The meaning of lavender for Croatia

Lavender, the queen of Croatia

PUBLISHED: 27.6.2023.

Long rows of svelte purple bushes, bees singing their hypnotizing songs, and sun rays jumping through leaves straight to the roots. This is a scene of enchanting Croatian fields of lavender.

Did you notice Croatia has a special connection to lavender? Family farms’ booths selling aromatic lavender products are at every step of the Adriatic coast. Why do Croatians love this Mediterranean queen unconditionally?

We grow lavender both for decorative and functional purposes. Lavender and its varieties are used in medicine, cosmetics, home decor, cuisine, and as a stress reliever. It is a frequent inhabitant of our city parks and home gardens.

I’m lucky to have several lavender bushes in my own garden, but their scent can’t be compared to the vastness of Istria and Dalmatia. If I could only lie down in that beauty for a moment… the day would have a more delightful tone.

In this article, we cover:

The facts are these…

What does lavender mean to Croatia?

When did lavender arrive in Croatia?

Lavanda (lavender) is a flowering plant of the genus Lavandula from the mint family. Its name origins from the Latin word lavare, which means wash, bathe. It is believed that the plant originated in Persia. Old Egyptians used its essential oils in religious rites and ancient Romans for baths.

Lavender is a native plant to the Mediterranean region due to the climate suitable for growth. In the 18 century, the plant arrived from France on the Croatian island of Hvar, where it remained the most widespread. Now it grows almost throughout the country.

lavender and wild plants
Lavender growing with wild plants

Lavender’s essential oils have a pleasant fragrance and calming and relaxing effect. They are used in cosmetics, perfumes, natural medicine, and aromatherapy. Lavender is also a common herb in culinary and tea preparation. Its dried flowers add a pleasant scent to households, clothing, and linens.

Croatian names for lavender and its varieties

Depending on dialects, Croatian locals (as usual) have several names for lavender, including:

  • Despić
  • Despik
  • Lavanda
  • Lavandl
  • Lefendl
  • Levanda
  • Trma

[Read: The 3 Croatian dialects: Što, Kaj, and Ča]

The plant has around 45 different species, which differ by bush size and the appearance and color of branches, leaves, and flowers. The original species is called engleska lavanda (English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia).

In Croatia, lavanda is often mistaken for a lavandin, a kin species that looks almost identical.

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Lavanda vs. lavandin

Lavanda’s bush is smaller, but its flowers are intensely purple and smell more intense. Lavandin has a bush larger than lavender, and the color of its flowers is lighter. Lavanda blooms in June and has a calming effect. Lavandin blooms in July and August, and is thought to have antiseptic properties.

Croatian tradition of growing lavender

The tradition of growing lavender in Croatia dates back to ancient times. The region’s warm, sunny climate and fertile soil make it an ideal plant cultivation place. It has been used for its medicinal, culinary, and aromatic properties for centuries. Growing lavender is most common on the island of Hvar. This island is famous for producing some of the finest lavender in the world.

In Croatia, lavender is typically grown in carefully tended fields and harvested by hand. The lavender harvest usually occurs in June and July, when the flowers fully bloom. The flowers are then dried and used to make essential oils, soaps, perfumes, and other products.

lavender bush
Lavender bush almost ready for harvesting

Lavender is an important part of Croatian culture and is celebrated in many events throughout the country. One of the most significant events is the Lavender Festival on the island of Hvar. Read more about it in this section.

Croatians lavender products to give your loved ones

Thanks to its soothing and aromatic properties, lavender is a versatile plant Croatians use in their households. It is used in cuisine, hygiene, relaxation, clothes storage, etc.

If you visit Croatia, lavender products are the best souvenirs to buy for your loved ones. Treat yourself as well, and you won’t regret it. Here are some great catches.

#1 Lavender essential oil

One of Croatia’s most popular lavender products is an essential oil used in skincare and aromatherapy to relax and relieve stress. It can also be used as a medicinal herb for minor ailments. Read more about natural treatments and local pharmacies here.

#2 Lavender soaps and lotions

Since lavender has healing and soothing properties, it is a common ingredient in skincare products. If you buy a natural lavender soap or lotion, not only will you nourish your skin, but you will also enjoy its pleasant scent.

lavender flower
Lavender flower

#3 Lavender flowers

Lavender flowers are gorgeous for floral arrangements and wreaths. Use fresh flowers to make a romantic wedding bouquet or decorate (wedding) tables and surrounding.

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Lavender flowers as a symbolic gift

I grew up with my best friend from the neighborhood. When we were children, he would spend his summer holidays with his extended family on Hvar island. Scrapbooks were popular back then, so I asked him to write me a dedication. He left me the sweetest memory - a few pressed lavender flowers with the message “Mali poklon s Hvara (a small gift from Hvar)”.

The most precious sign of deep friendship for Croatians is symbolic gifts. Memories like this are priceless. I still keep this scrapbook as my most valuable treasure.

