When and How to Harvest Lavender for the Best Fragrance

Use these tips for harvesting and drying lavender at the right time.

You’ve carefully chosen the best lavender varieties to plant for a fragrant garden, and maybe you've even tried growing lavender indoors to have year-round access to its beautiful blooms. Now it’s time to figure out how and when to harvest lavender from your garden. And you may want to dry lavender to enjoy the herb’s flavor in your favorite recipes and its beauty and fragrance in floral arrangements and crafts. Use this guide to harvesting and drying lavender to get the best flower color and fragrance.

field of lavender plants blowing in the wind

When to Harvest Lavender

Time your lavender harvest based on how you want to use the herb. If you want to make dried bundles of lavender, harvest lavender early in the season when the first blossoms open on the plant. When clean-looking buds are needed for cooking or for craft projects, harvest lavender before the blossoms open and turn brown.

To harvest lavender for tea, pick the flowers before they fully open. When you want to make a fresh bouquet of lavender, harvest the stems when about half the blooms are open—additional buds will bloom after the stems are cut. To harvest lavender for essential oil, wait until most of the blossoms have opened. 

Harvest lavender on a sunny day after the morning dew has dried. No part of the plant should be exposed to rain within 24 hours before being picked. Harvesting lavender when it is damp increases the chances for fungi to rot the picked stems, so it’s crucial that harvesting begins only when the plant is completely dry.

Harvesting Lavender for Cooking

For making lavender-infused cookies, cake, lemonade, or other treats, English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the best lavender to grow for all of your culinary purposes. Culinary varieties of L. angustifolia such as “Hidcote Blue’, ‘Buena Vista’, ‘Melissa’, ‘Betty’s Blue’, ‘Folgate’, ‘Royal Velvet’, and ‘Munstead’ are low in camphor, and are commercially grown without chemicals, and processed in a sanitary way that is safe to eat. Harvest lavender for cooking just before the flowers open and make sure to dry the buds before you use them. Disregard the leaves because they have a somewhat medicinal fragrance and they’re not recommended for cooking. 

lavender harvesting

Helen Norman

Lavender Harvesting Tips

  • Use sharp, clean tools to harvest lavender. It’s important to harvest lavender with sharp, clean tools to enable the plant to heal quickly. The ideal tool for harvesting lavender is a curved, serrated blade with a handle. But garden pruners or large scissors will also work.
  • Cut two-thirds of the plant's height. Harvest lavender so it grows back by pruning no more than two-thirds of the plant’s height or by cutting to just above the bottom two sets of leaves on each green stem. Avoid cutting into the woody part of the plant. 
  • Bundle lavender as you harvest. Put rubber bands around your wrist to make it easy to bundle each handful of cut lavender as you harvest. Gather about 100 stems for bundling and secure them snugly by securing a rubber band around them a couple of inches from the cut ends.
  • Keep harvested lavender out of the sun. Place cut lavender stems into a shady spot to preserve as much of the flower color and fragrant oil as possible.

How to Dry Lavender

The best way to dry lavender is to hang bundles from a chain or rope, upside down in a dark, warm, dry, and airy room. This drying method preserves the color of the flower buds and helps prevent mold from growing on the lavender. It’s important to keep air circulating when drying lavender. A simple fan can help circulate air in drying spaces such as a dark closet or basement.

Depending on the drying conditions, it can take up to six weeks for the bundles to dry. You’ll know when a stem is fully dried if it breaks when it’s bent.

Lavender Drying Don'ts

Avoid drying lavender plants in a garage if they will be exposed to engine or chemical fumes. Oven-drying is not recommended because the oven’s heat releases essential oil from the flower buds.

Harvesting Dried Lavender Buds

To harvest dried lavender buds for sachets, hold flower stalks over a large bowl and bump the flower heads against the side of the bowl. Remove stubborn buds from the stalks by scraping the flowers from the stem with your fingers. 

To get the cleanest lavender buds for cooking and crafting, pour the buds into a strainer. Gently shake the strainer and pick out pieces of stem or any other debris too big to slip through the strainer’s holes.

Dried lavender buds to be used in food will keep the best in airtight glass containers. Loose buds used for crafts can be stored in resealable bags.

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