Lavender is a wonderfully versatile herb in the kitchen. It is becoming increasingly popular as an addition to all manner of dishes including biscuits and desserts and as a garnish. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed eating lavender conserve and also used it as a perfume. Apparently she insisted that the royal table should never be without lavender conserve. She also drank lavender tea to help ease her migraines. Even today, French farmers graze their lambs in fields of lavender to give the meat a superb, fresh, floral flavour. Both the flowers and leaves of lavender can be used in cooking. Lavender makes a great accompaniment with other herbs and is best used with fennel, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and summer and winter savoury.
English Lavender has a much sweeter fragrance than other lavenders and is the one that is most commonly used in cooking. Its flavour is sweet and floral, with lemon and citrus overtones. Unlike many herbs, the flavour of lavender becomes more potent when the flowers are dried.
Using Lavender in Cooking
Lavender flowers add a beautiful colour to salads and taste good too. They can also be used in bread recipes or used to flavour biscuits. The flowers can ground in a pestle and mortar and added to a bag of sugar to use in cakes and buns. The flowers are excellent additions to desserts and will add a delicate floral scent and flavour to custards, flans or sorbets. Why not try adding lavender leaves to dishes instead of rosemary? Both the spikes and leaves can be used and will add a different dimension to the dish. Try popping a few leaves and flowers into savoury dishes, such as soups, stews and even meaty wine-reduced sauces.
Lavender as a Garnish
Lavender flowers look beautiful and taste excellent when sprinkled into a glass of champagne, or over chocolate cake, biscuits and sorbets or ice creams. Dried lavender blossoms may also be used in perfumes and pot pourris.
If you are lucky enough to grow your own lavender, you can harvest the leaves and flowers from your own garden and experiment with this delicious herb at your will. Select flowers, which look fresh and have the fullest colour, and are not hampered by pests or diseases. Pick your flowers and leaves a short time before you use them in cooking as this will help preserve their flavour and colour. Simply cut the stems with scissors or secateurs and place them in a glass of water to keep them fresh until you use them. All blooms should be rinsed thoroughly to ensue they are free from dirt and insects.
If you buy lavender flowers, ensure they are organically grown. If they are grown for decoration in the home or garden they may have been sprayed with artificial pesticides or fed with artificial fertilisers, which can be harmful to humans when ingested. Lavender is a beautiful herb and has many uses, both culinary and decorative. It looks and tastes fantastic in salads and can be used to flavour all manner of dishes including biscuits and desserts and even meaty stews. The key to using lavender is to experiment with small doses until you are more familiar with it.