Lavender (L. angustifolia and cultivars)
The sweet scent of lavender is said to be one of the most readily recognized smells by people in the cooler northern climates – right up there with the scents of cinnamon and mint. Traditionally used in sachets to freshen linens and deter moths from homes, it has also long been recognized as a powerful yet gentle medicine.
Lavender is a member of the mint family and like most members of this family, it is highly aromatic. The scent is due to a volatile or essential oil which is found in the flower leaf and stem. Whole flowering stalks can be picked when between 15 to 30% of the flowers are opened. Tied simply in bundles of 10 or 12 stems, they are perfect for hanging in a closet or in a room.
The stalks can also be dried and the flowers removed from the stem to place in sachets and tucked between clothes in a drawer. Used this way, the scent can last for several years. Lavender can also be used in the kitchen where it imparts a sweet flowery note to ice cream, lemonade, scones or other baked goods.
At Innisfree, we like to take the fresh flowers and grind them with organic cane sugar, which we then spread out to dry and use in cooking throughout the year for a subtle flowery hit.
Lavender essential oil, tinctures and teas can be used for a gentle relaxing and sedative effect to settle an upset tummy. Its volatile oil can be used directly on the skin for cuts, bites, stings and abrasions.
Lavender is easy to grow and being a Mediterranean plant, it is very tolerant of dry, sandy soil and strong sun. It is a perennial and will reach a height of 50–100 cm/19-49in. You should prune back about 1/3 or 1/4 of the foliage after blooms are finished to prevent it getting woody in the lower parts. Make sure your flower bed or pot drains really well, as lavender does not like to have its roots in water all the time. Don’t mulch with organic materials that hold moisture.
A few more ideas of things to do with lavender:
- Make a lavender simple syrup to enjoy with gin and tonic, in lemonade or other beverages
- Add flower buds to preserves or fruit compotes to give them subtle spicy notes.
- Sprinkle fresh lavender on a salad as a garnish.
Make your own Herbes de Provence
This French country classic is a mix of aromatic herbs and used in myriad dishes to spark up the flavour.
Blend equal parts of dried lavender with thyme, savoury and rosemary; it’s that simple.