Tips for Growing, Cooking and Decorating with Lavender
A talented herb
Touted for its beauty and serene scent, the pleasing lavender plant is also favored for its culinary uses and health benefits. Click ahead for ideas on how to use lavender in essential oils, sweet and savory foods, wreaths, wands and more-as well as tips for growing lavender in the Midwest.
To dry lavender for crafts or sachets, pick bunches just before buds open to ensure flowers stay on stems and hold their aroma. To finish the process, bundle stems by the dozen and hang upside down in a dark, well-ventilated space.
Make a wreath
Start with a 14-inch grapevine form and 16 to 18 dried lavender bunches stripped of leaves. Tie bunches to wreath with floral wire, overlapping to hide stems.
Make cookies and lemonade
Lavender buds lend subtle floral notes to both a refreshing, homemade sparkling lemonade and to buttery cookies. The lemonade recipe comes from lavender afficionado Jennifer Vasich; the cookie recipe comes from Lavender Hill Farms in Boyne City, Michigan.
Decorate with lavender
These pretty picks thrive as fresh and dried displays. Left to right in picture:
‘Hidcote' One of the toughest English lavenders, velvety deep-purple ‘Hidcote' is tops for crafting because the buds stay on stems. "It dries intensely blue," says Linda Longworth of Lavender Hill Farms in Boyne City, Michigan.
‘Folgate' This graceful, long-stemmed English lavender looks gorgeous in fresh arrangements. "It has such a nice periwinkle color," says Mary Hamer of Loess Hills Lavender Farm in Missouri Valley, Iowa.
‘Coconut Ice' For soft pink color that fades to white, select unique ‘Coconut Ice' English lavender. Stems have a silver-green hue. Mix it with other lavenders for a multicolor bouquet. An upright growing habit makes it great as a container planting, too.
‘Royal Purple' Retaining its color long after drying, ‘Royal Purple' English lavender works well for crafts and wreaths. And its extra-pleasing aroma makes it a good choice for satchets to scent clothing. (The darker the buds, the stronger the aroma.)
Lavender essential oils relieve stress and tension. Sprinkle a few drops in a warm bath or on bed sheets. Add some to unscented lotion for a spalike treat when you moisturize. (Five drops are sufficient for a six-ounce bottle.)
Creamy lavender soaps disinfect and nourish skin naturally.
Spice with buds
Sweet and savory foods get a surprising lift from organic dried culinary buds. Whole or crushed, the buds boost meat rubs, salads, soups and desserts. The buds pair well with honey and lemon and herbs like rosemary and thyme.In Lavender-Spiced Walnuts (pictured), rosemary and lavender flavor crunchy sweet-and-salty nuts. It's an addictive twist on the usual cocktail nut mix for a party, and tucked in a paper cone or bag, they make a great gift idea, too.
Create a wand
Handmade wands keep linens fresh and moth-free. Bunch an odd number of stems (11 or 13). Tie 2 yards of ribbon at the base of the buds. Bend stems over the ribbon to surround buds; weave ribbon under and over stems until buds are covered. Secure with a bow.
Visit lavender farms
Visit Midwest lavender farms mid-June through July (prime picking time) to harvest stems, make a craft or taste lavender-infused goodies. Most offer a variety of activities.
Grow lavender in your yard
Native to the Mediterranean, lavender thrives in full sun (eight hours a day is preferred) and well-drained soil. Kieran O'Connor of Willowfield Lavender Farm in Mooresville, Indiana, recommends a soil mix of one-third each of garden soil, sand or pea gravel, and organic compost. Add lime to increase soil pH (6.5 to 7.5 is ideal). Space plants 2 to 3 feet apart for good air circulation. Water regularly until established. After first bloom, prune and add more lime each spring.
Lavender plants should grow for seven to 10 years in the Midwest. Avoid varieties labeled as annuals or Spanish lavenders; they won't survive our cold winters.
Click to the next slides for recommended English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia) and lavandins (a hybrid lavender), which are easy to find and grow in our region; all are hardy to Zone 5.
Named because it grows well in England, English lavender tolerates Midwest humidity better than most lavandins. It's favored in cooking.
‘Melissa' (pictured) Pinky white buds bring delicate beauty to gardens and a subtle nutty flavor to desserts.
‘Munstead' Count on this great culinary lavender for early-season violet-blue blooms.
‘Graves' This elegant dark purple variety adds graceful height to landscaping; it reaches 36 inches tall and is noted for its strong fragrance.
Violet Intrigue Medium-size violet-blue buds bring a nice light citrus flavor to dishes.
Originating in the Provence region of France-where they're used in perfumes-lavandins (lavender hybrids) crave hot temps and dry conditions.
‘Provence' (pictured) Its fragrant lavender buds are commonly used in sachets because they fall off the stem easily.
‘Grosso' According to many Midwest lavender farm owners, this dark purple variety is the easiest lavandin to grow in our region. Long stems make it great for dried crafts.
‘Hidcote Giant' Bigger than ‘Hidcote' English lavender, this hybrid boasts deep-color blooms on long stems, making it work well for lavender wands.