Noreen Wainwright and Margarest Priestley give us their thoughts on lavender — as featured in their blog, A Homespun Year. Click here to read their previous post on sewing.
THERE’S so much to lavender — it’s certainly one of the most familiar herbs and can be traced back to Roman times.
Throughout its long history lavender has had many applications.It is well known to have a mild sedative effect so can be used in pillows and sachets to promote a peaceful night’s sleep. As an antiseptic, it has been used to treat wounds and is effective on bites and stings.
With such a distinctive perfume, it will fragrance a room and lavender bags hung in a wardrobe or tucked into drawers will deter clothes’ moths. It even has a culinary use and can flavour biscuits or sugar.Lavender essential oil is very popular to use for massage in aromatherapy as it aids relaxation, and a few drops can be added to pot pourri along with heads of dried lavender, rose petals and other dried flowers and herbs.
Essential oils are readily available from gift and health food shops, as are bags of dried lavender, but the best way of obtaining lavender is to grow your own plants and harvest the flowers.
There are a number of ways to dry the flowers. The whole stems can be picked, fastened in bunches and hung somewhere warm to dry.They will even dry gradually if they are just placed into a narrow vase and will fragrance the room at the same time. An alternative is to remove the whole heads lay them out on a tray and again leave them somewhere warm.
For pot pourri you can leave the heads intact, but for lavender bags, strip the individual florets from the heads to use in sachets.Growing lavender Lavender is generally an obliging plant to grow. Always choose a sunny, south facing spot with well-drained soil — one thing lavender won’t tolerate is having its roots in cold wet soil, so good drainage is important.
Along the edge of a path is an ideal situation to show off lavender at its best. It will also grow well in pots and a row of these filled with French lavender placed under a window will look and smell glorious.For a neat looking plant or to keep the shape of a lavender hedge and prevent it going woody it’s advisable to give it a regular trimming.
This can be done in the spring to promote strong growth, and in late summer after it has finished flowering, to remove the spent flower stems. It’s not really necessary to have heavy secateurs for this task as a strong pair of scissors will do the job just as effectively.There are different varieties of lavender so before purchase it’s wise to ask advice from people at the plant stall or nursery.
Plant size and habit need to be considered as well as the range of flower colours now available.Less hardy than some of the others, French lavender (lavendula stoechas) is distinctive for its lilac bracts held above the flower heads— this is a good one for pots as it may succumb to winter frosts and cold.
Old English lavender (lavenda angustifolia) is the one to grow if you want to dry the flowers. The stems should be gathered on sunny mornings just as the first few florets on the flower Growing just a few plants will produce enough flowers to make pot pourri, lavender bags and dried stems to place in a vase to perfume a room.Making lavender pot pourri As lavender is so perfumed a summer pot pourri wouldn’t be the same without it. Whole dried flower heads are ideal as they provide colour and substance to the mixture. Along with the lavender you can include heads of statice, (commonly known as sea lavender) – a flower that grows very easily if the seeds are scattered in the garden. Not only is it beneficial in providing some bulk to the potpourri, it also comes in lovely purples and blues, just like lavender itself. Simple to dry, it retains its colour well.
In all shades of blue, delphinium petals are another addition. Just select the little side shoots that tend to flower after the main flower spike has gone to seed. It’s surprising how many petals you can get from short stems and they dry easily if hung in a warm place.Of course, there are lots of other flower heads and petals you could add. Helichrysums or straw daisies, santolina, love-in-a – mist, achillea and many more common cottage garden annuals and perennials, plus herbs, are wonderful dried and used in pot pourri. It’s worth experimenting with all sorts of summer flowers.
To increase the perfume of the lavender, just add a few drops of lavender essential oil. This can be topped up as necessary. So enjoy the nostalgic scents of summer long after the lavender is over.
It’s probably not what would spring to mind when thinking of a flavour for biscuits, but lavender can certainly be used and provides a subtle and sweet taste in these buttery cookies.
If you can dry your own lavender flowers to use they would be perfect as you know that they have not been contaminated with anything.Or you can ask for dried lavender from health food shops and check that it’s suitable for culinary purposes – that is, no essential oils have been added.
You Will Need:
- 12 oz/350g plain flour
- 6 oz/175g butter
- 4 oz/110g caster sugar
- 2 free range eggs, beaten
- 1 tbsp dried lavender flowers
Put the flour in a bowl and cut the butter into small pieces. Rub in the butter lightly with your finger tips, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Alternatively, do this in a food processor. Stir in the sugar.
Chop the lavender flowers finely.
Add the beaten egg and the lavender flowers to the mixture and mix well to make a fairly stiff paste.
Roll out on a floured board to about ¼in/5mm thick.
Cut out with a 2½ in/6mm round cutter and, using a palette knife, place them onto a greased baking tray.
Bake in a moderate oven 180ºC, 350ºF, gas mark 4 for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer onto a wire rack to cool.