Medicinal Herb: Desert Lavender
Violet up to 1 inch wide and in clusters.
Medium to tall, cold tender, perennial shrub, found in the southwestern United States of Arizona, Nevada, California, and northwestern Mexico in Sonora and Baja California.
Dry washes, and on rocky slopes, up to 3000 feet in elevation. It is evergreen or cold deciduous, depending upon its location.
The Southwestern United States of Arizona, Nevada, California, and northwestern Mexico in Sonora and Baja California.
Energetics: Cooling, calming, stimulating
Actions: Bitter, astringent, aromatic, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, styptic
Wound healing. Hyptis makes a top-notch wound wash (strong decoction) or applied to bleeding wounds in infused oil or salve form. I’ve used it for various wounds over the years (often combined with white sage), and it is effective not only in stopping the bleeding but because it is also strongly antimicrobial, it helps prevent infection. It’s proven useful as haemorrhoid soak in sitz baths for a heavily pregnant friend: those astringent and hemostatic properties in combination with it being cooling, soothing, and anti-inflammatory really came in handy. She’d use the hyptis (with yarrow) in a sitz bath then apply the same in a salve directly to the area and reported much relief.
Antimicrobial/ digestive: Hyptis is strongly antimicrobial with an affinity for the digestive tract. Internally, in infusion or tincture, it is highly effective for acute conditions like food poisoning, especially when it feels like someone’s taken a scouring pad to your intestines. I use it myself every time I have the scouring-pad-to-intestines feeling (which, given that I have an extremely sensitive stomach, happens quite frequently). I’ve used it in formulas for dysentery type conditions, norovirus, and numerous bouts of random food-related illness, all to good effect.
A notable recent case was for a client who had diarrhea for a couple of weeks straight. I’ve been trying to convince her to do some elimination testing for food allergies, as she really does exhibit signs of one (eczema and IBS type symptoms most notably), however (understandably) she’s really reluctant to completely change her lifestyle. I gave her a formula with desert lavender, evening primrose, plantain, blackberry leaf and ginger in a tea, and has been keeping her guts so happy that she’s put off eliminating any foods once more. I’m not entirely sure if this is a good thing…
For more chronic microbial issues like thrush and intestinal dysbiosis, hyptis proves to be a valuable part of any formula, often in combination with chilopsis linearis (desert willow), white sage, alder, yerba mansa, and ocotillo (in various combinations).
Diaphoretic: Desert lavender is a particularly delicious and effective relaxing diaphoretic. The antimicrobial properties come into effect well here, too.
Cools the fire: For headaches, irritability, overheating, itchy and irritated eyes, hangover bellies, nausea and all other symptoms that you’d associate with liver fire, desert lavender swiftly comes to the rescue, cooling and calming things down. Systemically it’s incredibly useful for people who tend towards constitutional liver heat, and I reach for it to try first every time I’m presented with a liver heat type headache because it works probably 70% of the time. Desert lavender calms the stomach and is especially effective for those mornings after you’ve drunk a little too much and feel like your stomach lining is going to consume itself and that there aren’t enough fry up breakfasts in the world to help. Internally its lovely used in tea blends for ulcers and for nausea, applying that calming-of-overactivity action to the stomach.
Anti-inflammatory: Used externally as a wound wash, or as a soak for swollen joints or aching swollen and tired feet, desert lavender absolutely excels. It really helps to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It can also be combined with white sage in this manner, especially if there is more pain (white sage, among other things, is analgesic). Internally, because it tastes so good (in small quantities), it a great daily anti-inflammatory infusion, and is a nice humble antioxidant that doesn’t come in a plastic bottle from halfway around the world. Systemically, it is cooling and calming, making it a great addition to any regime for people with chronic inflammatory conditions.
