Lavender is beginning to bloom now in my garden, not only looking and smelling beautiful, but attracting bees and other pollinators to the rest of my plants. I harvest it for its beauty, and dry it for use as food and medicine.
Lavender is easy to grow in full sun and any well-drained soil, and is a drought tolerant, perennial plant that adds interest to any garden with its grey leaves and tall, purple blooms. All types of lavender can be grown for use in cooking, and it depends on your preference, but the “Munstead” variety of English lavender is most commonly used.
Like many plants grown for their essential oils, a lean soil will encourage a higher concentration of oils. An alkaline soil will enhance lavenders fragrance. Lavender is a tough plant and is extremely drought resistant, once established.
However, when first starting you lavender plants, give them a shovelful of compost in the planting hole and keep them regularly watered during their first growing season.
While you can grow lavender in USDA Zone 5, it is unlikely you will ever have a lavender hedge. More realistically you can expect to have plants that will do well when the weather cooperates and to experience the occasional loss of a plant or two after a severe winter or a wet, humid summer.
It is dampness more than cold, that is responsible for killing lavender plants. Dampness could come from wet roots during the winter months or high humidity in the summer. If humidity is a problem, make sure you have plenty of space between your plants for air flow and always plant in a sunny location.
Lavender planted where the ground routinely freezes and thaws throughout the winter will need a thick layer of mulch applied after the ground initially freezes. Also protect your lavender plants from harsh winter winds by wrapping them in burlap, if necessary. Planting next to a sun-exposed stone or brick wall will also provide additional heat and protection.
Using Lavender in Food
Pulverized, fresh lavender flowers can add a unique and delightful flavor to meats, salads, custards, jams, teas and cookies. You can also dry bunches of lavender upside down in a cool, shady area, and then use the dried flowers in the same way.
Lavender is a culinary relative to mint, sage, marjoram and thyme, and can be used in the same fashion as these herbs. Lavender is so versatile in the kitchen, that virtually any cooking experiment with it will give you favorable results.
Lavender is also a prized medicinal herb, and once dry, it can be made into teas and tinctures that calm the nerves and help you to sleep. But if you buy lavender for culinary or medicinal purposes, don’t buy it from a craft store and make sure you get it organic, because it is often heavily sprayed with pesticides and chemicals to preserve its color.
It’s very hot in the garden these days, so there’s nothing like a cold glass of lemonade to cool you down on a sweaty, summer day. But the powdered lemon drink that passes as lemonade these days is not only bad for your health, it tastes downright saccharine!
Since the lavender is blooming and the lemons are ripe here in Southern California, this home-brewed lemonade hits the spot with a distinctive, refreshing taste and plenty of Vitamin C.
- 1 cup raw honey (local if you can get it)
- 5 cups pure water
- 1 Tbsp. dried, organic culinary lavender (or 1/4 cup fresh lavender blossoms, crushed) (where to find online)
- 1 cup fresh-squeezed, organic lemon juice, strained
- Ice cubes
- Lavender sprigs for garnish
- Bring 2 1/2 cups water to boil in a medium pan
- Remove from heat and add honey, stirring to dissolve.
- Add the lavender to the honey water, cover, and let steep at least 20 minutes or up to several hours, to taste
- Strain mixture and discard lavender
- Pour infusion into a glass pitcher
- Add lemon juice and another 2 1/2 cups of cold water. Stir well.
- Refrigerate until ready to use, or pour into tall glasses half-filled with ice, then garnish with lavender sprigs.
- Sit on the porch a spell and enjoy!
- I DO NOT recommend using lavender essential oil in this recipe. Consuming lavender oil can be toxic, cause allergic reactions, as well as contribute to hormone imbalances in men and boys. Signs of lavender oil toxicity (requiring a call to Poison Control) include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, burning pain in the throat, difficulty breathing and skin rash.