From ancient times herbs have played a role in the healing traditions of many cultures. I believe that herbal medicines have relevance in modern society today as they did many centuries ago.
Herbs have been used by many cultures including Egyptian, Greek, Roman and the Arabic world.
Lavender gets its name from the Latin word Lavare which means to wash. The flowers can be useful for headaches, colic and indigestion. It’s important to harvest the flowers towards the end of flowering. You can dry them in small bunches covered with paper bags to collect the floret’s as they fall.
You can also separate the flowers from the stems, and make smudge sticks used for space cleansing from the dried stems bundled together.
English Lavender (l. angustifolia and munstead) is the sweetest fragrance of all the lavenders and is the one most commonly used in cooking. The uses of lavender are limited only by your imagination. Lavender has a sweet, floral flavour, with lemon and citrus notes. The potency of the lavender flowers increases with drying, and you really don’t need to use much.
In ancient times lavender was used for mummification and perfume by the Egyptian’s and the Greeks and the Romans bathed in lavender scented water, and it was from the Latin word “lavo” meaning “to wash” that the herb took it’s name. Around 600 BC lavender may have come from the Greek Hyeres Islands into France and is now common in France, Spain, Italy and England.
Queen Elizabeth I valued lavender as a jam and a perfume. It has been said that she commanded that the royal table should never be without conserve of lavender and she issued orders to her gardeners that fresh lavender flowers should be available all year round! She also drank an abundance of Lavender tea to help ease her migraines and used it as a body perfume.
Queen Victoria is most notable for making Lavender popular and it could be found, in one form or another, in every one of her rooms, as she used it to wash floors and furniture, freshen the air, and had it strewn among the linens.
During the First World War, nurses bathed soldiers’ wounds with lavender washes to prevent infection.
If you are brave and decided to follow a recipe for lavender don’t add too much lavender to your recipe as it can be like eating perfume (remember Lavender sweets) and can make your dish bitter, the secret is that a little goes a long way.
The lavender flowers add a beautiful colour to salads. Lavender can also be replaced for rosemary in many bread recipes. The flowers can also be put in sugar and sealed tightly for a couple of weeks then the sugar can be substituted for ordinary sugar for a cake, buns or custards.
The stems and leaves of lavender can be used in most dishes in place of rosemary in a lot of recipes. Use the stems for making fruit or prawn kebabs. Just place your favourite fruit on the stems and grill.
Flowers look beautiful and taste good too in a glass of champagne, with chocolate cake, or as a garnish for sorbets or ice creams. Lavender lends itself to savoury dishes also, from hearty stews to wine-reduced sauces. Smaller blooms add a mysterious scent to custards, flans or sorbets. Dried lavender blossoms can be used in perfumes and pot-pourri (remember the little bags of lavender in draws)
To harvest fresh lavender you harvest the flowers as you would fruit, selecting those that look most perfectly ready, with the fullest colour, and passing over any that seem wilted or less ripe. Cutting the lavender flowers is best done in the morning when the dew has evaporated and before the heat of the day.
Stem flowers may be put in a glass of water in a cool place until you are ready to use them. All blooms should be thoroughly rinsed and immerse them in water to remove any insects or soil. Lay the flowers on paper or cloth towels and dab dry, or gently spin dry in a salad spinner.
Lavender Summer Sorbet Recipe - Makes: 10 - 12 servings - prep time 15 mins
Made in ice cream make or freezer
Ingredients, 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon culinary lavender flowers, 2 1/2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice, 2 tablespoons vodka
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water until the sugar disappears. Add the lavender flowers, stir until mixture until it starts to boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand approximately 10 minutes.
Place a fine strainer (like the ones used in jam making) over a large bowl and pour syrup mixture through (straining out the lavender flowers). Add lemon juice and vodka to the strained syrup mixture and then stir until thoroughly mixed together.
The vodka is the secret to a soft sorbet. Alcohol itself does not freeze and by adding a little bit keeps the sorbet from doing the same so don’t add more than 2 tablespoons. Vodka is also excellent to use because it doesn’t affect the taste.
Ice maker Method - Transfer mixture to ice cream maker, process according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Freezer Method - Pour into container, cover, and put mixture in the freezer. When it is semi-solid, mash it up with a fork and refreeze again. When frozen, place in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Cover and refreeze until serving time.
The sorbet can be prepared 3 days in advance. Cover and kept in the freezer.
How to make Lavender smudges sticks used for cleansing spaces with the stems.
