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Reader Question: Why are there so many different lavender varieties when they all look alike to me?

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The plant kingdom is incredible. While we can only buy one variety of bananas in the store, there are actually hundreds of varieties, some which taste better, others which are not edible when raw. Lavender varieties are the same. There are over 200 varieties of lavender and while you may not be able to tell the difference between many of the little purple flowers, there are others whose unique character may be obvious.

Lavender flowers can bloom in colors that range from a deep purple all the way to white. The flowers are sometimes long and thin, with buds that are not bunched together. Some lavenders have large petals that stick out of the top of the flower, with smaller buds below in a bunch. The way the lavender plant grows can visually differentiate the varieties as well. Some grow in hedges, others grow in round tufts.

But perhaps the most important difference between varieties is in the taste and smell of different lavender plants. Even lavender enthusiasts say that certain varieties smell terrible to them. You may enjoy one lavender, and detest another. The same is true for culinary and aromatic lavenders. Aromatic lavenders are used for making essential oils, sachets for your sock drawer, clothes hangers, and bath and body products. Culinary lavenders are used for cooking, baking, and beverages, such as lavender lemonade, lavender hot chocolate, or lavender mojitos.

The major difference between culinary and aromatic lavenders has to do with the taste. Aromatic lavenders contain camphor, which has a strong, almost biting flavor. Culinary lavenders have a soft flavor that adds itself nicely to herb blends, baked goods, and sweets. If you are thinking of growing lavender, it is important to know what you will use it for, and if you can smell and taste the lavender before you pick a variety you will not be disappointed later on.

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