Five ways with…lavender

Lavender might just be the perfect ingredient for a cosy home – as well as that lovely scent, with its undertones of British country summers, you can use it for decoration and cooking as well.

If you’re using it as a cooking ingredient, it’s best to grow your own if you can, so that you can be sure it’s free of pesticides. If you don’t have any growing space available, track down organic lavender at specialist nurseries, and pot it up to go on the kitchen windowsill. Lavender likes full sun, well drained, sandy soil and flowers in the UK from July to September. Here are our five favourite ways to make use of this beautiful plant.

1. Baking with lavender

If you’ve only ever used lavender for decoration or aroma, you might be surprised to know that it also works well as a baking ingredient, giving a delicate, floral flavour to cakes, biscuits and frosting.

Photo by Jason Walsh

Lavender shortbread

  •  4oz (125g) butter, softened
  • 2oz (55g) sugar
  • 6oz (180g) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers or 2 teaspoons fresh flowers, chopped

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the flour and lavender until you have a smooth paste, then turn the dough out onto a floured work surface, and roll it out to about 1cm thick. Cut the dough into rounds with a pastry cutter, or into fingers, and place them on a greased baking tray. Bake them for about 15 minutes until pale golden. Sprinkle with lavender sugar.

Tip – to make lavender sugar, dry several sprigs of lavender and strip the flowers off. Mix them thoroughly into a small jar of white sugar, seal the jar and leave it for several weeks to take on the flavour of the flowers.

2. Savoury cooking

Lavender as a savoury ingredient is more unusual, but works brilliantly. As a general rule, you can adapt any recipe that uses rosemary to use lavender instead.

Roasted salmon with lavender (serves four)

  • Four salmon fillets
  • 1 teaspoon lavender salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Grease a baking sheet, and lay the salmon fillets on it. Drizzle each one with lemon juice and a little olive oil, and sprinkle over the lavender salt. Bake for around 10 – 15 minutes. Serve with new potatoes and a green salad, for a light, summery meal.

Tip – make lavender salt in exactly the same way as lavender sugar, above. Use good quality seasalt for the best results.

3. Decoration

Lavender’s one of the prettiest of the summer flowers, with its deep purple blooms and silvery-grey foliage. Make a cottage bunch with sweet peas, lavender and sweet williams to grace your kitchen windowsill, or, if you’ve got plenty of lavender plants, cut the flowers and hang them in bunches from the ceiling to dry. Not only will they look lovely while drying, they’re also useful once the process is complete.

4. Relaxing

Lavender is one of the best known aromatherapy herbs, promoting sleep and soothing tired muscles. You can make your own lavender bath salts quickly and easily, and a jarful tied with ribbon makes a pretty gift. Lightly crush a tablespoon of lavender seeds with a pestle and mortar, mix them into a cupful of sea salt crystals and add a few drops of lavender essential oil. Keep the jar until winter, and every time you open it to use some of the bath salts, it’ll remind you of summer days in the garden.

5. Scent

Even if crafts aren’t really your thing, lavender sachets for drawers and wardrobes are so aromatic, they’re worth the tiny amount of trouble to make. Just sew a simple bag from sheer fabric such as chiffon or coloured muslim, leaving the top open. Fill it with lavender seeds and dried flowers, and tie a ribbon tightly round the top to seal it. You can also make a ‘no sew’ version – cut a cicle or square of fabric, pile the seeds into the middle, and gather it up with a ribbon into a little pouch.

Lavender also makes lovely pot pourri, especially when mixed with dried rose petals. If you’re lucky enough to have an Aga or range cooker, you can freshen the kitchen and remove cooking smells by filling a small dish with water, adding a few drops of lavender oil, and leaving it on the back of the cooker overnight.

By Sara Walker

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