Lavender, or Lavandula, is an herb in the mint family that is primarily employed for its fragrance in the garden and in personal care products, but also finds its way into culinary use. The different varieties are sometimes categorized as English, French, Italian, and Spanish lavender.
This plant grows to a height of one to three feet (30 to 90 cm). Its blue to lilac-colored flowers bloom from July to September. It does best in light soil and with plenty of sun, and can be easily grown from seed, or from cuttings or seedlings. To dry, harvest the buds when barely open and spread in a dark, well-ventilated place.
Lavender used to be considered characteristic only of Provencal cuisine, and is included as one of the constituents of Herbes de Provence, along with chervil, marjoram, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme, and sometimes fennel. Innovative cooks have recently extended its reach in the kitchen. It can be used to make many different types of desserts and other sweet items, including jellies, lemonade, crème brûlée, ice cream, and cookies. It can also be used in savory dishes as well as in salad dressing, in goat cheese tarts, and as a seasoning for poultry.
Outside the kitchen, it can be used to scent linen and clothes in sachets, pomanders, and other dried arrangements. As a general air scent, it's also available as incense. Lavender oil is also used as a fragrance ingredient in shampoo, hair gel, soap, bubble bath, bath salts, perfume, and other products. It is also used as an antiseptic.
It's important to mark culinary lavender clearly and to not substitute personal care products or other lavender products in recipes. Also, some studies suggest that repeated use of products containing lavender or tea tree oil may interfere with hormone levels in the body. Specifically, it is believed that lavender may inhibit androgen and mimic estrogen in the body, potentially leading to conditions such as gynecomastia in men. It has been recommended that young boys and men avoid products with lavender for this reason. Experts believe that are no long-term effects as long as one discontinues the use of such products. Please check with a health professional for any concerns.
The name lavender is derived from the Latin lavare, meaning “to wash.” The Romans used this plant to scent their baths, and also discovered its medicinal properties. They introduced it to Britain during their early times there. This nursery rhyme, first printed in the late 17th century, reportedly bears references the growing of this herb near London at the time:
When I am king,
You shall be queen.