Herbs and spices help us to enrich our daily cooking routines.
They can help us to turn regular recipes into hot, warming, aromatic, and even exotic dishes. And they can offer various health benefits as well.
Besides the common herbs that we know and use regularly – like basil, rosemary, and thyme – there is another plant with mostly unknown but strong seasoning powers.
From insect repellent in the garden and an aromatic bath essence to both sweet and savory applications in the kitchen, there are so many excellent uses for this versatile herb. Starting with a little background on the history of lavender, let’s take a look at how you can start using your own homegrown lavender in a panoply of stress-reducing, energizing, and super flavorful ways.
A little blossom background
Beloved for its wonderful smell and color, it is more than just a lovely flower. You can use this blooming plant in the kitchen, too, and its intense flavor makes for excellent, super creative meals.
The pretty plant has its origin in coastal areas of the Mediterranean region. A popular spot to find it growing is in the famous French fields of Provence, where thousands upon thousands of flowers turn the whole landscape into a blooming purple sea.
Even the Romans made use of its aromatic scent, for bathing. Reference to this ancient practice is actually found in the name – the word lavender can be traced back to the Latin expression for washing, or “lavare.”
Handy in the garden and household
Lavender is a wonderful plant to add to your herb garden or flower bed. It not only smells fantastic and looks amazing, with its vibrant violet color when in full bloom, it actually can be pretty handy to have around.
As the plant enjoys the reputation of keeping away aphids, it is one of the best partners that beautiful roses could ask for. Plus, both are addicted to the sun, and they make a fantastic, colorful couple in the garden.
You may also use lavender plants as natural borders to surround your flower beds. They will definitely catch everyone’s attention, spreading a heavenly scent all around.
In the house, there are several additional possibilities for using lavender:
- A small fragrance bag in your closet is going to help with keeping away moths and mites. But even if you’re without these common pests (lucky you!), you can still place little sachets in storage areas to add a fresh, floral scent.
- The antibacterial effect of the plant is useful for many purposes. Even trash bags can be scented with it to eliminate the unpleasant odors and bacteria that are associated with our daily kitchen waste.
Consider this when using essential oils
In general, essential oils are very concentrated and they can have an irritating effect on the body, especially our sensitive mucous membranes. Lavender essential oil is no exception.
Remember never to cook with any bottled essential oils unless they are food grade, deemed safe for ingestion. For more on cooking with essential oils, check out Julie Workman’s article here.
There are certain side effects associated with this highly scented compound to consider prior to external use as well:
- Skin rashes or irritation can occur when your skin is in contact with lavender oil.
- Small children in particular can have strong allergic reactions, so one should not apply the oil directly to a child’s skin or let them inhale it.
- Do not apply lavender essential oil to open wounds.
- Keep in mind that herbal ingredients and scents may have an influence on your alertness or reaction time. The intense aroma of lavender may make you feel drowsy, potentially slowing down your reactions and reflexes.
This must be taken seriously – it is not advisable to drive or operate machinery when using this potent essential oil.
When using lavender oil at home for health and well-being, it is important to pay close attention to its quality. The variety that you purchase should be untreated, made without synthetic chemicals and consisting of pure plant extracts only.
Indulge in a relaxing dip
This indulgent bath additive will help you to calm down and relax.
- In a pot, bring 2-3 tablespoons dried lavender blossoms to a boil in approximately 4 cups of water.
- Put a lid on the pot, turn off the heat, and infuse for approximately 10 minutes.
- Filter the blossoms out of the liquid, and add the essence to your warm bath water.
Kitchen uses, both fresh and dried
One might think the taste of a flower would somehow be sweet, because the bright colors and the beautiful floral scent imply this.
But lavender tastes different. It has a spicy, slightly bitter flavor that can be compared to rosemary.
However, there’s no need to be skeptical! Trust me – you’re going to want to give this a try.
The perfect way to test it out for the first time is to adapt a recipe that is made with rosemary. As the herbs have a similar flavor profile, simply try substituting one for the other.
Do you like the flavor of Mediterranean seasonings already? If you have a bottle or package of herbes de Provence in your spice rack, take a close look at the ingredients. I bet you’ll find some lavender in there.
Surprised? Although the plant is not actually a traditional part of the blend in its home country France, it is sometimes added to commercially available versions of this popular combination nonetheless.
To boost your creativity and give you some additional ideas for what to do with this purple plant in the kitchen, here are some tips for you:
- Jazz up your regular lemon drizzle cake with some lavender. Add 1 tablespoon dried blossoms to the dough, and sprinkle a few crumbled buds on top of the icing just before serving.
- If you’re afraid of over seasoning baked goodies with pure lavender, try a more subtle version instead – and infuse your sugar with some blossoms. This approach is comparable to making your own vanilla sugar.
