Rosemary and lavender are common kitchen herbs, known for their strong aromas and flavors. However, you would not be the first person to confuse these popular herbs. They have similar appearances and belong to the same family of plants.
Hence, what are the differences between rosemary and lavender? Despite the fact that rosemary and lavender belong to the mint family, they vary when it comes to the following characteristics:
- Appearance: similar in leaves and stem, but not in their flower
- Taste: piney rosemary, woody and fruity
- Food pairings: savory dishes with rosemary
- Nutritional facts: rosemary is more nutritious
Before deciding which one swapping in a recipe or grow indoors, you need to know how to better differentiate them and also be aware of other applications of such herbs. Al this doubt addressed in the next sections.
At first glance, rosemary and lavender (officially known as Lavandula) closely resemble each other, especially before flowering.
Both are small herbs with evergreen foliage. The stems of both plants are woody and generally thin. However, a very well grown rosemary (as the one in my small greenhouse in my bedroom) can have a thick stem if well developed. Depending on the growing conditions and age, rosemary might get bushier compared to lavender. Indeed, its main stem divide into several long, slender branches that have brownie/grey color.
Rosemary leaves are green and needle-like. They can measure up to several inches long and are typical of dark green on top and a slightly lighter color below. The surface of such leaves is smooth and releases a pleasant aroma (their oil) when rubbed.
Lavender leaves are of a slightly lighter green and may contain hints of blue or grey. The shapes change from the variety. Some lavender types might have needle-like leaves like rosemary. Again depending on the variety, lavender leaves might present “hair” on the surface that contains the essential herb oil. This is never the case of rosemary.
Rosemary tends to grow a little taller compared to lavender, reaching several feet tall and spreading two or three feet. Lavender often reaches one to two feet with an equal spread.
The flowers are probably the most distinguishable feature among the two. The differences become easier to notice when the plants bloom in the summer. Rosemary produces small, delicate flower typically purple, deep blue. These are located among leaves. Lavender flowers grow from spikes without leaves that stick up above the foliage. Such flowers are then concentrated in these extremities.
Rosemary and lavender flavor are different.
Rosemary presents a strong piney taste, missing in lavender. It is also sweeter and more pungent compared to lavender. Rosemary may taste slightly bitter, especially when eaten raw.
Lavender leaves have a light floral flavor with subtle notes of wood and fruit. You may also notice a slight taste of mint, also defined as smokey, and for some even reminds apples.
Rosemary and lavender have different culinary uses due to their different flavors.
Rosemary, due to its strong, aromatic taste, is often used in oily dishes. It is extremely popular (and one of my favorite) in meat-based recipes. It is a popular choice for adding more flavor to stews made with poultry or pork. It also works well with fish, steaks, and vegetables. It is usually added as a whole brunch in the hot pan where the meat is frying.
You may also find rosemary in recipes for dressings or spreads, such as rosemary and balsamic vinegar salad dressing or garlic and rosemary butter.
Lavender is often used in dessert recipes. The floral flavor pairs well with cakes. However, the slightly fruity notes are also useful for injecting flavor into roasted meats, such as lamb, chicken, or shrimp kabobs.
You can substitute lavender for rosemary and vice versa in most recipes. Due to the stronger scent of rosemary, you may want to use a little less rosemary when replacing lavender in a recipe. This substitution works best in savory dishes, including fruit cobblers and most Mexican cuisine.
However, especially in related sweet recipes, I would not swap lavender for rosemary. Indeed, rosemary is mainly used or savory dishes.
The following information shows the nutritional content for 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of fresh lavender and fresh rosemary (from Nutrition Fact Database).
In a direct comparison, lavender contains fewer calories and vitamins than rosemary.
Rosemary and lavender can grow side by side in the same container. These herbs require comparable growing conditions in terms of watering, sunlight, and soil fertility.
In cold regions where the temperature gets close or below to -18F (-8C) as detailed here, I would grow herbs in containers and bring them indoors for the winter. If growing from seed, start indoors in starter trays. The following video shows how to get started:
As with most herbs, rosemary and lavender grow well in the majority of potting soil. If you want a head start, the FoxFarm is my best pick that you can here on Amazon (in Walmart here sometimes might be cheaper). The soil should have a neutral pH between 6.5 and 7.0. You can verify whether this is the case by simple tests that you can perform with inexpensive kits as the one suggested in this beginner guide.
