Lavender is often thought of as a traditional English plant, but lavender is not a native species. The first recorded mention of lavender in Britain dates back to 1598. However it soon became popular and Queen Elizabeth I apparently insisted on having lavender conserve served at every meal, as did the herbalist John Gerard, who may, of course, just have been following Queen Elizabeth’s example. The Queen drank lavender tisane to relieve her migraine, and used it as a perfume too. If she had taken baths more frequently she may have used it to perfume her bath water, as did the Egyptians and Turks.
Spikenard. The Latin name for it was ‘nard’ at that time. The ‘spike’ was named after the shape of the leaves of the Mediterranean plant.
Lavender leaves and flowers can both be used in cooking, and the leaves can be used in beef dishes instead of rosemary. You can make lavender ice cream, or use fresh flowers to garnish salads or desserts. If you like floral tastes, you can use lavender in virtually anything, including bread, cakes and biscuits. French farmers graze their sheep in lavender fields so that the meat will have a delicate floral flavour.
Lavender is cultivated primarily for its essential oil, which is used in medicine as well as in herbal remedies and aromatherapy treatments. Aromatherapists use it to treat headaches, nervous disorders and exhaustion. It has long been used to treat nervous disorders including hysteria, and medical research has shown that the scent of lavender has a slightly calming, soothing and sedative effect when inhaled. It has traditionally been dried and used in ‘sleep’ pillows as a cure for insomnia. Lavender tisane has been approved in Germany as a remedy for insomnia and restlessness. To make a tisane, you need 1-2 tsps of the flower stems per cup of boiling water. Let this stand for 15 mins, strain and drink one cup three times a day for the best results.
Gerard recommended it ‘to comfort the stomach’ and herbalists thought that 1-4 drops of the oil on sugar or in a spoonful of milk could cure nervous spasms, giddiness, faintness and palpitations caused by nervousness. Culpeper mixed lavender flowers with Horehound, Fennel and Asparagus root with a little cinnamon to cure giddiness and the ‘falling sickness’ as epilepsy was known as.
The smell of lavender reminds me of my childhood, and the lavender we had growing in the garden, which was always swarming with bees. I used to ‘help’ my mother cut the lavender, then we’d dry it and my favourite part of the process was making sachets of lavender to go in our wardrobes and drawers to keep clothes and linen smelling fresh. I still like to have dried lavender mixed into pot pourris, as the smell permeates the whole house, if strategically placed. Lavender is a natural insect repellent too and keeps mosquitoes at bay.
To cook with it, try the recipe below and add some lavender flowers to your rice next time you make some. You can add them to jasmine rice too.
BEEF ITALIAN STYLE WITH LAVENDER
1½ - 2 kg sirloin of beef (boneless)
1-2 tbsps olive oil
2 tsps each of lavender flowers, rosemary, thyme and fennel leaves
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
Brush beef with oil and rub the herbs and seasonings into it.
Cover with foil and cook in a medium oven for 1½ - 2 hours. Remove the foil for the last half an hour of cooking time and baste with the juices from the meat.
Remove form the oven and allow to stand for 15 mins before attempting to carve the meat.
This has Taste and is a Treat.