Spike lavender is a member of the mint family native to the Mediterranean. It looks and smells very similar to true lavender, an herb which has been utilized by humans for a variety of purposes for hundreds of years. This plant is more commonly grown in commercial production for its oil than in gardens, although it is possible to obtain plants at a nursery, for people who prefer the look and scent of spike lavender.
Known formally as Lavendula latifolia, spike lavender has distinctly spiky branches and a scent which people sometimes describe as a blend between sage and lavender. The scent of the plant is a bit darker and more earthy than true lavender, and the flowers vary in color from pale to dark purple. This lavender generally prefers low, temperate elevations, and lacks cold tolerance, which is something to be aware of when establishing it in a garden, as the plant prefers USDA zones six through eight.
This plant can be processed to extract its essential oils, usually through steam distillation. Spike lavender oil has historically been used by painters as a carrier oil, and is sometimes still sold for this purpose. It can also be used in skincare products and in lavender-scented products; many things labeled as “lavender scented” are actually perfumed with oil of spike lavender. The essential oils are chemically similar to those of true lavender, and are used in many of the same ways in practices like aromatherapy and herbal medicine.
People who are interested in growing this plant in their gardens should seek out a warm, sheltered area. It is also advisable to prune this plant as it grows so that it does not become leggy and disheveled. Gardeners can harvest the flowers and dry them or use them fresh; preparing herbal remedies with spike lavender is relatively easy to do at home, for people who are comfortable with working with herbal preparations. It is important to handle the herbs carefully to retain their essential oils; if stored improperly, lavender can use much of its efficacy.
True lavender and spike lavender are usually clearly labeled by producers of essential oils. There are variations in their chemical composition which practitioners of herbal medicine believe can cause them to behave slightly differently, and different properties are ascribed to each oil. While both are deemed good for applications in which calming and relaxing are desired, spike lavender is also believed to be analgesic and anti-inflammatory.