The first time I tasted lavender used as a culinary ingredient was at a wine luncheon at Becker Vineyards. The meal included a touch of this fragrant herb in nearly every dish served, from the salad dressing to dessert.
When I returned home, I pulled down a book to read more about using lavender in cooking. My natural choice was “Southern Herb Growing” (Shearer Publishing, $29.95), by Madalene Hill and her daughter, Gwen Barklay, and Jean Hardy. This beautifully photographed compendium of herbal lore is a treasure for cooks as well as gardeners.
In the book, published in 1987, there was a only a brief discussion on using lavender in cooking. They did offer the instruction to use only the young growth tips of the plant for cooking.
Some 23 years after this book was published, attitudes toward lavender have changed. Many cooks, especially those who grow herbs, use the fragrant plant as an ingredient in many thing, from salad dressing and vegetables to roast chicken and ice cream.
I took a tour of several farms in an area area south of San Antonio recently with a group from the food organization, Les Dames d’Escoffier. The topic of herbs came up and someone asked Nichole Bendele, who works at Becker Vineyards, whether one could use “any” lavender found for sale, including that from a hobby store, for cooking. Becker Vineyards has its annual Lavender Festival this weekend.
“Not a good idea” was her response. The handling of the herb for culinary purposes is more strictly regulated than lavender that will be used for potpourri, dried bouquets or sachets.
Here are a few more tips on using lavender in cooking, from Bendele:
- Purchase culinary lavender. It’ll be pesticide-free, and it will not have stems and leaves attached. It will be just the florets.
- When cooking with lavender, use sparingly —a little goes a long way.
- Lighter blossoms have a lighter flavor, darker (as in more gray) blossoms more flavor.
- Lavender is also related to rosemary and sage.
- Lavender sprigs can be used as skewers for shrimp and veggies on the grill.
- Want to add a little flavor to simple rolls? Sprinkle a few lavender florets in the dough before baking.
- And, for a medicinal use: Lavender oil is good to use as an antiseptic (small cuts, light abrasions).
For a recipe, try Lavender Vanilla Ice Cream