The divine smell of lavender has made it a favorite of gardeners, soap makers, and herbalists for centuries. But did you know it’s also a favorite among chefs? Lavender imparts a gentle floral taste and can be used in a range of dishes. It pairs well with honey and sugar, so many cooks use it in sweets such as cookies, pies, and ice cream. Lavender herb rubs, including Herbes de Provence, are also good on chicken, lamb and other meats. Teas capitalize on both the taste and smell of the flower.
Not all lavender plants yield blooms that are appropriate for cooking, shares Heather Hanselman, owner of Blue Heron Herbary on Sauvie Island. She recommends Royal Velvet, Mitcham Grey, and Betty’s Blue for culinary purposes. These varieties have a deep purple color that will stand out in baked goods. If you want something spicier, try Melissa, a lavender plant that produces pink blooms.
“Make sure lavender is clean before you use it,” Hanselman says. Use only the flower heads, not the stems. Lavender can be used fresh or dried depending on what’s available. Spanish lavender varieties, which have distinctive petals on top of the flower heads, are not appropriate for cooking. June and July are peak lavender season, so it’s a great time to get out and visit some farms. Blue Heron Herbary keeps over 40 varieties in their test garden and offers tours throughout the year.
Hanselman shares a recipe for Lavender Jelly: stir a tablespoon into fruit salad, or use it as a glaze on a fruit tart. Honey Lavender Cornbread falls somewhere between a side dish and a dessert, but will please diners when served as either course. Crushing the blossoms lightly with your fingers before adding them to the batter will help bring out the flavor. Need something refreshing on a hot day? Try this recipe for Honey Lavender Ice Cream from Martha Stewart Living. Garnish it with a couple sprigs of lavender (or leave them off to keep people guessing about the “mystery” ingredient!).
This weekend is the Oregon Lavender Festival, where farms across Central and Southern Oregon, such as Lavender Fields Forever and many others, open their gates for u-pick, distilling, and food tastings. Stay close to home or check out lavender destinations in far-flung locations such as Hermiston, Hood River, Salem, Halsey, and Southern Oregon’s Lavender Trail. A map is available here.
Editor’s note: This article originally posted in July 2011 and has been updated to reflect current events.
Sophia McDonald Bennett is a freelance writer from Eugene, Oregon. In her spare time she enjoys reading, gardening, spending time with family and friends, and dreaming up new recipes.