Aromatherapists and essential oil fanatics are probably very familiar with lavender, but do you know the true differences between English and French lavender?
These little purple flowers are two species of the same plant, but they vary in appearance, fragrance, and hardiness. So is there a benefit of one over the other? And should I look out for a particular one in my lavender products? Whether you’re a home gardener or curious aromatherapist, we’ve got you covered! Read on, reader!
Where Did They Come From?
English lavender, or formally known as Lavandula angustifolia, has a bit of a misleading name. This is to say, nope, it isn’t from England! What we know as English lavender actually hails from the mountains of the Mediterranean. The reason it’s now referred to as English lavender is because it was widely used as a perfume for English royals. Similarly, French lavender (Lavandula stoechas or dentata) is equally misleading — it is actually native to Spain. Hencet is sometimes called Spanish lavender! The name French lavender was picked up due to its prevalence in French perfume.
What Do They Look Like?
Both plants have their characteristic purple (ahem, lavender) hue, but their shapes are a bit different. French lavender has a stout flower topped with very distinct long petals at the very tip, almost like bunny ears. English lavender is what you probably picture when you imagine lavender. It is slightly cone shaped flowers atop a long thin stem. It’s typically lighter in color than French lavender as well.
How Do They Smell?
Both lavender varieties have a lovely scent, but to a well trained nose, it’s easy to spot the difference. English lavender is much lighter and sweeter than French lavender because it has less camphor, a chemical with a piney, woody scent. English lavender is typically the most appealing variety when it comes to scent and is similar to rosemary. French lavender has a stronger fragrance with more pine notes, making it a popular choice for cleaning and home products. No smell is “better” than the other, it is largely based on individual preference. Personally, we think that a bit of both types makes for the most well rounded scent!
Will They Last Through the Winter?
Since both plants are originally from the Mediterranean, they tend to prefer mild weather. With that said, they are surprisingly resilient! Between the two, English lavender is more winter weather friendly. It is hardy in zones 5 and warmer and can withstand temperatures down to -20°F (you can find your location’s hardiness zone here). French lavender can only be grown in zones 8 and warmer. This means it can only withstand temperatures of 10°F or higher. Obviously, this translates to how well your lavender plant will do in your region. Both types thrive on well drained soil and don’t require much fertilizer or watering. Homegrowers, the pros at ABCo have made a helpful list of tips on how you can prepare your lavender plants for the winter weather!
Does One Have More Health Benefits?
Both English and French lavender are equally beneficial when it comes to aromatherapy, it just depends on your personal preference! They can both be distilled into essential oils and incorporated into perfumes, creams, room sprays, and other household products.
What Do We Use at Appalachian Botanical Co.?
We have found that English lavender, the hardier of the two, tends to do better on our West Virginia farm, so we are growing the Munstead variety. In addition to organic English lavender, we also grow Lavender x Intermedia, a blend of English and Portugese lavender. Our chosen varieties are Provence and Phenomenal. These Intermedia varieties are slightly less hardy than English lavender, but when they bloom, they sure bloom! In fact, Intermedia is sometimes called “fat lavender” due to its exceptionally long and thick flowers. Of all the lavender varieties, the Intermedia have some of the strongest scents, making them a perfect pairing to English lavender. When combined, these two make a beautiful lavender essential oil with high and medium floral and piney notes. We are happy to report that all 3 varieties (Munstead, Phenomenal and Provence) are so far doing well on the reclaimed coal mine land at our Ashford farm.
When it comes to choosing a product, whether culinary or strictly for smelling pleasure, both English and French lavender will do. Lavender x Intermedia is especially great for essential oils, body care products, and home fragrances due to its strong scent. The real trick is to ensure that they are totally organic, use sustainably grown lavender, and that the preservatives hang out at the very end of the ingredients list. Homegrowers, your choice mainly lies in where you’ll be growing it! As a general rule of thumb, English lavender tends to be more forgiving.
Do you have any questions about how we farm our lavender or make our products? Or are you having trouble finding which variety will make the best addition to your garden? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you! Don’t forget to follow along with us on social media and sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about new products and get exclusive messages from our founder.
MEET THE AUTHOR / ELIZA TALVOLA is a writer from Pittsburgh, PA who considers herself to be a conscious consumer and traveler, slow fashion advocate, and devoted foodie. She is a firm believer in creative reuse and putting people over profits, and is a long time lavender enthusiast. Her favorite product: Lavender Hand Sanitizer Spray