Tempted to do something with the lavender growing in your yard? Letting such a fragrant herb go to waste would be…well, a waste! Gathering, drying and using lavender is really simple. Just one plant will yield enough material to scent your whole house.

Lavender projects

Dried flowers, lavender sugar and potpourri satchels are all quick and easy to make.

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Cutting Lavender

Cut flower stems about 6 inches long.

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Lavender harvest

Just one lavender plant produces enough flowers for a nice harvest.

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Bowl of Lavender

After flowers are dry, strip them by hand into a bowl.

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Lavender hanging

Attach your drying lavender to a hanger with ribbon, string or clips.

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Harvesting

First, decide how you want to use your lavender. If you primarily want a pretty dried arrangement, choose a dark purple type (white and pink varieties look lifeless once they’re dried). Cut stems during the first or second week of bloom for the best color. If you’re more interested in scent than looks, wait until the fourth or fifth week to harvest. The color may be less bright, but the fragrant oil increases in the flowers if given more time.

The individual flower stalks shoot up 6 or more inches above the leafy part of the plant. This makes them easy to cut off, without fear of injuring the rest of the bush. Choose a dry day, either morning or dusk, when fragrance is the strongest. Use sharp pruning shears or scissors to cut the stems, then bring your harvest indoors – the sun causes the flowers to wilt quickly.

Drying

Drying lavender can be done in a number of ways, and each offers pros and cons.

Hang Drying

Pros: Requires few materials and can be decorative. Cons: Takes about a week or longer to dry and may introduce insects to your house.

Bundle approximately 20 lavender stalks together and secure with a rubber band. (A rubber band may not be the prettiest to look at, but it works well because it tightens as the stems shrink in size – and you can always add a decorative ribbon over it.) Choose a dry, warm, dark place to hang each bundle upside down. Leave enough space so air can circulate around the bunches. A garage may seem like an obvious choice for drying, but if you live in a humid part of the country, mold can quickly destroy the lavender. Inside the house is often a better environment (except for moist bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms). Hang the bundles from a nail or hook in a dark corner, or even a closet (lavender repels moths). The easiest hanging device is a wire clothes hanger.

Oven Drying

Pros: Prevents mold growth, no hang space needed and faster processing time. Cons: Heats up the house and needs supervision.

Arrange thin layers of lavender on cookie sheets. Set oven at 100 degrees F and leave the door slightly open to let moisture escape. Carefully watch the first batch to monitor drying time, and check after 10 or 15 minutes. Lavender is dry when it feels brittle. If your lavender is still moist, turn it over and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven for processing or store it by hanging.

Microwave Drying

Pros: Quickly dries, helps flowers retain color and kills insects. Cons: A microwave holds smaller amounts than an oven.

Spread a thin layer of lavender across a paper towel and lay it in the microwave (turning tray optional). Set microwave for 1 minute. If the lavender doesn’t feel completely dry after the time is up, continue in 30-second increments until it’s brittle.

Processing

Once your lavender is dry, slide the flower buds off the stem. (Bits of stem, chaff and seeds will unavoidably get mixed in with the buds, and that’s okay.) At this point, you have many choices for using your processed lavender. Here are some simple suggestions that require few materials:

Potpourri

Making potpourri can be as easy as putting the dried flowers into a pretty bowl. Depending on the look you prefer, dried lavender leaves can also be included in the mixture to give more bulk and texture. Potpourri recipes range from easy to complex. No matter the kind you use, adding a few drops of purchased lavender essential oil will help prolong the scent.

Scent Satchel

Purchase or make a small drawstring bag out of muslin or nylon. Fill it with lavender and place in the corners of your lingerie drawers or coat closet to deter moths. Since some oil may absorb into the fabric, make sure you don’t lay your satchel directly on top of delicate clothing.

Sleepy-time Scents

Lavender has a calming effect. Tuck some buds under your cotton sheets or inside your pillow. The soothing scent will be released along with your body heat. (But again, be aware that this could cause staining of delicate fabrics.)

Lavender Sugar

Lavender gives a subtle floral taste to recipes (best used with sugar cookies or white cake mixes). Add a tablespoon of lavender to 1 cup of sugar. Store in an airtight container for two weeks so that the scent can absorb into the sugar. (Note: Make absolutely certain that no pesticides were used to grow lavender that will be used for cooking!)

Stems

Before you toss the cut stems, consider saving them. Add subtle taste to barbecue chicken by placing the stems on the hot coals as you cook. Or use the stems as fire starters in your fireplace. Or scatter among the dying embers of a campfire to release a smoldering scent (which also repels mosquitoes).

Regardless of how you choose to use your lavender harvest, you will be pleased that such a beautiful and fragrant herb has not gone to waste in your garden.