munstead-lavenderIf like many people, you have a sachet of lavender in a closet or drawer, you might like to know that this humble plant has been used for centuries and in many, many ways!  Some of them may surprise you!  If you love lavender, read on…

Lavender used through the ages

The Romans were the first to frequently use lavender but it was reserved for the upper classes as it was very expensive.  Records of the time tell us that lavender flowers cost 100 Roman denarii per pound.  That’s a lot of lavender but the price equalled a months’ wages for a common laborer.

The name, lavender, comes from the Latin verb lavare, which means ‘to wash’.  This is because Romans loved to scent their baths with it.  It was also prized for its use in oils for massage.  In 60 AD, the Roman writer Dioscorides recorded medicinal uses for lavender, including the relief of headaches, stress, insomnia, aching muscles, insect bites, colds, rheumatism and hysteria!  When they invaded Britain, the Romans kindly brought lavender with them.

Medieval writings of 1301 tell us that monks used lavender in medicines.  Rich homes often had a room set aside specifically for the distillation of lavender to be used by the family and their servants.

In 1551, William Turner wrote “…the flowers of lavender quilted in a cap and worne are good for all diseases of the head that come from a cold cause and that they comfort the braine very well.” (sic)

Queen Elizabeth I loved lavender and her palace gardeners were instructed to have lavender available throughout the year.  Elizabethan recipes included Conserve of Lavender which was sugar scented with lavender flowers, and Lavender Tisane, a drink of lavender flowers and honey steeped in hot water.

Lavender in cooking

Warning: Scientific tests have shown that lavender oil can cause a strong allergic reaction.  If you are in any doubt, dilute one drop of lavender oil in ten drops of water and apply some to an area on your inner elbow.  Check hourly to see if there is any reddening of the skin or itching.  If there is, you are strongly advised to avoid it.

Lavender should always be avoided by pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding.

lavender-royal-vlevet-culinary-live-plantsCulinary’‘ lavender is used as an ingredient in many forms of cooking.  This consists of lavender buds that are gathered just before they flower as that is the time when the concentration of the lavender scented and flavoured oil in the bud is at its peak.  In France, lavender syrup is made from this oil.  The flowers and leaves may also be used in recipes.  As a general rule, these are used as a substitute for rosemary, sage, thyme, mint or marjoram.  The flowers can be crystallized to make dainty and flavourful decorations for cakes.  They can also be used in salads and cookies (it works very well with chocolate or plain ones) or ground to a pulp in a pestle and mortar and added to custards, jams and jellies to give a delicate taste and scent.

Lavender Honey

Lavender flowers give off a huge amount of nectar and attract bees.  In the Mediterranean, honey is made from the nectar that only comes from lavender and it is sold worldwide.  If you can’t get hold of some, you can cheat and make your own.

Ingredients: 8 oz of light honey and 4 tablespoons of dried lavender buds.

Method: Heat the honey in a double boiler and when it has heated right though, add the lavender.  Stir well and then leave it on a very gentle heat for another thirty minutes.  Allow it to cool for a few minutes and then strain it into a clean jar.

Lavender Lemonade

What could be nicer on a hot day than a refreshing glass of lavender lemonade?  It has a pale lilac color and an intoxicating scented flavor.

Ingredients: 5 cups of water, 1.5 cups of sugar, 2.25 cups of lemon juice, 12 stems of fresh lavender, lilac colored paste food coloring (optional).

Method: Put half of the water in a pan and add all of the sugar.  Bring it to the boil, add the lavender stems and take the pan off the heat.  Put a lid on the pan and leave it to cool.  Then add the remainder of the water and the lemon juice.  Strain it into a glass jug, add ice and float some lavender blossoms in the drink.  If you wish it to have a stronger color, you could add a tiny amount of lilac colored paste food coloring.

Makes enough for eight glasses.

Lavender Cookies

These have to be tasted to be believed!  If you think it sounds weird, just trust us!  The flavor is so delicate and unusual.  A batch of these in a pretty box would make a lovely gift for a friend.

Ingredients: 2/3 cup of softened butter, ½ cup sugar, 1 beaten egg, 1 ½ cups of self raising flour, 1 tablespoon of dried lavender flowers.

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two baking sheets.  Cream the butter and sugar.  Stir in the beaten egg.  Fold in the flour and then gently mix in the flowers.  Drop spoonfuls of the mix onto the baking sheets.  Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden.