- As the flower lends itself well to savory dishes, too, lavender salt can be prepared as easily as flavored sugar, using the same method.
A final note: If you’re planning to make your own sugar or salt, be sure to use organic blossoms, or ones that were grown in your own garden. Flowers from gardening centers have often been sprayed or treated with pesticides or herbicides, and should only be used for decorative purposes.
Oh, and if it turns out that you don’t like the flavor? That’s okay, at least you tried!
There are still plenty of other herbs and spices out there, to liven up your cooking. Take a look at our list of 10 basics that everyone should have in their pantry.
What other foods can you combine it with?
Here’s a list of some of the best pairings, to get you started:
|Oranges and lemons||White fish|
|Apricots and peaches||Pork|
|Cream desserts (e.g. panna cotta, creme brulee, rice pudding)||Chicken, duck|
|Honey||Mediterranean vegetables (e.g. fennel, bell peppers, zucchini)|
|Red berries (strawberries raspberries)||Green salads|
|Sauces, dressings, marinades|
What else should you keep in mind?
When it comes to adding intense spices like this to your meals, there is one simple rule to follow: less is more.
As it has a strong flavor, remember to season carefully. Otherwise, the aroma will dominate the whole dish, providing a perfume-like taste with added bitter notes – and nobody wants that.
Finally, dried lavender has a more intense, concentrated flavor than the fresh blossoms. Approximately 1 tablespoon of dried blossoms is equivalent to 2-3 tablespoons fresh.
The best thing about growing lavender in your own garden at home is that you can dry the blooms, to save up a stash for use throughout the rest of the year.
When you want to make tea out of your crop or cook with it, try to use Lavandula angustifolia. When drying plants for decorative purposes, any sort will do.
Here’s how you can do it yourself:
- As soon as the undermost blossoms have opened, cut some bunches together with their stems. The ideal time to dry lavender is right before the plant fully comes into bloom, because this is when it contains the most essential oils. Pick the blossoms by hand, or cut stems approximately 4 inches below the panicle.
- Tie the stems together with a string and hang the bundles, with the blossoms facing downwards, for drying.
- When hanging them to dry, make sure there is sufficient space between the individual bunches for air circulation. Spread a a cloth out beneath them, to catch any buds that may fall off.
Hang bunched flowers in a dry and dark place with warm, circulating air. It’s important to keep these out of direct sunlight, because a significant quantity of the essential oils will be lost at temperatures above 40°C/104°F. Trying to achieve the desired conditions in an oven is not recommended at all.
You’ll know the drying process is complete when the blossoms can be removed from the stems easily. With optimal conditions, this may take 7-10 days.
Before using the lavender for anything else, it needs to be dried completely. Otherwise, mold can form, and then you’ll need to toss the whole bunch.
Store the dried blossoms in a screw-top glass jar, not in anything potentially reactive like plastic or metal.
Using the same process, you can actually dry all kinds of herbs for later use. Click here for more information from Foodal on how to preserve your own herbs.
Effects and everyday uses
The scent of lavender works in multiple ways, having both a calming and an activating effect:
Because of this diversity, the plant is suitable to help us in various situations.
The beauty and cosmetic industries have already discovered the numerous advantages of this herb, and it is added to many different products. If you keep your eyes open, you will find many more items that utilize it as a natural active substance.
- Hair and skin care (especially for oily types)
- Insect/mosquito bites and stings (anti-itch and anti-inflammatory)
- Wound healing, skin irritation and itching (antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory)
- Wellness (aromatherapy, bathing, fragrance lamps and essential oil diffusers, soaps, tea
- Cleaning detergents (for disinfection of surfaces)
Make your own tea
When you have dried the blossoms successfully and placed them in a dry, airtight container for storage, be sure to keep the jar in a dark, cool place, away from direct sunlight.
For herbal teas containing this soothing herb, it’s important to consider the water temperature. It mustn’t boil, because this would destroy some of the active ingredients.
Lavender can make a nice addition to caffeinated teas as well. Read Foodal’s Introduction to Tea for a primer on the subject.
Make your own relaxation-inducing brew using the following method. And feel free to get creative with your own natural tisane blends, incorporating other dried herbs, and flowers like roses and chamomile.
- Measure 1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms per mug, and place in a tea ball or teapot.
- Heat up your water to 80°C/176°F, and pour over the dried buds.
- Infuse for 3-5 minutes, depending on desired intensity.
- Strain and serve, on its own or sweetened with a little local honey.
What about you? Do you enjoy the smell of this wonderful flower in your products? Have you ever tried cooking or baking with lavender? Share your experiences and thoughts with us.
Are you a gardener? If so, be sure to check our our lavender growing guide at our sister site, Gardener’s Path.
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
Photo credit: Shutterstock.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.