Have you ever walked into a friend’s garden and glanced at rosemary and lavender thinking they were the same two plants? I know I have. It’s easy to tell them apart in your own garden because you know where you planted them. But I bet the subtle differences may not have sat firmly in your mind.
In order to prepare us for when the inevitable friend plucks a leaf from one of these plants in their garden and asks you to admire the aroma, you can confidently say, “Wow, what an amazing Rosemary (or Lavender) plant!”. I’m certain you’re going to be feeling really good throughout the whole day afterwards.
There are important differences between the two plants, but one reason they have some similar qualities is that they are both part of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Common in herb gardens, these plants have a variety of uses which we will dive into a bit later. For now, let’s explore where these plants came from and start discussing the essential differences between Rosemary vs Lavender.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
Formally known as Rosmarinus Officinalis, this herb is going through a name change! It has been discovered that it is part of the Salvia family. This herb grows native to the mediterranean region with a coastal climate. The plant is also known as the “dew of the sea” probably referencing the coastal area it was derived from. The plant was cultivated for its medicinal and culinary uses.
Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)
This plant is indigenous to mountain regions in Western European parts of the Mediterranean region. After it was discovered, it spread rapidly throughout the world and, like rosemary, was enjoyed for many of the same medicinal and culinary uses it is today.
This has long been used as a culinary herb for its robust, piney flavor. There are notes of pepper, finishing with an almost sweet flavor. It lends itself nicely to savory dishes and is often used in marinades, soups, sauces, and as a garnish.
The culinary uses for fresh lavender are varied. The herb is unique in that it can be paired well with both savory and sweet dishes. It is often noted for its floral nature and complexity. Lavender has also been described as “earthy” or “herbal”.
These aromatic leaves always remind me of winter holidays. It has a strong scent filled with citrus and pinewood. The herb smells more woody than herby.
The main difference between the scent of these two plants is that lavender has a floral scent that is also delicate. This fragrant herb smells slightly like sweet evergreens with a woodsy hint to it. You will instantly feel relaxed and light from falling under its spell.
Rosemary plants always look like miniature pine trees to me. Depending on the variety, the stems are woody, but may have a grayish bark to it. It has needle-like leaves that are dark greenish in color, and they start growing about a quarter of the way up the branch. The dark green color remains throughout winter if your plant is healthy.
Rosemary flowers can range from white, purple, and pink, to even a gorgeous blue.
This herb is also slightly woody, but a big difference in the appearance from rosemary are its gray-green leaves. You may have seen pictures of fields filled with deep purple lavender flowers that have made the plant world renown outside of its gorgeous scent. What you may not have known, is that some varieties also sport pink or white flowers.
Both Rosemary and Lavender have square stems as do many members of the mint family so do not use this as a difference in appearance.
Uses For These Herbs
As with any herb, be sure to choose a variety that meets the needs you are looking for. Some have more potency for medicine, while others are more fragrant and may be better suited for perfumes, candles, and aromatherapy. We have listed a few varieties of each plant in the next section for you to explore.
The opportunities to utilize this herb are endless. There are several culinary uses with rosemary leaves that include the following: vinegars, sea salt, butter, jams, marinades, drink infusions, and as an herb just for flavoring any kind of dish.
Rosemary oil has been used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and as a remedy if you are suffering from hair loss. It is often used in candles and soaps.
This is a popular herb that has been adored throughout history for its place in the home and medicine cabinet. The medicinal uses may help with the following maladies:
- Anxiety or stress
Lavender leaves are commonly used in herbal tea blends to gain many of the benefits above. We have a tasty lavender tea recipe you should check out here! Lavender essential oil is found in many natural products. It can be used topically or put a few drops of lavender oil in an aromatherapy diffuser to spread its relaxing properties throughout a room.
Varieties and Cultivars for Inspiration
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
- ‘Benenden Blue’
- ‘Sissinghurst Blue’
- ‘Majorca Pink’
- ‘Miss Jessopp’s Upright’
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most commonly cultivated variety that you will find grown and what makes up the list below. French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is also a beautiful variety, but may be more difficult to find.
- ‘Sweet Romance’
- ‘Dwarf Blue’
Want to Grow Your Own?
The best way to harness the power of these plants is to grow them fresh! Fortunately, if you are interested in growing both herbs, they have similar basic needs and make excellent companion plants. As mentioned in the beginning, they are both part of the Lamiaceae family and developed in the Mediterranean to a similar climate.
Early or late spring is a great time to put new plants in the ground. This way they have time to get themselves established in moderate weather before the heat of summer arrives. If you missed spring, fall is also a good time for planting. In reality though, anytime throughout the growing season would be fine.
Look for a place with full sun and well draining soil for an ideal growing habitat. When growing the herbs in a container, that means having proper drainage holes in the pots. Water often in the heat if you establish the herbs in containers.
Many of the varieties are tender perennials which means they can withstand some cold, but there is no guarantee they will make it through the winter months (depending on your climate) without some protection. Straw, mulch, row covers, and cloches are all good options for your herbs as a defense against the cold. When in a pot, bring the herbs inside when it is cold and they can thrive throughout the winter.
If you take care of your herbs, you can keep them for a long time. Some have even been known to live for 10-15 years.
I hope this helped you learn the difference between rosemary vs lavender and you jump at the chance to grow both! They are incredible herbs and are wonderful to use any time of year. The best part is that you can dry them in the summer and use them all winter long! Or keep a fresh pot in your house for easy access.
If you liked this article, you might be interested in learning the difference between thai basil vs holy basil. I highly recommend checking it out.
Until next time my friends! All the best.
- The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies by Juliette Blankespoor
- Fantastic book and I highly recommend it. Juliette knows her craft and gives you a wealth of knowledge including how to grow and propagate herbs.
- The Lavender Lover’s Handbook by Sarah Berringer Bader
- Lavender: The Grower’s Guide by Virginia McNaughton
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