Lavandula (common name lavender) is a genus of 47 known species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is native to the Old World and is found from Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, Europe across to northern and eastern Africa, the Mediterranean, southwest Asia to southeast India. Many members of the genus are cultivated extensively in temperate climates as ornamental plants for garden and landscape use, for use as culinary herbs, and also commercially for the extraction of essential oils. The most widely cultivated species, Lavandula angustifolia, is often referred to as lavender, and there is a color named for the shade of the flowers of this species. Despite its use over centuries in traditional medicine and cosmetics, there is no high-quality clinical evidence that lavender has any effects on diseases or improves health.
Flowers are borne in whorls, held on spikes rising above the foliage, the spikes being branched in some species. Some species produce coloured bracts at the apices. The flowers may be blue, violet or lilac in the wild species, occasionally blackish purple or yellowish. The calyx is tubular. The corolla is also tubular, usually with five lobes (the upper lip often cleft, and the lower lip has two clefts).
The first major clade corresponds to subgenus Lavendula, and the second Fabricia. The Sabaudia group is less clearly defined. Within the lavendula clade, the subclades correspond to the existing sections, but place Dentatae separately from Stoechas, not within it. Within the Fabricia clade, the subclades correspond to Pterostoechas, Subnudae, and Chaetostachys.
Because the cultivated forms are planted in gardens worldwide, they are occasionally found growing wild as garden escapes, well beyond their natural range. Such spontaneous growth is usually harmless, but in some cases Lavandula species have become invasive. For example, in Australia, Lavandula stoechas has become a cause for concern; it occurs widely throughout the continent, and has been declared a noxious weed in Victoria since 1920. It is regarded as a weed in parts of Spain.
Some 100 individual phytochemicals have been extracted from lavender oil, including major contents of linalyl acetate (30-55%), linalool (20-35%), tannins (5-10%), and caryophyllene (8%), with lesser amounts of sesquiterpenoids, perillyl alcohols, esters, oxides, ketones, cineole, camphor, beta-ocimene, limonene, caproic acid, and caryophyllene oxide. The relative amounts of these compounds vary considerably among lavender species.
Lavender buds are put into sugar for two weeks to allow the essential oils and fragrance to transfer; then the sugar itself is used in baking. Lavender can be used in breads where recipes call for rosemary. Lavender can be used decoratively in dishes or spirits, or as a decorative and aromatic in a glass of champagne. Lavender is used in savory dishes, giving stews and reduced sauces aromatic flair. It is also used to scent flans, custards, and sorbets.
Despite dozens of preliminary clinical studies on the potential for lavender oil or other lavender plant components to affect human diseases, there are no confirmed anti-disease or health effects as of 2018, mainly due to the poor quality of study design and conduct.
Flower spikes are used for dried flower arrangements. The fragrant, pale purple flowers and flower buds are used in potpourris. Lavender is also used as herbal filler inside sachets used to freshen linens. Dried and sealed in pouches, lavender flowers are placed among stored items of clothing to give a fresh fragrance and to deter moths. Dried lavender flowers may be used for wedding confetti. Lavender is also used in scented waters and sachets.