not live forever. Some plants are short-lived perennials, while others can live much longer. English lavender, for instance, is a perennial that can live around ten years if cared for properly! I recommend knowing the general lifespan of your type of lavender so you can prepare to propagate more plants.  If you’re interested in propagating lavender, you can check out How to Propagate Plants From Cuttings, where I actually use ‘munstead’ lavender as one of the example cuttings. It’s a pretty straightforward process, and lavender tends to be less finicky than other types of plant cuttings.

How to Use Culinary Lavender

Once you have grown your own culinary lavender, you won’t go back! Whenever I pull out my jar of homegrown lavender buds from the pantry I just feel extra pampered. Really, it’s such a reminder of why there’s so much joy to be found in growing your own food and taking pleasure in the simple things.

Now, I’ve run out of room today to share specific recipes for using your culinary lavender, but I can share some ideas and inspiration. To start, one of my favorite treats is a lavender latte. You can use your lavender buds to create a lavender simple syrup, which can then be used to sweeten lattes, iced coffees, lemonade, and so much more! On that sweet note, I’ve also made lavender and honey cupcakes, lavender scones, and lavender shortbread cookies.

If you’re looking for a soothing way to utilize your dried culinary lavender, how about warm milk infused with lavender and chamomile? I love to take some dried lavender and dried chamomile flowers (I have a full chamomile growing guide too) and infuse them into warm milk using a tea strainer or tea bag. It’s pure joy and relaxation! I especially recommend using a little bit of honey to sweeten.

During apricot season a few years ago, I made a sourdough bread loaf with dried apricots, walnuts, and lavender buds as mix-ins. It was divine! The best part, was that this was not an overly sweet way to use the lavender. It was very subtle. Other savory applications for dried lavender include spice mixes, meat rubs, or making lavender infused salt.

If you’ve enjoyed learning how to grow lavender for culinary use in your gardens please let me know with a comment below or share this article!

5 Comments

  1. Donna Milazzo

    Fun article! I grow French Lavender as it has tended to do best in my garden. It sure would be pretty on top of a scone or sugar cookie.

    Reply
    • FreckledCalifornian

      Thanks for enjoying this topic with me Donna! Yes, lavender is so pretty on scones! My neighbor also will sometimes use lavender sprigs as decorations for drinks. It’s got so many uses and smells good. Good to hear French lavender grows well for you.

      Reply
  2. Sarah

    Love this so much! I’m so glad I found your blog. I am new to gardening here in the harbor area of Los Angeles, and appreciate your climate-specific tips. My issue is that I have a lot of shade in my growing area here at home, with only maybe 2 (3, max) hours of direct sunlight. Would this species of lavender do okay in mostly shade? I’ve read that they prefer full sun; but I’m hoping maybe it could work! I’m currently working on a meditation space using mostly potted plants, and would love to incorporate medicinal and culinary herbs like this one 🙂 thanks!

    Reply
    • FreckledCalifornian

      Hello! Welcome! I’d say that lavender does really need the full sun in order to bloom, but there are some herbs that can tolerate more shade. For one, mint. In fact, be careful and only keep mint in pots because it can become terribly invasive. You can also try thyme, chives, parsley and a bay tree in a pot (they can get large, but just keep it in a pot). You could absolutely try lavender, but you just might not get flowers which would be a bummer. Rosemary might also grow for you, nasturtium too. Good luck!

      Reply
    • FreckledCalifornian

      I forgot to mention my favorite container bay tree. It’s a variety called ‘little ragu’ and it grows very well for both me and my mom. Enjoy!

      Reply

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Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

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