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     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.

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(L.officinalis -or- L. Spica)

     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.

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Cultivation & Growing Tips

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.
Soil:  Rich soil that is well drained with an alkaline content. Lavender does not like to have its "feet wet" for too long of a period of time, although it does favor humid conditions.  Hence, its popularity in English gardens.   It does very well in potted gardens, but you have to make sure it does not dry out completely or get over-watered.
Propagating: Sow fresh seed in late summer and autumn or take stem cuttings during autumn or spring.
Growing: Thin or transplant to 18 inches - 2 feet apart, or 12 inches apart for hedges.  Remove faded flower stems and prune straggly plants in the late fall or spring. Check the instructions on your seed packet or with your nursery to find out if there are any unique instructions for growing lavender in your region or for that particular species.
Companion Plants:  Thyme and lavender help each other grow. Lavender helps
vegetables to stay healthy and produce better flavor.

Harvesting:  Gather flowering stems just as the flowers open, and lay on drying trays or hang in small bunches, flower heads down, away from the light in a warm airy place.
Preserving: Dry flower stems by laying on open trays or hanging as mentioned above.
You may also use the silica gel technique, but lavender dries quite well in the air, retaining its scent and color.

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Recipes  |  Crafts  |   Aromatherapy  |  Cosmetics & Medicinal Values

     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.

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Lavender Sorbet
(yield: about 3 cups)

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Four heads of lavender flowers -or-
1 to 2 teaspoons dried lavender
Juice from 1 lemon
1-1/2 cups cold water

  1. In a saucepan set over moderate heat, combine the water and sugar, bring to a simmer, stirring, and cook the syrup until it is clear.  Let cool.

  2. In another saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar syrup with the lavender flowers or dried lavender and half the lemon juicy, bring slowly to a boil, stirring, then remove from heat.  Cover and let cool.

  3. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve into a bowl.  Add the cold water and additional lemon juicy if mixture seems too sweet.

  4. Transfer the mixture into an ice-cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.  Let stand in the refigerator for 10 minutes before serving.  

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Lavender Vinegar

     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.

1 part lavender flowers to 1 part lemon verbena.

1 part lavender flowers to 3 parts rose petals.

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Lavender Drop Cookies

These are wonderful with tea or lemonade

1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon lavender buds, crushed fine
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon finely chopped mint

     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.

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Lavender Potpourri

1 cup dried lavender flowers
3/4 cup dried rose petals
1/2 cup dried marjoram leaves
1/4 cup each dried mint and thyme leaves
1 tablespoon dried orange peel
1/4 teaspoon each ground cloves and cinnamon
few drops lavender oil

Mix dried herbs and flowers in glass or earthenware jar. Seal for one to six weeks. Shake and stir every day.

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Aromatic Uses

    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.

Mix 15 to 30 drops of essential oil to a base of 2 fluid ounces of sweet almond oil; add a few drops of wheat germ oil to preserve freshness, and use as a massage oil.  The heady mix of soothing massage and the scent of the lavender is extremely relaxing, especially after a work-out or a long day at the office.

Lavender does wonders for an exhausted mind and body.  Place a few drops of lavender oil in a warm bath and disperse the oil well.  Sink into a mist of scented steam that will help ease your worries and stress and soothe your weary body.  

Place a few drops of essential oil the lightbulbs in your lamps.   DO NOT do this while the lamps are turned on or when the lightbulbs are still hot from use, it may cause them to burst.  When you then turn on the lights, the warmth from the lightbulb will warm the oil and disperse it throughout the room.  Very romantic!

    

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Lavender Oil

 

     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.

 

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