Itís Okay to Eat the Lavender Flowers

Madeline Wajda
Adams County Master Gardener

As gardeners, we tend to think of lavender as a beautiful plant with a lovely scentógreat for bringing in fresh for bouquets or drying for crafts. What we sometimes fail to remember is that lavender is also a food with a delicate edible flower. The early Greeks and Romans ate lavender, and the eating of lavender continued in Europe until the latter half of the 19th century. According to one 1655 recipe, fresh lavender flowers were "beat with three times their weight of white sugar" and commonly served as a relish for game, meat, and fruit dishes. Lavender tea was believed to have a special use in treating "all griefes and paines of head and brain"; it was drunk daily by Queen Elizabeth I for migraines.

In my opinion, the best type of lavender for cooking is any L. angustifolia, including the popular varieties Munstead and Hidcote. I find the other varieties, especially the lavindins such as ĎGrossoí and ĎProvence,í have too strong a camphor flavor for cooking.

To grow lavenders, a well-drained site in full sun is necessary; lavenders are very drought tolerant and do not like wet "feet." They like a pH of about 7.1, so a little lime is a good addition to the soil in much of the local area. (Soil test kits are available through the Penn State Extension Office, as well as through commercial sources.) To help keep humidity at a minimum, keep your lavenders weed-free and "mulch" them with white sand or crushed limestone. This will reflect sunlight into the interior of the plants, keeping them healthy.

Both fresh and dried lavender can be used in cooking as long as they come from a source where they have not been sprayed. (Ask for culinary lavender.) Fresh flowers seem to have a sweeter flavor, making them a better choice for making desserts; they are stronger in flavor than dried flowers. When substituting fresh flowers in a recipe that calls for dried, use one-half the amount called for and infuse for a shorter time. Once dried, the flowers have an "herbier" flavor and can be used in all kinds of dishes.

When picking for drying, start as soon as the bottom florets on a flower stalk begin to open and at mid-morning when the dew has dried, before the hottest time of day. Hang small bunches upside down in a dark, warm place with good air circulation (an attic is a great place or an unused guest room closet). When dry, strip the buds off the stems; keep the stems for tossing on the grille or into a fire in your fireplace. Store the flower buds in a cool, dark place.

When cooking with lavender, remember a little goes a long way. Start by substituting a small amount of lavender for the rosemary in a favorite recipe. If making a liquid infusion, bring lavender and the liquid just to a boil, take it off the heat, and let it sit covered for a short time; do not let it sit too long before straining out the flowers. Taste will tell you when itís time to take out the flowers. Do not boil lavender. If marinating meat longer than a couple hours, use dried flowers and do not marinate longer than 48 hours.

Lavender is of course good with desserts, such as cookies, pound cakes, and red and black fruits. Try it with brownies or apple crisp, even with hot chocolate. When baking with lavender, put some of the sugar called for in a food processor with the lavender buds and pulse them together before adding them to the flour mixture. Lavender is also a good addition to pork, lamb, game, and rich fish.

To make lavender vinegar, add two tablespoons dried lavender buds to two cups red vinegar, 0bring to a boil, remove from heat and let sit 15 minutes before straining. Use in marinades or salad dressings. To make lavender sugar, grind together one tablespoon lavender flowers with two cups sugar and use after three days; this is a nice addition to beverages such as lemonade and tea, to scones, muffins, shortbread, or fresh fruit. Another nice addition to beverages such as lemonade, iced tea, or white wine coolers is lavender syrup which can be made by dissolving one cup sugar in one cup boiling water. Turn off heat, add two tablespoons dried lavender buds and a strip of lemon zest and let sit 20 minutes. Strain and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Although there are many variations of the herb mixture called Herbes de Provence, the one I like to use is three tablespoons each dried lavender buds, marjoram, thyme and savory, one teaspoon each dried rosemary and basil, one-half teaspoon dried sage. This mixture can be used to flavor vegetable or meat dishes.

The recipe below is a favorite in our household; I hope youíll give it a try.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Lavender and Mint - Serves 6

  • Two pork tenderloins
  • Two tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Marinade:

  • Three-quarter cup minced fresh mint
  • Two teaspoons garlic
  • Two tablespoons orange juice
  • Two tablespoons dried lavender buds
  • One-quarter cup soy sauce
  • Two tablespoons olive oil

Combine marinade ingredients. Coat pork evenly; marinate in refrigerator overnight. Drain and season pork. In vegetable oil in heavy pan sear pork on all sides. Transfer to oven pan and bake at 425F for 15-25 minutes until done; the meat can also be finished on the grill. Let rest a few minutes covered with foil before slicing and serving.

Most of us think that eating lavender and other edible flowers is a new trend (and certainly a new experience); actually, itís a very old custom. So, enjoy the scent and beauty of lavender in your garden, and please do eat the lavender flowers even if you donít have "griefes and paines of head and brain!"

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