Culinary Uses for Lavender
Madeline Wajda
Adams County Master Gardener

Lavender is a wonderfully fragrant woody perennial; it has over 2,500 years of recorded use as a strewing herb, a mood tonic, a fragrance, an insect repellent, and a food flavoring. There are about 28 species of lavender. Some are hardy in Zones 4-7, while others are tender and best grown in pots in those areas. These tender varieties include Spanish lavender (Lavendula stoechas), French lavender (L. dentata), and Fernleaf lavender (L. multifida). There is some confusion with common names, so it is always best to check the botanical name when buying lavender. These tender plants can be grown outside in pots in the summer, then brought inside to a bright windowsill for the winter. The soil in the pot should contain some sand, perlite, or vermiculite to aid in drainage. Water when soil is dry to the touch and fertilize every three weeks. Spider mites and white flies can be controlled by insecticidal soap; plants should be trimmed in the spring and fall. While these varieties are not as fragrant as the hardy lavenders, they will reward you with blooms almost year-round.

The most widely grown hardy lavender is L. angustifolia (sometimes sold as L. vera or L. officinalis and often called English lavender). There are more than a hundred varieties of L. angustifolia ranging from eight inches to three feet tall, with flowers of white, pink or various shades of blue and purple. The two most popular varieties are Munstead (18" tall with lilac-colored flowers) and Hidcote (16" tall with deep purple-blue flowers). Both have a sweet fragrance and are excellent for drying for crafting. Their blossoms are produced on flower stems 8"-10" long. In south central Pennslyvania, both varieties (and most other angustifolias) tend to bloom in June. Some varieties have excellent second blooms in late August.

Another quite hardy species is L. x intermedia also known as lavandin. Among the most popular intermedia varieties are Grosso, Provence, White Provence, and Grappenhall. The result of crosses between L. angustifolia mad other species, the intermedias are usually considerably larger than the angustifolias (often 30 inches high with flower stems 18"-24" long), and tend to bloom in July. They are excellent for making lavender wands.

All lavenders need full sun and good drainage; they are quite drought tolerant. Lavenders like a neutral or slightly alkaline soil (7.0-7.3 pH). For best results, test your soil, adding lime if necessary. Heavy clay soils need the addition of sand to provide good drainage. Alternatively, plant lavenders on a slightly raised mound. Mulching lavenders with a 2" layer of sand or white pebbles will reflect the sunlight back into the plant and help prevent fungus diseases. Leaving adequate spacing between plants will also help air circulation. Lavenders benefit from a pruning of not more than one-third of the plant in the early spring. Deer do not appear to care for the taste of lavender; in fact, some gardeners plant lavender among other plants as a deterrent to deer.

Lavenders do not necessarily come true from seed. This can be a problem for gardeners who want a plant with a specific bloom color or size. Obtaining true traits requires that the plant be propagated from cuttings. For a cutting you will need a 3"-4" semi-hard (not too green, not too brown) branch. Trim the leaves off the bottom half of the cutting and pinch the top before inserting into a rooting medium. We have excellent results using sand. Keep the cuttings moist (but not soggy) and in filtered light. They root best at temperatures of 70-75 degrees. Cuttings are best taken from May through mid-August

Harvest lavender for drying when the first bud on the flower stalk is starting to open. Some varieties, such as Hidcote, keep tightly closed for some time and will allow you 7-10 days to do your harvesting. Others, Croxton Wild, for example, are completely open in a day or two which often causes them to lose their blossoms in the drying process. To dry lavender, bind 25-75 stems with a rubber band and hang with a paper clip in a warm, dry, dark spot. When dry pack away in boxes or plastic bags for craft projects or culinary use.

Most people are familiar with the use of lavender in decorating or cosmetics; however, it can also be used to flavor jellies, honeys, cookies, breads, cakes, fruit desserts, drinks, grilled meats, chicken, or fish. Below are recipes for some of our favorite culinary uses for lavender.

Lavender Sugar

To make lavender sugar for tea or baking, blend in a food processor 2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers (always making sure they have not been sprayed with insecticides) with 1 cup sugar. Store in airtight container.

Lavender Lemonade

Lavender lemonade can be made by steeping for 5 minutes 1/4 cup dried lavender flowers in water that has been brought to the boil. Strain and use as part of the water in making frozen lemonade.

Lavender Jelly makes 8 4-oz. jars

  • 2 1/4 C apple juice
  • 1 C fresh lavender flowers (1/2 C dried)
  • 3 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 t butter
  • 3 oz. liquid pectin

Combine apple juice and lavender flowers. Bring to boiling, turn off heat, steep 15 minutes, strain. Add butter to 2 C juice infusion and make jelly, following directions on pectin package.

Lavender Drop Cookies 2 1/2 doz.

  • 1/4 C butter or margarine
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T lavender buds, crushed fine
  • 1 C flour
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t lemon zest
  • 1 t finely chopped mint

Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg and lavender. Mix well. Add flour, salt and baking soda and mix well. Add zest and mint. Drop by teaspoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables

Read other gardening articles by Madeline Wajda