How to Remain Calm and Season on While Cooking With Lavender
hen you think of lavender the first thought that jumps to mind is probably fragrance. It is in our soaps, laundry detergents, and even our car scents. But lavender is more than grandma’s favorite lotion.
Lavender originated in the Mediterranean and Middle East around 2,500 years ago. The aromatic benefits of lavender have been recognized since the Roman Empire. By the time of the Renaissance in Europe, it became a popular remedy for a myriad of ailments. For many centuries, the most common prescription was oral administration. In aroma therapy, lavender essential oil gained popularity for its effectiveness as both a physical and mental aid.
Breathing in lavender is a common way to reap its benefits. When inhaled, the herb can balance blood sugar and boost antioxidants. It also helps us relax. When we inhale the essential oils, it affects the limbic system. The limbic system is the structure of our brains that partially controls our motivations and emotions. It also affects the amygdala and the hippocampus. Those are the regions of our brains that contribute to anxiety and over-thinking; this makes lavender an effective, natural sleep aid. When used topically, the essential oil can treat burns, wounds, and acne. It also works wonders as an insect-repellent. And did you know that consuming the flower has just as many benefits? Lavender contains Vitamin A and calcium and is surprisingly rich in iron. When ingested, it can soothe headaches, indigestion, and bloat.
No matter what you plan to do with it, make sure to buy “culinary lavender.”
Lavender is more than just good for you. As an herb, its rich, flowery aroma adds an unexpected twist to everyday recipes. It has a slightly sweet and floral flavor which pairs well with desserts. Lavender puts a delicious spin on chocolates, pastries, and bread. It’s amazing in savory dishes, too. This member of the mint family has long been involved in French cooking and is in some Herbs de Provence.
An easy way to incorporate this herb into your day is to create a lavender-infused simple syrup. Foodelicious on allrecipes.com instructs to bring 1 cup of water, 1 cup of granulated sugar, and one tablespoon of fresh lavender leaves to a boil until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat to let it steep for another 30 minutes. Once cooled, strain the syrup into a glass container and refrigerate. Add the syrup to lemonade, tea, or icing to put a sweet, fragrant spin on drinks, smoothies, and desserts.
Lavender has been used as a headache remedy for centuries. Try a few drops of the essential oil on a sugar cube.
You can cook with fresh or dried culinary lavender, but keep in mind that dried buds have a sharper taste and a more intense fragrance. Chefs suggest using a 1:3 ratio. So if a recipe calls for three teaspoons of fresh blossoms and you’re using dried lavender, make sure only to use one teaspoon to avoid making your dish taste like soap.
Historic Moment: The Greek word for lavender was “naard,” which can be found in biblical passages, one of which being “The Song of Solomon.”
Fun Fact: In the language of flowers, lavender flowers denote purity, silence, devotion, and caution.
DIY: If you want to dry your lavender, check out Fresh Bites Daily’s YouTube tutorial.
LAVENDER SHORTBREAD RECIPE
Excerpted with permission from FARM-TO-TABLE DESSERTS: 80 Seasonal Organic Recipes Made from Your Local Farmers’ Market, written by Chef Lei Shishak. Purchase this cookbook on Amazon for more delicious recipes.
May and June are prime months for fresh lavender in California. This buttery shortbread beautiful encompasses lavender’s relaxing fragrance and floral taste.
Makes one 9-inch round
- ½ cup unsalted butter, soft
- ¼ cup lavender sugar*
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
*When fresh lavender plants start appearing at the markets in May I like to make small batches of lavender sugar to give to my neighbors. Here’s the simple recipe:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped lavender leaves
Combine both ingredients in a bowl and store in an airtight jar. Sugar is ready to use in a few hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, lavender sugar, vanilla and salt on medium speed for 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the flour and mix on low speed until just combined – mixture should be crumbly. Transfer to a 9-inch ungreased glass pie dish. Press dough down into the dish. Use a fork to poke holes on top and use the tines to mark the edges. Bake for 15 minutes until pale golden. Let cool slightly before turning out onto a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to slice the shortbread while still warm.