What is Lavender? A Herb, Flower, or Shrub?

Classifications of plants can be quite confusing, with many sharing similar characteristics yet falling into different categorizations. Lavender is one of those plants that is often miscategorized, with people being misled by its beautiful, sweet-smelling flower. You therefore probably wouldn’t think of lavender as a herb, but it actually is.

Much of this can be put down to a misunderstanding of the difference between a plant and what is merely part of the plant itself. In this article, we will look at why lavender is classified in the way it is and why it is often mistakenly classified. 

Lavender is a herbaceous plant that flowers. It is classified as a member of the Lamiaceae family of plants, which also includes mint and sage. Because lavender shares many of the characteristics of a flowering shrub, and is often misclassified as one, however, its botanical genus is that of a herb.[1][2][3]

Why is Lavender a herb – Classifying Plants 

is lavender a herb flower or shrub

Understanding the way in which plants are classified can initially confound you until you get your head around the basic principles.

The main reason that plants are classified according to the commonalities they share is to help organize the millions of varieties that exist into an order. This enables botanists, farmers, and gardeners to make the correct and relevant decisions for growing, controlling, and managing the topography of the land.

Lavenders are classified as a herb. They are part of the Lamiaceae family of plants that include other herbs such as mint, basil, rosemary, and sage to name but a few. There are around 47 species of Lavender with nearly 500 varieties, many of which have not been classified as yet. 

Why Is Lavender a Herb?

The definition of a herb is fairly broad but in essence, is a plant that bears seeds but does not have a wood-like stem, and all of the growth above the soil dies off at the conclusion of each growth cycle. In addition, herbs can usually be consumed by people or animals, either as food or used for their medical properties.

Lavender fits this classification. It is a perennial plant that grows every year before dying back at the end of the growth cycle, then returning in the spring and growing back from its rootstock. It is a member of the mint family, although it does have a wood-like stem, but tender branches. Lavender flowers and these blooms bear their seeds.

In addition to its physical characteristics, lavender is used in food and medicine, traits commonly associated with herbs. The essential oil that can be produced from lavender can be used to help with relaxation and sleep. Lavender can also be used as a food additive or flavoring agent in both sweet and savory dishes.

The Physical Appearance of Lavender. 

Lavender has a busy structure. It is bushy in nature and typically grows to heights of 1-2 feet tall and can be grown in the ground or grown in pots. The plants produce whorl ring flowers, and their tooth-like foliage is covered in fine hairs. Lavender produces a strong, balsam-scented aroma. The strength of the aroma attracts bees and other insects that will pollinate the flowers.

Medical Properties of Lavender

Medical Properties of Lavender

Herbs have been used in medicine for thousands of years. Lavender, in particular, has long been valued for its medicinal properties, and it was thought to have been widely used by ancient Egyptians. Papyri dating back 4,500 years and including lists of treatments based on “plants of life” were uncovered during archaeological excavations in the nineteenth century.

Both the greeks and the Romans also used Lavender for its medicinal properties, with references to Galen 129-216 CE, citing it as an antidote for bites, stings, and poisons. By the end of the first century CE Pliny the Elder has begun to differentiate between different lavender varieties for different uses from perfume to medicine.[4]

In the modern world, Lavender, in its natural form, is often used in herbal medicine to treat insomnia, and digestive problems as well as having anti-inflammatory qualities, and is a natural insect repellent. Lavender is thought to bring a sense of calm to the body and mind. It can also aid in meditation, among other things.[5]

Using Lavender in Cooking – Culinary Properties of Lavender

Using Lavender in Cooking - Culinary Properties of Lavender

Another property widely associated with herbs is their use in food. Lavender is no exception and can be used in a variety of different ways. This is because, in contrast to some other herbs, lavender can be utilized in its entirety, from the flower buds through the stems and leaves of the plant. With its sweet and floral taste, it is a favorite herb for cooking.

It can be used fresh or dried and added to food in small amounts; too much lavender will give a bitter taste. Lavender is a versatile herb that can be used in many different dishes, from savory to sweet. It pairs well with other herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano, and it can also be used in desserts such as cakes and cookies.

Is lavender a flower?

In the general sense that lavender flowers it would be difficult to argue that Lavender should not also be considered a flower. However, there is no botanical classification of a flower. In botanical terms, a plant is either flowering or non-flowering. The flower is a mere stage in a plant’s growth cycle. The flower exists as a way to propagate further plants. 

It is the reproductive mechanism for the plant and is dependent on pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and other insects, which have resulted in those flowers’ petals being more vividly colored and their smells becoming more alluring. This is done in the hope of attracting the attention of the pollinators.

Is lavender a flower?

Therefore, as Lavender is a flowering plant and all flowers on plants serve the same function, we can call it a flower, in the same way, that roses, lilies, bluebells, etc. are. Further, Lavender is considered a complete flower because all four elements of the flower the petals, stamens, sepals, and pistil are all present in a Lavender bloom. 

Can Lavender Also Be Categorised as A Shrub?

Lavender is often miscategorized as a shrub. This is largely because of its appearance. It is bushy with branch stems shooting off the main stem, which is considered woody, and the plant is very difficult to divide. All these are features of a shrub. 

However, this does not make lavender a shrub. Although the main stem is stiff and woody it is not as firm as that of a rose and the branch stems are even more flexible and can still be categorized, like many other herbs. Although difficult, lavender can actually be divided at the root where there is more than one main stem. 

It is true to say that it appears that lavender has several shrub-like characteristics and thus why it is often thought of as a shrub. Indeed, it is often referred to as a sub-shrub or semi-shrub. However, in botanical terms, it is a herb and not a shrub.

Summary:

In conclusion, lavender, through its properties and physical appearance, would seem to have a case to be considered a herb, a flower, and a shrub. However, while you can call it both a herb and a flower, in botanical classification terms it is not a shrub. 

In strict botanical classification, it is a herb and has all the properties of a herb both in terms of plant and use. It is an incredibly adaptable plant that has uses in, the cooking and medical fields, as well as being used for aromatherapy and other aromatic uses.

Notes

  1. University of Illinois: Herbs Add Flavor to Life
  2. University of Illinois:  Lavender
  3. Clemson University: Factsheet Herbs  
  4. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., Ed: Pliny the Elder, The Natural History: Book XXI. an Account of Flowers. and Those Used for Chaplets More Particularly.
  5. National Library of Medicine, Hazem S. Elshafie and Ippolito Camele: An Overview of the Biological Effects of Some Mediterranean Essential Oils on Human Health