Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dear Iris - Dash lavender in foods

By Aideen Vega-Van Auken, Master Gardener | Aug 09, 2012

Wikipedia says: ”The lavenders (botanic name Lavandula) is a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae.”
Every year I have purchased a lavender plant and thought this year I’ll manage not to kill it! I’d be embarrassed to admit how many seasons passed with that thought in a corner of my mind while I watered the heck out of it. Last year a basic concept finally penetrated my apparently thick skull. Lavender is a Mediterranean native meaning it requires stony, well drained soil and prefers arid rather than humid conditions.
Once lavender is established, it is extremely drought resisitant. So far this year weather in our area has really imitated the Mediterranean region. For most Midwest gardeners, the greatest success seems to come from growing the Hidcote and Munstead varieties. Coupled with my vigilance to water my Munstead lavender sparingly every third time I water most other plants, it is still alive at the end of July!
To encourage new growth prune your lavender with care in the spring. In our area, never consider pruning until you see new growth at the base of the plant. Short varieties may be pruned a couple of inches or cut back to the new growth. Taller varieties shouldn’t be cut back more than one third of their height.
Gardening aspects aside, when someone mentions lavender, I immediately think of my grandma and it comes as no surprise to me that research has shown smelling lavender produces a soothing, calming effect which certainly helps if you are having trouble sleeping, are stressed or suffer from anxiety. Lavender is frequently used as an ingredient in perfume, body and hair care products, incense, and massage oils. Numerous studies are also showing that lavender is beneficial in combating alopecia (hair loss) and postoperative pain, and is an antibacterial and antiviral agent.
As you can see, lavender is very versatile. The buds and stems can be dried and used in flower arrangements, as fairy wands, as a sachet in your drawers for the fragrance and to ward off moths and mice, in a small cloth “pillow” placed under your bed pillow, or in your bath water, among other things. The fresh flowers and leaves may also be used for those and other purposes as well, and perhaps most daringly for those of us that don’t venture beyond using salt and pepper, with food. Teas, desserts, breads and main dishes frequently benefit from a dash of lavender.

Lavender Jelly
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dried lavender flowers
Juice of 1 lemon (approximately 1/4 cup)
1 (1 3/4-ounces) box powdered Pectin or 1 pouch (3-ounces) liquid pectin
4 cups granulated sugar
In a large saucepan over high heat bring water to a boil. Remove, stir in lavender, and let steep for 20 minutes. Then strain and discard the lavender. Stir in lemon juice and pectin until dissolved.
Over high heat, bring this to a boil and add sugar. Bring to a hard rolling boil for 2 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. (2 minutes - soft gel; 4 minutes - medium gel)
Transfer jelly into hot sterilized jars. Fill within 1/4 inch of the top, wipe tops if any spilled, seat the lid and tighten the ring around them.
Makes 5 1/2 pints.

Aideen Vega-Van Auken is a Master Gardener.

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