Rosemary and lavender require a lot of sunlight as both native to the Mediterranean region. Place the planters in a sunny location, such as a south-facing or west-facing kitchen window that receives at least eight hours of sunlight per day. For those, you might need a good grow light in case you do not reach such amount of hours (here explained what grow lights are)
These plants can easily tolerate drought for short periods. It is actually recommended by many gardeners to leave the soil dry between consecutive watering.
Here what to do: Water thoroughly to make the soil moist. Stop when the water starts getting out from the drainage holes. To decide when water again, just check the soil with a tooth stick or finger 1-2 inches down the surface, as suggested in this guide for basil. I water my rosemary once a week during the growing season and less during winter. These herbs do not like humid places as might trigger diseases such as mold.
Potting Soil: the potting soil I use the most is the FoxFarm. You can check it here on Amazon (it comes with some handy gloves). It is an excellent quality potting soil for its chemical and physical structure idea for herbs. If you are curious have a look at the article below.
Both plants are easily propagated from cuttings. Take cuttings from established plants in late spring or summer. the propagation process is very simple:
- Cut just below the leaf nodes. The cuttings (with sharp shears, here my two best picks) should measure three to five inches (around 7-12C) and contain several sets of leaves.
- Remove the lower leaves from each cutting and place in an adequate medium. You can either use a normal potting soil (in this case, please use rooting hormones, as discussed here) or a solution of 50% vermiculite and 50% perlite, as discussed here.
- Mist each plant (or water it) and cover it with a small plastic bag to keep the moisture.
- Wait: the cuttings should take root within two to four weeks. Sim
Along with cuttings, you may propagate rosemary and lavender through division as well. Dig up the plants and separate the root system into multiple sections. Replant each section and keep moist until well established.
Rosemary and lavender are perennials (here you can learn more about how long many herbs can last). The good news is that mother nature equipped them with the strength to last for many years, even indoor, depending on the region.
To ensure that the plants last year after year, give them a lot of sunlight. Both herbs require at least eight hours of sunlight (or artificial light, that you can provide inexpensively as discussed in this beginner guide) when cultivated indoors.
Providing the right soil also helps the plants last longer. The soil should be well-drained and fertile. If the soil contains too much clay, it may drain slowly, saturating the herbs and reducing oxygen intake.
Amend poor soil with organic matter to improve drainage and water exchange. If the soil retains too much water, add a small amount of sand (here more on the benefits of sand) or perlite. Indeed, rosemary thrives in having a soil more on the dry side than moist (that is why it is not a good basil companion for instance)
Rosemary, at least in the USA and Europe, is way more adopted in recipes and savory gourmet dishes. However, lavender is a popular herb for aromatherapy, thanks to its calming aroma.
In ancient Greece and Rome, people used lavender as a bath additive. This herb is often used to help relieve the following issues:
Lavender has a relaxing scent, whether you use essential oils or freshly cut lavender flowers. Simply place a few drops of lavender oil in a diffuser or place cut flowers in a vase. The Plant Therapy one, here on Amazon, is quite popular and can be also used by kids as well!
Another common application is the use of Lavander bath salt. Their aroma is well-known for its calming and relaxing effects. An ideal stress reliever after a long day of work.
Place the lavender near you as you close your eyes and relax. Setting a potted lavender near your bed may even help you get better rest.
Although less known, also rosemary is used for aromatherapy. People believe that rosemary may help relieve tension, stress, and fatigue. It has a refreshing effect that may also boost your clarity and focus.
Rosemary History and Napoleon: Best Friends?
Do you know that rosemary was the favorite Napoleon herb? Well, if so, you belong to a minority of people. Do you want to know more crazy facts about rosemary to impress your friends?
Click the figure below for 19 facts article that every rosemary lover should know plus an extra section on the best uses of your rosemary.
Can you eat raw rosemary? Yes, after washing to remove dust or any other sediment, a healthy and pest-free rosemary leaves can be eaten with no risk. However, the flavor might be too strong for many.
When is the best time to plant lavender? As for many herbs, the best time is between the end of spring and the beginning of summer. This will guarantee the plant to grow strong and being able to withstand the next winter.
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