Lovely Lavender – Herb of the Week
If you had to think of one herb that has been used since ancient times and is probably the most popular scent in a dizzying array of bath and body products from shampoo to soap to lotion, it would be lavender. If you had to come up with a flower that epitomized the Provence region of France, the cottage gardens of England, and even the drought tolerant native gardens of California, it would be lavender. However, name a culinary herb off the top of your head, and lavender probably won’t make the list, which is too bad because lavender can bring a lovely floral herbaceous flavor to so many dishes (and cocktails, of course).
The history of lavender goes back more than 2500 years. Ancient Egyptians used lavender in their mummification processes. The Roman word lavender most likely comes from the Latin verb lavare, which means ‘to wash’ or livendulo, which means ‘bluish’. They used lavender for bathing, cooking, healing, and for scenting the air. In Christian history, lavender has been used as a ward against evil. It is mentioned in the Bible as spikenard, with which Mary anoints the feet of the baby Jesus causing the air to be perfumed. Lavender was prized by European and British royalty, and there is evidence to suggest that it has antiseptic qualities, which when worn, was successful in warding off diseases like the plague and cholera.
Lavender belongs to the same family of plants (Lamiaceae) as mint, and there are over 30 varieties. Because there are so many varieties, you can definitely find one that will grow successfully where you live. Generally, lavender thrives in full sun and well drained soil. It can even handle soil that is a bit rocky. Lean soil will result in high concentrations of essential oils. Lavender is very drought resistant, and is hardy to zone 5. It prefers drier climates and light pruning.
As a culinary herb, lavender and leaves can be used both fresh and dried. Make sure that you buy lavender that is labeled as culinary lavender as it is less likely to have has pesticides used on it. Lavender plays wonderfully with honey and lemon. Use it in cookies, ice cream, and jelly. Lavender can also be used as a savory herb in beef, chicken, and pork dishes. And cocktails! Don’t forget cocktails! Add a stem of lavender to champagne or to perk up a glass of water.
Stay tuned for something pretty and bubbly on Friday.
Do you have a favorite lavender product or dish?