Lovely Lavender

by Marilyn Edmison-Driedger


Lavender is a herb that everyone seems to know. What surprises everyone is that it not only has a wonderful fragrance, but that it tastes absolutely fantastic. Lavender and strawberries, lavender lemonade, lavender and white wine, lavender ice cream. Smells like summer and tastes like summer too.

Lavender is derived from the Latin "lavare" which means "to wash" and that is just what the Romans did with lavender. The English variety - Lavendula angustifolia (also known as L. officinalis, L. Vera and L. spica) is hardy in my herb garden in Southwestern Ontario, zone 6a. There are other cultivars such as Hidcote (dark purple), Jean Davis (pink), Nana Alba (white). Lavandin which is a cross between lavender and spike ( Lavandula latifolia ) can only be grown from cuttings.

Our path way through the herb garden is lined both sides with the aromatic Angustifolia species and has been growing there for 13 years; with little or no care. The path gets a slight pruning in the spring by my husband Ken, who uses the hedge shears (I do have to look the other way though!). This shearing opens up the path way and disposes of any dead branches left from the winter. The flowers bloom on the new growth. I have had customers that prune in the fall and they tell me that our lavender has more blossoms ( We will stick to our Spring Clean Up!).

There are types of lavender that are not hardy here like French lavender and Spanish lavender, so you have to choose carefully. Lavender blooms year after year; always faithful (Much to my children's dismay - they are my lavender pickers). Each flower stem has to be harvested just when the flowers start to open up. At this point the essential oils are at their peak. Lavender thrives in full sun and prefers sandy, sweet soil. With good drainage and soil that has had a generous amount of compost or manure, lavender will bloom and bloom. It is a real joy to look out into the herb garden when the lavender is putting on "her show". The air is taken over with a spicy, sweetness that exudes summer. On a hot, humid afternoon, or just after a rain, everyone who visits wants to know what is creating the fragrance. LOVELY LAVENDER !

Lavender is great for making potpourri, lavender bottles, lavender bath splash, and when mixed with oatmeal and rosemary as a soothing bath blend. I use lavender in wreaths and arrangements where it not only adds colour and line to a design, but also fragrance as a bonus. When used in wedding bouquets it sends the message of "best wishes & good luck" to the bride and groom!

Recent studies have indicated that lavender will relieve stress and headaches in the work place. I can relate to this because walking down the lavender path on a summer evening and inhaling the scented air brings a calmness to one's inner self. Just about then, one might envision a small lavender fairy darting in amongst the tall, dark purple stems playing a game of hide- and- go- seek. The mystery of lavender unfolds each spring. Even while the winter snow mounds over the lavender, there is knowledge that spring will soon arrive, and the lavender plants will once again turn green and put on their purple show in the summer to follow.

Lavender planted in groups can be a very intense colour design element in the garden. Drifts of the purple flowers can swirl your eye through and around the garden. Butterflies and honey bees always seem to be busy in the lavender patch. If one is quiet you can find yourself lost in the hum. It's nice to see someone else busy at work in the garden. Lavender blooms from the end of June through to the end of July along with the yellow yarrow (Achillea filipendulina). I use the yarrow as a backdrop for the lavender patch, a stunning colour combination.

There has been a new introduction called "Lavender Lady" "(lavendula angustifolia "lady"). This variety is said to bloom consistently it's first year from seed. Seeds by the way can take very long to germinate (14 to 28 days), so don't give up. I usually freeze my lavender seeds for 24 hours before sowing in a light soilless medium. Lavender can also be propagated by stem cuttings or layering. When I dry the lavender I hang them in strings about a metre long. The first bunch is tied on with a knot, and then by simply taking a small amount of lavender and twisting the string around the stems I form a lavender string which can be hung to dry in a warm, well ventilated area. When dried, they are great to hang from those shaker pegs in your kitchen or hallway.

The one thing that I like next to cooking with herbs is the smell of herbs in my house. When the lavender, and weeds all seem to call for my attention, I remember the smell.

Lavender Lemonade

5 cups water
1½ cups sugar
12 stems of fresh lavender
2¼ cups lemon juice

Boil 2 ½ cups of water with the sugar. Add the lavender stems and remove from heat. Place on the lid and let cool. When cool, add 2 ½ cups of water and the lemon juice. Strain out the lavender. Serve the lavender lemonade with crushed ice and garnish with lavender blossoms. Serves 8.

Lavender and Geranium Potpourri

4 cups of lavender blossoms (dry)
2 cups rose geranium leaves (dry)
2 cups rosemary (dry)
1 oz. orris root
3-6 drops of lavender oil

Mix the herbs and oil with the orris root and place in a tightly sealed container. Age 4-6 weeks, shaking daily.

©March 1996 Marilyn Edmison-Driedger

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