Smudge sticks are small bundles of the woody/stem parts of herbs that are dried out and burnt to get rid of bad smells and to ‘clear the air.’ They apparently originate from Native American purification rites.
I like Lavender because it has a relaxing smell, keeps moths out of cupboards and stored items and its anti-bacterial.
French Lavender is being used for these smudge sticks, it has a higher Camphor content than English Lavender. Therefore French Lavender is great for keeping away moths.
- A week or two in a warm dry place;
- Bunch/es of lavender, or whatever herb you want to use;
- String, and a dry/warm place to hang the bunches from till they dry;
- Kitchen scissors or clean garden scissors;
- A long dish in which to re-wet the herb stems for binding the sticks;
- A towel;
- A tray on which you can store your work.
- A couple of large jars or a bowl that can hold the estimated volume of your dried herb trimmings;
1. Untie the bundles of herbs and line up the stems so that they all run the same direction and let them dry like this for a day or two until the bottom of the stems are no longer waterlogged. Turn them over if necessary to ensure that all the leaves and stems that were in the centre of the bundle have dried.
2. Put the herbs into manageable bunches, and tie tightly with string near the root-end of the bundle so that you can hang them up-side-down in a warm dry place and leave the bunches to dry for a couple of days.
3. You will get leaves and some flowers of the herb coming off throughout the making of smudge sticks. Until the herbs have dried out, dry these bits off and place them in a jar or bowl where you can collect them for later use in herb bags, pot-pourri or whatever.
4. After a couple of days take the herb bunches down, untie them, mix them around then re-bundle them. In doing so the bunches will have a chance to dry through more evenly. Re-hang the bunches upside-down again for a few more days, or until dry.
5. When fully dry, take the bunches down, untie them and strip them of about half of the leaves and most of the flower heads. Save these in the bowl.
6. In the long dish, set aside three fully stripped (no leaves or flowers) long stems and cover them with water for an hour or two until they have become supple enough to be used to bind the sticks: fully dried ones are too brittle for this.
7. Split the remaining bundles of herbs into smaller bunches of about six stems. Align the bottoms of the stems, then measure up and cut it off after 15cm. Keep the herb stems along the little bundle and cut off the excess. Save the smaller excess pieces for the remnants jar, these can be cut up later. I find that a good sized smudge stick is about 15cm long (approximately a hands length) and 2.5cm in diameter. This is roughly about six stems per smudge stick.
8. Once you have got this little bundle neatly aligned, take three of the supple soaked stems and pat them dry on a tea towel.
9. Hold the bundle tightly in one hand, and with the other hand take the end of the supple stem, wedge it into one end of the bundle until it doesn’t pop out if you twist it around the bundle (nor should it stick out the other side). Twist the supple stem tightly around the bundle, I find that in the initial twist if you twist the stem back upon itself then it will hold the bundle better. When you come to the end of the supple stem stick it into the middle of the bundle: make sure that it is pulled tightly. Repeat this step going the other way with another of the three supple stems, and repeat again with the third going whichever way looks less tightly bound. With the second two you can work the ends of the stem underneath the existing stem/s to secure them.
10. There you have your smudge sticks, it’s best to leave them to dry for a day or two before use, just so that the stems can dry out. You can cut-off any rough ends, but I find that if you line the stems up in the first place that they’re usually neat little bundles and don’t need trimming.
CAUTIONS ABOUT USING SMUDGE STICKS:
- When burning smudge sticks you’re not trying to get a roaring flame going, you just need to light one end of the stick till the embers alight and give off a gentle amount of smoke.
- DO NOT LET CHILDREN USE smudge sticks, or at least don’t let them use smudge sticks unsupervised. It is playing with fire after all, so USE YOUR COMMON SENSE.
- To douse the embers of a burning smudge stick you just need to cut off the oxygen supply to it.
NEVER LEAVE A SMUDGE STICK BURNING AFTER IT EAVES YOUR HAND, ALWAYS EXTINGUISH THE EMBERS.
- If you wet the stick it will not light, this is why so much time is spent drying the herbs in the first place. If the stick gets wet just let it dry out.
- Avoid using smudge sticks around flammable substances ie. Paper, synthetic Materials etc.
- Know where your fire alarms are and don’t light the smudge stick around them.
Please also remember not eat flowers from florists, nurseries, or garden centres. In many cases these flowers have been treated with pesticides not labelled for food crops and it’s more fun to grow your own.
Most of all have fun and enjoy your creations.
© Claire Julian 2012