Bitter: One of the nice things about hawking my wares to a variety of people is the feedback get en masse for certain products or combinations. I made a desert lavender (with white sage) bitters blend last year that I’ve been getting some great reviews from people about— as a digestive bitter, it stimulates, but not overly so. I also married a strongly anabolic man who eats himself into a food coma regularly and this often results in some pretty wretched indigestion followed by terrible gas. It is in my best interest to treat these things as quickly as possible as we share a bedroom. Desert lavender bitters come to the rescue on a regular basis, easing indigestion and calming the flatulence to the point where I can sleep without feeling like I’m in a gas chamber. Small blessings. I also have a customer with IBS used to use Swedish Bitters on a daily basis but had to stop because it irritated her intestines too much. She now uses hyptis bitters in their place and finds them as effective at aiding digestion without causing the purging that Swedish Bitters did. Once again that cooling, soothing and stimulating action in effect.
Calming: That frenetic buzzing, the same thing that bees do, that nervous systems do, desert lavender has a strongly calming action on, bringing it down to a manageable level. I’ve seen this time and again, with people who tend to go into stress-mode, who drink too much coffee, are wired hours later, and generally seem to be in a state of sympathetic nervous system access. A half dropper or so of hyptis tincture will really take the edge off, tone down the frenzy and chill a person out. It’s a nice smoking herb for this kind of thing too, especially mixed with pedicularis.
Other: Use it as a smudge (you could combine it with white sage, or with pine pitch, or juniper berries, or all of the above), in a sick room for help fighting airborne microbes, or, for respiratory illness, add it to a steam. Try cooking with it (I use it in a spice blend with bee balm, white sage, black sage, rose petals, sumac, and California bay leaves), or making a desert lavender syrup to add to sodas. Its flavor is enough like true lavender that you can substitute it in a lot of recipes, though keep in mind desert lavender is slightly stronger tasting and lacks the sweetness of some types of true lavender.
As a digestive bitter, it is particularly effective in combination with white sage, with ginger, cinnamon, and some lemon peel.
With any combination of white sage, yerba mansa, ocotillo, alder: Immune boosting, antimicrobial, infection fighting.
With rose and monkeyflower: uplifting, liver moving, gently calming and relaxing. A really lovely little blend.
With evening primrose: cools inflammation and soothes the digestive tract.
With elderflower and a wild mint (I’m particularly fond of it with one of our local Monardella species) in hot infusion: great diaphoretic blend. Especially because the desert lavender is so strongly
antimicrobial and immune system stimulating.
With Chilopsis (desert willow): a particularly nice combination for candida or gut dysbiosis.
The bits and bobs:
Desert lavender grows in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, in sunny washes. It’s common and abundant in most places within its growing range. You can harvest hyptis year-round, though it’s most likely to be gather-able in the winter and spring, after the rains but before the desert gets too hot. Gather it when it is flowering, pinching off the top 8 inches or so with the freshest growth. As with most mints, it’ll actually grow back bushier as a result. California hyptis, probably due to there being less rain than in Arizona, is remarkably smaller than Arizonan species unless you gather it in a shady canyon. I highly recommend finding a shady canyon.
Preparation: Tincture (fresh 1:2; dry 1:5). While Michael Moore says 95% I’ve personally found it to be so dry usually that I don’t need to waste my [hard to come by in California] 95% everclear; 70% works really nicely. Luckily those who live in Arizona with more lush plants also have access to higher percentage alcohol on a regular basis. I’m assuming this is some sort of ‘Arizona government loves herbalists’ conspiracy.
Try preparing hyptis as a salve, infused oil (both for external use and ingestion as food), vinegar, oxymel, honey (which is beyond delicious).
About Desert Lavender (Condea emoryi)Hyptis emoryi (Desert Lavender) is a fragrant, multi-stemmed shrub species of flowering plant in the Lamiaceae (mint family). The genus Condea (formerly Hyptis) is commonly known as the bush mint. Desert Lavender is a medium to large perennial shrub found in the deserts of southwestern United States of Arizona, Nevada, California, and northwestern Mexico in Sonora and Baja California at elevations below 3,000 ft.
Desert Lavender prefers sandy or gravelly soils with good drainage, and full sun or part shade. It can tolerate summer water up to 1x per month.
Plant DescriptionPlant Type
Deciduous / Evergreen
Site CharacteristicsNatural Setting
Cold Tolerance(degrees F)
Drought Tolerance ?
Sunset Zones ?
Landscaping InformationEase of Care
Max Summer Irrigation