Lavender - Beautiful and Useful
Mary Ellen Wilcox
Mary Ellen Wilcox
from the pages of the Jul/Aug '08 Essential Herbal:
What was your first encounter with Lavender? Perhaps it was a soap, maybe a sachet, or did you see the lovely gray-green leaves of the plant growing in an herb garden? Whatever the case, lavender has most likely left you with a sense of the past, of bygone days.
|Swirled lavender soap|
In the Middle Ages, baths were scented with lavender. In fact, the plant's name is derived from the Latin verb LAVARE, "to wash". It was a favorite in Victorian times, and in the Language of Flowers, lavender is considered the herb of devotion. A tussie-mussie, which was a bouquet of herbs exchanged between friends or lovers, always included sprigs of lavender. Lavender water or oil was kept handy, and sniffed by Victorian ladies if they felt faint.
Lavender is a hardy perennial, and grows best in well-drained soil in a sunny location. It is best grown from cuttings, taken from the side shoots in summer. It is seldom grown from seed, as the germination time is quite long. Plants generally bloom in the second year and will grow 2-3 feet tall. They will produce bluish-purple blossoms borne in clusters of spikes 2-3" at the tops of the stems. Some growers recommend moving plants to a new location after 5 years, while others claim to have plants flourishing in the same location for many years. To protect lavender where winter temperatures are low, mulch in the fall with straw. In addition to the herb garden, lavender makes an excellent edging along walks and drives, and is at home in the rock garden as well.
Lavender's uses are many. It is an excellent material for dried wreaths and arrangements. To dry, harvest the flowers before they open, otherwise they will shatter when dried. Choose a dry morning, after the dew has lifted. Hang upside down in small bunches away from light, and in a location with good ventilation.
Many body care products are made using lavender, including soaps, bath waters, bath oil, lotions and dusting powders. A French lady, Ninon deLenclos, remained a great beauty well into her 70's. This was attributed to the beautifying powers of the herbal bath. Her recipe was a handful each of dried lavender blossoms, dried rosemary, dried mint, chopped comfrey root and dried thyme. If you wish to treat yourself to this bath, make an infusion in 1 quart of water, then add it to the bath. She advised: "Rest 15 minutes in the 'magic water' and think virtuous thoughts."
Aromatherapists suggest lavender as a sleep aid, using a few drops of the essential oil on a tissue, and placing it under one's pillow.
As a culinary herb, lavender can be used for flavor vinegars, jellies and cookies and is added to herbal tea blends. When using lavender for cooking, be sure the plants have been grown organically.
Enjoy the beauty and fragrance of your lavender plants and perhaps do a bit of
experimenting to enhance your life with this wonderful herb!
Some favorite recipes:
3/4 cup rose petals (love)
1/4 cup lavender blossoms (devotion)
1/2 cup rosemary (remembrance)
3/4 cup jasmine blossoms (sensuality)
1/2 cup hibiscus flowers (a blossom worn behind the left ear "I have a lover", behind the right ear, "I want a lover)
Mix all dried ingredients and store in an airtight container. To make the tea, use 1 tsp. of the blend for each cup of briskly boiling water.
Herbal Moth Repellent
1 cup lavender blossoms
1 cup rosemary
3/4 cup cedar chips
1 tsp. orris root pieces (fixative)
10 drops clove bud oil
10 drops cedarwood oil
Mix the lavender, rosemary and cedar chips. Place the orris root pieces on top of the dried mixture and drop the oils on the orris. Let it soak in for several hours or overnight. Mix it through the dried materials. Place in a tightly covered container and let it "steep" for about 2 weeks. Use in closets, drawers and garment bags.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 heaping tsp. dried lavender blossoms or 1 tbsp. fresh.
1-1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
Cream butter and sugar. Mix in vanilla and lavender. Add flour and baking powder and blend well. Drop by small teaspoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes.