Oh, it is that time of year again when sweet lavender is blooming in the garden. I have just one plant yet it gives me plenty of flower buds from each stem. Lavender is a fragrant and lovely herb. Learn growing tips, how to harvest and recipes using culinary lavender.
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Lavender (Lavandula) is a perennial flowering plant in the mint family.
Growing Lavender Tips
I have a small 4-foot by 8-foot raised bed where I grow herbs. It is situated right out the side door making it convenient when I want to snip a few herbs while cooking.
In the photo above you can see a lavender bush growing in the foreground, in front of chives and rosemary.
Lavender flourishes best in dry, well-drained, sandy or gravelly soils in full sun. You can plant lavender in spring or fall. It needs little or no fertilizer and good air circulation. It grows best in soils with a pH between 6 and 8.
Planting on mounds or in raised beds can help to promote good drainage. Select a sunny location, allow enough space for growth, good air circulation and plant with other plants that have similar water requirements. Do not over-water but allow the soil to dry before watering again.
Growing lavender in a container
While lavender does need good drainage and is drought tolerant, in a container it will need to be watered regularly, especially during hot weather.
Protect lavender growing in pots, in climates where the ground freezes in winter, by moving them to an unheated garage or basement. Reduce watering to keep the soil barely moist.
How to Harvest Lavender
The best time to harvest English lavender is when the buds have formed on the plant but the flowers have not yet opened. Closed buds will also retain fragrance and color longer. Cut the stems but be careful not to cut down to the woody portion of the plant.
Harvest lavender in the morning, when the plant is dry and the sun is less intense. This preserves more of the essential oil in the blossoms.
How to dry Lavender
After harvesting, tie the lavender bundles securely. I used a piece of dental floss but you can use rubber bands or string. My bundles were small using just 10-20 stems but they can be bundled using a much larger amount of stems.
After bundling, hang the bouquet upside-down to dry. This will draw the essential oils down into the flower buds, making them more fragrant and flavorful. In a week or two, the lavender will be completely dried.
To remove the flower buds from the stem, gently roll the flower buds between your palms or gently pull down on the buds dragging your hand in the opposite direction that buds are growing. Sift and shake the buds in a sieve to remove any dried unwanted particles from the flowers.
Storing died Lavender
Like any other herb, you will want to store lavender properly to maintain its quality. Kept out of direct light and in an airtight and dry container, culinary lavender will stay flavorful and fragrant for 1-3 years.
Lavender used in cooking
Culinary lavender is usually English lavender. As an aromatic, it has a sweet fragrance with a taste of lemon or citrus notes.
For most cooking applications the dried buds, which are also referred to as flowers, are used. Lavender greens have a more subtle flavor and be use similar to rosemary.
The potency of the lavender flowers increases with drying. When cooking, use lavender sparingly to avoid a heavy, soapy aftertaste. Lavender’s flavor is really intense and a little goes a long way.
If you are purchasing lavender be sure you are buying culinary lavender for a recipe, not the decorative varieties of lavender.
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