Culinary lavender is a versatile herb used in many recipes by professional chefs and people who enjoy spicing things up in the kitchen.
There are multiple ways in which the pretty purple hue of lavender adds to the look of a dish, and its flavor contributes a floral, citrus, sometime peppery, note to sweet and savory dishes.
Types of Culinary Lavender
It always surprises me to learn the number of varieties that exists from a species of plant, and lavender offers an assortment of over 200. All lavender plants look and smell wonderful but not all are meant for use in the kitchen.
Culinary lavender is suited for use in recipes and adds pleasant flavor to recipes. Non-culinary lavender varieties have more of an intense flowery perfume, medicinal, bitter or soapy taste.
Lavandula x intermedia varietycommonly known as lavandin.
Rosea, also known as Jean Davis and Hidcote Pink – has a beautiful blush pink color, and milder flavor than other culinary lavenders.
Provence– a French culinary lavender with more subtle scent and flavor than English Lavender.
Lavandula angustifolias varietyhas sweeter scented flowers than the lavandins varieties.
English Lavender- is the most commonly used, and has the sweetest and most intense fragrance of the culinary lavenders.
Melissa- offers large pink buds and sweet flavor.
Munstead– a popular culinary lavender full of rich sweet flavor.
Note: The darker the bloom, the more intense the fragrance and flavor.
It is best to buy fresh or dried culinary lavender from reliable and reputable sources - food markets, farmer’s markets or online sources. Always purchase lavender that is labeled for culinary use and is certified organic so you can be sure it is suitable for eating and free of chemical fertilizers or pesticide.
Fresh lavender flowers can be rinsed thoroughly with water to remove any soil, debris, or insects.
Drying fresh lavender is easy, simply gather the lavender flowers in a bundle, wrapping the stems with kitchen twine or an elastic band, hang the bunch in a cool, dark dry area, with plenty of ventilation, and away from sunlight until completely dry. It takes about two weeks to sufficiently dry.
To remove dried lavender buds from the flower spikes and stem, place a clean cloth on a flat surface and gently roll between your hands to loosen the buds, or you can gently rub the flower buds off the stems with your fingers.
A good way to store fresh lavender flowers and keep it from wilting is to place the stem ends in fresh water, as you would any fresh flowers, until ready to use.
Place dried lavender buds in a dark airtight glass container and store in a cool dry place. If dried and stored properly, it should last for a year or more.
Using Culinary Lavender
A little goes a long way ~Keep in mind that too much lavender can overpower a recipe. Use it sparingly. Start out using small amounts and experiment a bit until you find what amount works best for your taste and in a particular recipe. Meantime, consider it as a complimentary background flavor, similar to the use of vanilla.
Dried lavender is more potent than fresh ~A good measurement guide is to use 1/3 the quantity of dried flowers to fresh. Example: if a recipe calls for 3 teaspoons fresh lavender, substitute 1 teaspoon of dried.
Release the fragrance ~Use an herb mill or mortar and pestle to break up dry lavender to release its flavor and aroma before using in as an ingredient in a recipe.
Save the stems ~Keep the lavender stems after removing the dried flower buds and use as a fragrant kabob stick, just slide fresh fruit on the stems. Another idea, place the stems in a small jar or basket to perfume a room.
A Word Of Caution
All flowers are not edible and some are extremely toxic. Please take care to purchase edible flowers from reputable sources. Make certain the flowers are labeled organic and have not been treated with pesticides or preservative. In many cases flowers from florists, nurseries, or garden centers have been treated with pesticides and are not meant for consumption.