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North Hills Monthly

Lavender Looks, Smells and Tastes Delicious

Jul 01, 2014 12:58PM ● By Denise Schreiber
Lovely lavender, praised by poets, held in high regard by perfume makers and adored by the rest of us. Lavender, or the botanical name Lavandula sp., is a wonderful, easy-to-grow plant that tolerates hot sun and heat. It is a Mediterranean-type plant that grows just about anywhere, as long as it gets sufficient water during the growing season. Its main requirement is well-drained soil. There are many different types of lavender—tall, short, long flower stalk, short flower stalk, bumble bee flower stalk—and it comes in a wide variety of blues, purples, pinks and whites.Image title

The best part of growing lavender is the scent. Every part of the plant is infused with aromatic oil, making this a choice herb to place along pathways or near outdoor seating areas so you can savor the fragrance. Brush against the plant and it releases its fragrance; on a warm summer day, there is nothing better. Dried blooms retain their fragrance for a long time, and you can crush dried flowers to release the aromatic oils anew. It is an important pollinator plant, too, and if you happen to be a beekeeper, lavender makes a wonderful honey plant. An added bonus is that the deer don’t eat lavender!

Drought, heat and wind tolerant, lavender doesn’t like high humidity, poor drainage or waterlogged soil, so think about using raised beds to enhance drainage. Avoid cutting plants back to the ground; however, you should cut back spent blossoms to be rewarded with another flush of flowers in late summer (though they won’t be as full as the first). You can grow lavender as a border plant, evoking scenes of Provence, France, where it grows with wild abandon, and use it in a cottage garden. You can also plant it in your vegetable garden to help insure pollination of your vegetable plants or you can eat it.

Yes, I said eat it. The leaves and flowers are edible. Lavender varieties abound: the darker the flower, the more intense the aroma and its flavor in cooking. The only one that isn’t edible is Spanish lavender. You won’t die from it, but it just doesn’t taste very good.

You can buy dried lavender in herb shops and specialty markets or you can dry your own. I simply cut off the flower stems and place them on a cookie sheet, and just let them dry on their own for a few days (unless there is high humidity, then I pick them up and shake the flowers off). Store lavendar in a glass jar (never plastic) to keep it dry. You can also cut young stems of lavender and let them dry the same way.

So how do you cook with lavender? I prefer to use Lavender angustifolia and cultivars such as ‘Hidcote’ or ‘Munstead.’ I use it dried in cookies and fresh in cakes. I also soak stems in water for half-an-hour, and then use them for smoking lamb and chicken on the grill. When you are cooking with lavender, the adage of less is more is definitely true; you certainly don’t want your food to taste like perfume! The dried lavender flowers and leaves are much more potent than fresh lavender.