Makes around 30 cookies.

Lavender Tea

Many people now drink herb teas.  Some green, black or herbal teas do have lavender in them but try this ‘pure’ lavender version.  You can drink up to four cups a day to help with depression, insomnia, headaches, indigestion and emotional upsets.  It’s great for hair too…see the medicinal section!

Ingredients and method: Simply make tea using 1 ½ teaspoons of lavender flowers in 8 oz of water.

Herbes de Provence

This fragrant mixture of herbs was invented in Provence in the 1970’s and is used to flavor fish and meat prior to grilling and is perfect for creating a fabulous herb crust.  It can also be added to stews.  Add some to a bottle of olive oil to give lovely scented cooking oil.  The herb mixture can vary but the main ones are fennel, basil thyme and lavender.  Many French cooks say that Lavender must be present for it to be true ‘herbes de Provence’.

Lavender and Cheese

The delicate flavor goes extremely well with cheeses made from sheep’s or goat’s milk – or any other mild cheeses.

Medicinal Lavender

English and French lavenders are prized for their essential oils which are often used in herbal medicine.  The oils are included in balms, perfumes, cosmetics and salves.  Spanish lavender is not used for this purpose but is used for its beauty in the garden.

Warning: scientific tests have shown that lavender oil can cause a strong allergic reaction.  If you are in any doubt, dilute one drop of lavender oil in ten drops of water and apply some to an area on your inner elbow.  Check hourly to see if there is any reddening of the skin or itching.  If there is, don’t use it.

Lavender should always be avoided by pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding.

Used in the World Wars

Lavender oil has long been recognized as possessing both antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities.  During the First World War, it was diluted and used as a disinfectant wash for floors and walls.  It was also used during both World Wars when medical supplies were scarce, to help prevent infection and to reduce pain by its calming and soothing properties.  The bare stems were also burned in the same way as incense sticks, to kill off airborne germs and bring a fresh scent to the field units and sick rooms.

Sleep well…

Most people are aware that lavender helps to bring a deeper and longer sleep and many companies now sell bed pillows that are lavender scented.  Alternatively, put a lavender sachet under your pillow or a few drops of the oil on a tissue and tuck it into the pillow slip.

Soothe burns

The people of Iran have recognized the soothing properties of lavender as a treatment for sunburn for centuries.  If you’ve been too long in the sun, fill a spray bottle with water, add a few drops of lavender oil and use it whenever needed to soothe the red skin.

Help with hair

Make the recipe for lavender tea and leave it to cool.  Use it as a final rinse on hair to reduce dandruff and also impart a wonderful scent.

Spots and bites…

Dilute lavender oil at a ratio of 1 (oil) to 10 (water, rosewater or witch hazel) and use to help heal acne.  This can also be used on insect bites, stings, cuts and grazes.  It’s soothing and antiseptic so will help prevent infection.

Keep the insects away

The mixture above can also be used as an insect repellent.  It’s odd that bees love lavender bushes but they don’t seem to like it when applied to humans!  You can also soak cotton balls in the liquid and place them around your home if you have unwanted insects.

Other uses of lavender

Warning: scientific tests have shown that lavender oil can cause a strong allergic reaction.  If you are in any doubt, dilute one drop of lavender oil in ten drops of water and apply some to an area on your inner elbow.  Check hourly to see if there is any reddening of the skin or itching.  If there is, don’t use it.

Lavender should always be avoided by pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding.

  • Diluted lavender oil makes a wonderful perfume – apply it to your pulse points and wait for the complements!
  • Use a lavender sachet in your clothes dryer to give them a wonderful scent. One sachet can be used up to 25 times.
  • Lavender ink

For the most romantic love letter ever, make some lavender ink…

Ingredients: ½ oz / 15g dried lavender flowers, 6 tablespoons of water, one small bottle of ink

Method: Crush the lavender flowers and put them into a pan with the water.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for around 30 minutes or until the liquid has reduced to approx. 2 tablespoons.  It will be brown and opaque.  Strain this through some muslin, retaining the liquid.  Pour the ink into a glass jug and add the liquid.  Stir well and return it all to the ink bottle.

  • Use lavender in a wreath or dried flower arrangement. It adds color and a lovely scent.
  • Include lavender in a wedding bouquet. In the language of flowers, lavender means ‘best wishes and good luck’.

We hope we have inspired you to try some of these!