I was sitting on my back patio the other day lazily drifting in my Sky Chair (the MOST comfortable chair on Earth, by the way!) thinking about this section and what herb I should write about in this issue. As I moved around the back of the chair kept brushing up against the planter behind me. Every so often I sense a wonderful drift of scent so delicate I didn't consciously notice it at first. Then it hit me! Of course, it was my pot of lavender. This, I thought, was the perfect herb to share with you this month.
It seems that lavender has been around forever. Cultures world-wide have used lavender for everything including medicinal, cosmetic, gastronomic, and magic. If you've ever run your hands over your lavender plant on a warm summer morning, you already know about the "magic" of this plant species. There are so many uses for lavender that I could never list them all. Nevertheless, I will tell you what I know and love about this wonderful flowering herb and I will point you in the right directions to find out all you could ever want to know about beautiful, aromatic and magical lavender.
Lavender is well known for its unique fragrance. The Greeks and Romans favored it in their bath water. Its name is derived from the Latin lavare, "to wash." It was used extensively in Europe during the 17th Century to mask household smells and stinking streets. Stories that the glovers of Grasse, who used lavender oil to scent their fashionable leather, were remarkably free from plague, encouraged other people to carry lavender. Ladies of refinement carried lavender sprigs tucked into their tussy mussy. A beautiful addition to any bouquet, it was also a very good way to daintily avoid unpleasant odors.
Lavender has long been used medicinally. The oil of the flower being the most popular. The flower is also infused as a tea to soothe headaches, calm nerves, ease flatuance, fainting, dizziness and halitosis. It is said that if you add 6 drops to an irritable child's bathwater it will help calm them. Now that's a bonus! Lavender was used during the World Wars as an antiseptic and is to this day, a dominating choice in the fragrance industry.
Site: Sunny and open, to discourage fungus disease. Lavender demands full sun so that it does not grow straggly and thin, but if you live in a hot area of the world you might want to give it a few hours of semi-shade during the hottest parts of the day. Pick your location wisely and lavender will thrive for you.
Believe it or not, you can eat lavender, as well as many other flowers. Please make sure they are grown without the use of pesticides! In our section on edible flowers there is a list of flowers that are NOT edible. Check there or in your herb manuals to see which ones you can safely consume.
Lavender has a sweet, sensual mild flavor that makes it perfect for deserts, beverages and lightly flavored vinegars. I have included a few of my favorite recipes that I have collected that I hope will entice you to try the unique flavor of this wonderful flower.
Floral vinegars are very easy to make and are used with fruit salads and some cosmetic recipes. Try the blends we've listed below. Use mild cider or wine vinegars for a base. Remove and leaves or flower stems and wash and dry the lavender flower heads in cool water. Bruise the fresh flowers and loosely fill a sterilized jar or bottle. Pour on warmed but not hot vinegar to fill the jar and cap with an acid-proof lid. (We like to make these in canning jars and transfer to sterilized decorative bottles for gifts.) Set in a sunny window and shake daily for 2 weeks.
Test for flavor; if a stronger taste is required, strain the vinegar and repeat with fresh herbs. Store as is or strain through a coffee filter or cheese cloth and rebottle. Add a fresh sprig of lavender for identification and visual appeal.
Lavender Drop Cookies
Preheat the oven to 375º F. Cream together the butter or margarine and the sugar. Add the egg and the lavender buds, and mix well. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dried ingredients to the creamed mixture, and mix well. Fold in the lemon zest and mint.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Watch carefully so the cookies don't over-brown. You will find these cookies have a sweet refreshing taste.
1 cup dried lavender flowers
We have always turned to nature for beauty and serenity. Aromatherapy is the use of these elements to soothe away our daily stresses in the most natural ways. The following is a short listing of some of the types of aromatherapy that employs the use of lavender. If you are interested in finding out more about aromatherapy just go to your local book store. There are many good books on this topic, as well as many other topics on herbs.
Refreshing, soothing, antiseptic, insect repellent, relieves sharp pain... is there anything this herb can't do? Lavender is used to treat insomnia, circulation, indigestion, headaches, infections, muscular pains, cell renewal, and it benefits all skin types. It is especially soothing to place a few drops of essential lavender oil or lavender flowers and leaves in tepid bath to soothe the sting and itch of sunburn or dry skin.
You can mix lavender oil successfully with many other essential oils, such as citrus, chamomile, clary sage, geranium, pine and rosemary. Lavender is an excellent first-aid remedy for insect bites and small burns. Low toxicity makes it a good choice for children.