Fields of purple/blue plants sway to the horizon on an English lavender farm. At home, tidy dresser drawers cradle lavender sachets amidst favorite lingerie, and aptly colored lavender soap evokes memories of grandmother. Is there a more romantic herb than lavender? Because it’s been a favorite for so long, lavender has a way of evoking nostalgia. But it’s a versatile mainstay in the modern world, too—for its cosmetic, culinary, household, therapeutic and culinary contributions.
True lavender is perfectly aromatic—distinctive but not overwhelming, floral and sweet, yet clean, even pine-like. And, happily, dried lavender is nearly as wonderful as fresh. Enjoy lavender in homemade (or purchased) soaps, lotions, air fresheners, shampoos, tinctures, teas and salves.
Here are just a few very easy ways to take pleasure in lavender:
Lavender Facial Steam
An aromatic astringent, lavender will cleanse and stimulate your complexion. Simply place a handful of lavender (along, if you like, with other good facial herbs like rosemary and rose) in a bowl and pour boiling water over the herbs. Using a large towel, make a tent over your head and lean over the steaming bowl for about ten minutes. Rinse and pat dry.
Lavender is a classic potpourri herb. Use it alone, or in combination with herbs like mint, thyme, marjoram, chamomile, jasmine and rose. To better preserve the scent, add a little orris root powder (about 1/4 cup of orris root per cup of herb mixture) and a few drops of lavender essential oil. Mix gently, and seal in a glass jar for about a month. Then scoop into open bowls, baskets, and jars. Or use in sachets.
Lavender Herbal Bath
Tie lavender flowers in cheesecloth or place in a mesh tea ball or cloth teabag. Hang from the tub faucet and run water directly over the herbs. Lavender soothes and refreshes the skin and the spirit.
To scent your clothes, sew little pillows of lavender or lavender blend (above) and place them in your drawers and closets. Or simply tie lavender in little squares of loosely woven cloth or in small muslin teabags. Place your sachets in linen and clothes closets and in dresser drawers. Or sew into an herb pillow to lull a fitful sleeper.
Lavender Hair Rinse
Combine 2 tablespoons lavender, 2 teaspoons mint, 1 tablespoon rosemary, and 1 tablespoon sage in a glass jar. Add 1 cup of warm vinegar (it will impart shine to your hair) to the jar, then cap. Place in a warm place and stir once a day. Strain. To use, dilute the vinegar rinse with warm water (about 1/4 cup of vinegar per 2 cups of warm water), and pour on hair as a final rinse after shampooing.
Cooking with Lavender
Lavender is a wonderful culinary herb, delicious in both sweet and savory dishes.
The French have traditionally used lavender in their Herbes de Provence, a blend of thyme, savory, rosemary, fennel and lavender. (Cooks today often add other herbs to this blend, including tarragon, chervil, garlic, parsley and basil.) Blend your own Herbs of Provence with your favorite of these herbs, and use it in marinades or salad dressings, in fruit salads and stews. Try it as a rub for chicken and fish (rub with a little olive oil first, then coat with the herb blend).
To transform a cake or cookies, fold lavender into the batter. Angel food or pound cakes and butter cookie recipes work well, because they’re subtle enough to showcase the lavender. Lavender is also delicious in jellies, jams, and breads (simply knead into the dough). Or make lavender sugar by combining a tablespoon or two of dried lavender with about a cup of granulated sugar. Grind, then add to whipped cream or other dessert ingredients, or use to sweeten lemonade.
Add a pinch of lavender to your favorite herbal tea (it works especially well with mints, lemon verbena, and chamomile) to step up the flavor and effect! Or, for a truly revitalizing, cleansing tea, steep lavender flowers solo.
Ask the Experts
What’s the difference between true lavender and spike lavender?
True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia. L. officinalis, and L. vera) is a delicately aromatic herb, prized for its culinary, medicinal, and perfumery uses. Spike lavender (L. latifolia), on the other hand, has a pungent, camphorlike aroma, and it’s used mostly in cleaning products and insect repellents. Cultivated primarily for its essential oil, spike lavender yields much more oil than true English lavender, but the quality is not nearly as good. Spike lavender, in fact, is known as “lesser lavender.”
What is lavandin?
Also known as Dutch lavender, lavandin (L. x intermedia) is a hybrid of true lavender and spike lavender. Lavandin and lavandin essential oil are used in aromatherapy, crafting, and perfumery. Lavandin is less expensive than true lavender, and it’s often used to scent toiletries and household products and as an adulterant of true lavender.
How can I tell if my lavender has been adulterated?
If your lavender has a camphor-like note, it may contain lavandin. In fact, to determine even low levels of adulteration, lavender essential oil is analyzed for its camphor (and 1,8-cineole) content. Frontier uses gas chromatography (GC) to test lavender flowers in order to conclusively determine that they are authentic and unadulterated. The product Frontier labels “lavender” is pure, unadulterated lavender. And if you wish to purchase lavandin, you’ll find it properly labeled “lavandin.”