Lavender that’s dried and used for its fragrance is different from edible lavender.
Lavender, a flowering herb that’s a member of the mint family, goes back over 2,500 years. The ancient Egyptians used it for its strong fragrance during the process of mummification; it was used for treating insomnia and backaches in ancient Greece; and the Romans used it to prepare healing baths so often that the word lavender came to be associated with the Latin verb ‘lavare’, which means ‘to wash’.
Besides its therapeutic effects, lavender can be used in the kitchen to add a floral fragrance and flavour to different dishes, and culinary grade lavender is the answer to avoiding having your meals taste like a scented candle might.
The term lavender may be used to refer to any plant of the genus ‘Lavandula’, which includes 47 known flower species. Not all of these, however, are fit for consumption. Culinary lavender is cultivated from the ‘Lavandula angustifolia’ plant (commonly called “true” lavender in English); it has less oil than the variety of lavender used in soaps, essential oils and sprays. Colour is an important attribute to bear in mind when shopping for high-quality lavender: it must be vibrant and not greyish.
Culinary lavender is available in both fresh and dried versions at spice shops, health foods stores and farmers markets. If the lavender isn’t labelled “culinary”, cooking with it must be avoided. Using lavender essential oil for cooking is another big no-no. While culinary lavender has a flavour that’s more delicate than its non-edible variants, it’s still advisable to use it in moderation. Dried lavender buds are approximately three times as potent as fresh ones, so it’s imperative to be cautious when using them.
In the kitchen, lavender is exciting to experiment with. Lavender sugar can be made by mixing granulated sugar with lavender buds and leaving them to infuse for a week, by allowing their natural oils to permeate the sugar crystals. Or lavender can be ground and used in cookies and cakes. Syrups can be infused with lavender too, before mixing them into lemonade, iced tea or even cocktails. Another technique is to steep lavender in cream or milk before straining it and using it for baking or ice cream.
Culinary lavender is best stored in its dry condition. To dry fresh lavender flowers, place them flat on a countertop or tray in a dry room for several days. This can also be achieved quicker by laying the flowers out on a sheet pan and baking for ten minutes. If stored correctly in an airtight container, dried lavender buds usually maintain their aromatic and flavourful qualities for at least a year.