Read more about the Croatian culture and the importance of social circles here.

#4 Lavender sachets

Dried lavender flowers are used for decorative sachets and potpourri. Lavender sachets are my favorite, especially the ones with traditional lace designs. View some examples here. You can put them in drawers and closets to keep clothes smelling fresh.

I prefer them in a car for relaxing vibes while driving. Sometimes I put a sachet on my work desk and take a deep breath when I need a break. This scent teleports me right into the wilderness of distant Croatian islands.

[Read: Visiting Croatia’s remote Lastovo Islands Nature Park]

#5 Lavender culinary products

Lavender gives a particular smell and taste to the edibles. You can add it as a marinade for chicken, lamb, and fish, but use it sparingly since it is quite strong. In winter months, warm yourself with lavender tea and banish stress away.

Flavorful lavender honey is good for calming spasms and improving digestion. If you want to serve a delicious dessert, pour some lavender honey over the ice cream. You can also add honey or flowers to the lemonade, mojito, or gin tonic.

Lavender is also used to prepare jams, syrups, sauces, and cakes. Pair it with honey, lemon, and vanilla to get irresistible fragrances. My friend had a lavender cake at her wedding, and it was a blast! View a recipe for a lavender cake here.

[Read: How to attend a Croatian wedding]

How to grow lavender in Croatia

Lavender is a fragrant and decorative plant that is not demanding. Croatia has a perfect climate for growing lavender. You can grow it anywhere – in pots, gardens, or fields.

bee on a lavender
Bee enjoying lavender juices in a garden

In nature, lavender usually grows as a wild plant on the Adriatic karst and rocky ground. It lives at up to 1.500 meters above sea level. Lavandin requires more fertile soil with enough water.

[Read: Wild plants you can pick and eat during summer in Croatia]

Lavender is planted in autumn or spring. If you plant it in spring, you can lower the risk of freezing. Seeds are planted in November or March and transplanted once they grow. Alternatively, you can take cuttings from a primary plant and put them in water or soil. When the roots appear, plant them in pots or gardens.

Lavender can survive up to 30 years in a garden with enough sun and porous soil. However, it does not like to be surrounded by other plants.

Provide at least 8 hours of light daily if you grow it in a pot. It requires soil drainage, feeding, and frequent watering. Cut off all flower stems at the end of the season to allow further growth.

How to pick lavender

In Croatia, lavender blooms in summer – usually in June and July. It is harvested in full bloom, just before the flowers start to fade. Flower stems are cut above the leaves by sharp scissors. You must leave enough stems so that a plant continues to grow.

Picked flowers can be used fresh or dried. If you want to dry them, tie the stems in small bundles. Hang them upside down in a cool, dry place with good ventilation. After a few weeks, they are ready to use for various purposes. You can keep them in glass jars for 2 years.

lavender bush
Lavender bush by the sidewalk

Lavender fields of Croatia

Some locations in Croatia are known for their lavender fields and products. To learn about the Croatian tradition of growing lavender, visit some of the places below.

#1 Island of Hvar

The island of Hvar is one of the most famous lavender-growing Croatian regions. The tradition started in 1928 in Velo Grablje, a small village close to Hvar founded in the 14th century. Its lavender oil was once leading in Europe and the residents’ primary income source.

A Lavender festival called Festival levande takes place at Velo Grablje every summer. Udruga Pjover started this festival 15 years ago. The purpose is to keep the tradition and promote the tourist, economic, and cultural meaning of lavender for Hvar and Croatia.

This summer, the festival will be held July 13-15, 2023. You can follow related news here. If you are in Croatia, this is an ideal opportunity to escape the crowd and learn about this seductive plant in charming surroundings.

[Read: Famous Croatian produce and where it comes from, including Hvar’s lavender]

#2 Istria

Istria has ideal conditions for growing lavender, so many Istrian family farms are dedicated to it. A small family business you can visit is Lavanda Oklen. In 2000, they planted the first lavender field in Istria. At Izletište Pekici, you can try traditional meals with the scent of lavender and experience authentic farming, harvesting, and making souvenirs.

#3 Hrvatsko zagorje

OPG Špoljar in Donja Bistra on the Zagorje side of mountain Medvednica grows lavender and produces lavender products. A visit to this farm is a perfect one-day trip for everyone nearby who wants to feel a sense of the Mediterranean. It is only 30 minutes away from Zagreb.

#4 Karlovac

If you desire to experience the lavender harvest and pass by Karlovac in July or August, visit OPG Poturica. They will teach you the basics of lavender distillation. You can make your own souvenirs and taste delicious lavender products.

We are sure of the same feeling – a meditative scene and a relaxed mind, whatever lavender location in Croatia you visit.

View our other plant posts

Lavanda by by Maja
Prošetali smo hrvatskim poljima lavande kojima je teško odoljeti by Gabrijela Cerovec

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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