I’m harvesting lavender (Lavendula spp.) flowers. The flowers should be collected just before they open. They should be dried gently, flat on a tray or hung upside down in small bunches.
Did you know you can cook with lavender? Lavender can be used in cooking, cakes, biscuits and ice creams, but the secret if to be very, very sparing with it.
115 gm butter
200 gm sugar
½ tsp lavender flowers, ground
200 gm plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 190C (375F). Cream the butter and sugar. Gradually add the eggs. Fold in the lavender, flour and baking powder and salt. Drop a teaspoonful at a time onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.
The genus name lavendula comes from the Latin lavare and means ‘to wash’. The Greeks, Romans and Carthaginians used lavender in bath water for both its scent and its therapeutic properties. Used as a bathing herb since Roman times, lavender is used in perfumes, cosmetics and soaps. Lavender helps skin to heal and renew itself, fights wrinkles and helps prevent acne. It is a natural deodorant. Make a lavender bath bag by putting lavender flowers into a muslin bag and drop into the water. Or add your own infused lavender oil:
Infused Lavender Oil
This is simply made by placing lavender flowers in a jar, topping up with oil, and leaving for a couple of weeks in a dark place, shaking daily. Strain the oil onto fresh flowers and repeat. You can do this several times until the strength is as strong as you would like it, then strain into a clean bottle and keep in a dark place.
To make a home-made distilled lavender flower hydrosol, take a large pan and put a trivet on the bottom of it. Pack your rose petals around it and add just enough distilled water to cover them. Put a small heat proof bowl on top of the trivet. Bring the water to the boil. Now place a large heat proof bowl on top of the big saucepan and fill it with icy cold water and ice cubes. This will cause the rising steam to condense back into water droplets and drop back down onto the plate. (Add more ice if it starts to warm up.) Simmer for a while before carefully removing the pan from the heat, and taking out the small bowl – there will be some condensed liquid in it. Allow it to cool. The condensed water is lavender hydrosol (lavender water).
Once you have made some oil, you can turn it into a salve by adding beeswax. In a double boiler, warm the oil. Add beeswax and melt. The more wax you add, the firmer the set will be. Pour into warm glass jars. Alternatively, if you don’t have any infused lavender oil, or prefer a vegan option, put some coconut oil and lavender flowers into a double boiler and simmer very gently for an hour. (I use a chocolate melter, which works equally well, or you can use a slow cooker.)
During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was grown extensively in monastery gardens for its medicinal properties. The glove makers of Grasse used liberal amounts of lavender oil to scent leather and it was said that they seldom caught the plague, so people began to carry posies of lavender to ward off the disease. It was also strewn on the floors of churches to avert the plague. Throughout the Middle Ages it was a popular strewing herb. It was also placed in linen cupboards to deter moths and keep away flies. It was distilled and had wide use for disguising household smells and the stink from the streets. Today we still use the dried flowers in potpourri, in sachets to freshen stored linen and deter moths and insects, or as a general air freshener.
Lavender Bags for Linen
Simply take some dried lavender flowers and sew into small squares of cloth. You can place these amongst your linen stores, or even place one beneath your pillow to help you sleep.
Lavender has been used in folk medicine for many years as a remedy for various complaints, and has been recognised in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia for over two hundred years. Many country homes would keep a bottle of lavender oil (see above for instructions on how to make this) for aches and pains, bruises and burns. Lavender flowers soaked in gin or brandy was a popular farmhouse remedy.
500 ml gin
3 sprigs lavender
Pour gin into a bottle and add the fresh lavender. Seal and leave at room temperature for 2-4 days depending on how strong you would like the lavender flavour. Strain the bottle contents, discarding the lavender.
The above is, of course, a recipe for a tipple, preferably enjoyed with tonic water and ice. Country people would have made a far stronger infusion, i.e. a tincture, used to treat their ills. You can make a lavender tincture for treating ailments by packing a jar with lavender flowers, covering with vodka or brandy for 2-3 weeks, and straining off.
Today, an infusion of the flowers is effective in the treatment of headaches, depression, nervous debility, exhaustion, insomnia, indigestion, stress, dizziness, halitosis, nausea, flatulence and colic. It can also be used as a general tonic and to help with respiratory problems, tonsillitis, colds, flu and high temperatures. It can be used as a mouthwash for oral thrush. Take the tea or tincture for a soothing effect on the central nervous system, mild pain relief, to sooth nervous tension or to act as a mild sedative in cases of insomnia. Make a gentle antiseptic salve for cuts, bruises, to help minimise scarring and relieve skin irritations.
Lavender Infusion (Tea)
½ cup boiling water
4 tsp. of fresh lavender buds
Put in a teapot (or covered cup) and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Strain and drink.
Magically, lavender is a potent magical plant which purifies, cleanses and brings inner stillness and peace during meditation. Burn to bring about harmony during meetings and rituals as well as within the home. It may be used as an incense to explore the element of air, to develop the intellect and powers of logical thought. It can be thrown onto the solstice fire as a sacrifice to the Old Gods, as it is one of the sacred, aromatic herbs of Midsummer. Lavender also has underworld connections and may be used to honour underworld Cernunnos and crone aspects of the Goddess, including Hecate, Circe and Medea. It may be added to love incense, oils, sachets and charm bags, or used in love spells.
CAUTION: Lavender is considered safe for most adults in food amounts, and probably safe when taken orally, applied to the skin, or inhaled in medicinal amounts, though it can cause irritation in some individuals. Do not use medicinally or use the oil if you are pregnant or breast feeding, for two weeks before surgery or if you are taking barbiturates. Do not use lavender oil on pre-pubescent boys.
© Anna Franklin, August 2020