Not just for laundry soaps and bath products, lavender is a versatile culinary ingredient with subtle flavor.
Native to the Mediterranean, lavender has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb and as a perfume, and to a lesser extent as a culinary ingredient.
Lavender is in the mint family, and is a cousin to many of our culinary herbs, including mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, marjoram, and oregano.
The herb pairs well with citrus, dairy, summer fruits and vegetables, poultry and lamb, and other herbs.
- The ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians used lavender to scent baths as a cure for insomnia and as an ingredient for incense.
- It is said that Cleopatra’s seduction of both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony succeeded in part because of her lavender perfume. It’s also said that the asp that killed her hid in a lavender plant.
- During the various Black Death plagues that swept through Europe in the 14th century, people were instructed to carry with them sweet-smelling flowers and herbs to ward off the disease, amongst them lavender.
Tidbits and Terminology
- English lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) is the most common cultivar used for culinary purposes and essential oils.
- French lavender (L. dententa) and Spanish lavender (L. stoechus) are grown primarily for ornamental purposes.
- Herbes de Provence is a blend of a number of different herbs. In the U.S., it usually includes lavender, rosemary, savory, oregano, and thyme, but lavender is usually not included in this blend in Provence. This blend is great with grilled meats and summer veggies.
Cultivation and Harvest
- Lavender is a low-growing perennial shrub that can grow as high as four feet. It usually has silvery-green leaves and purple or pink flowers, although there are cultivars with yellow and white flowers as well.
- Lavender is at its peak in the summer months, although some ornamental varieties start blooming in the spring.
- Insect pests do generally not bother lavender; in fact, lavender oil is used as a natural pesticide due to its anti-insecticidal properties.
- Learn more about how to cultivate this useful herb in our new Grow Your Own section.
Lavender has been used for centuries for various ailments, including anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness.
- Dried Lavender: The flowers are used primarily for medicinal and culinary purposes, but occasionally the dried leaves will be present as well.
- Most commercial lavender growers use a combination of mulch and mechanical weed pulling to control weeds in their lavender fields; however, herbicides may also be used. Check with your local lavender farmer to find out about his or her lavender-growing practices, especially if you plan to cook with lavender.
Store dried lavender flowers and leaves in an airtight container away from sunlight. Properly stored, dried lavender should keep for at least a year.
Cooking Tips and Recipes
Just in time for summer, check out our recipes for lavender salt and honey lavender simple syrup.