In my ongoing effort to complicate, er, enrich my life by figuring out how to make things that other people simply buy at the store, I’m currently on the lookout for something to do with the lavender from the enormously productive plants in our backyard.
On a side note, this summer’s main project is ripping out grass and restoring something resembling human habitation to our backyard, which has been sadly neglected during two years of highly necessary but deeply unsexy projects, such as installing a new sewer line. In the future, I hope to include native plants, herbs, and bee- and bird-attracting plants. But the lavender plants and hardy raspberries that have yet to succumb to the marauding morning glory have been a few bright spots in what’s still mostly a weedy mess.
In years past, we’ve picked the lavender, hung it to dry in bunches from the curtain rod in the dining room, and then stemmed it for use in things like lavender salt and a simple syrup for making homemade sodas.* My recent experiment with harvesting Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) got me thinking about other ways to preserve and use plants.
And oh, holy cow. What a big world that is.
Two of the most popular–beyond simply drying the herbs and using them in teas–are salves and tinctures. I’ve purchased and used salves made from Devil’s Club and lavender, but the following recipes seem worth checking out for making at home.
Tinctures use alcohol to extract compounds from the plant, something I’ve experimented with using a vanilla-making kit my mom gave me a few years back.
Here are a few descriptions of the basic process:
Words to the Wise: As with anything, research what you’re using and its possible effects. “Natural” doesn’t always mean “safe” for everyone, in all preparations and contexts.
If you forage, know what you’re picking and do it in a way that ensures future harvests.
And finally, here are tips for growing lavender.
Lavender Orange Seasoning Salt
We use this almost exclusively on grilled salmon, because we’re boring like that.
3 T dried lavender
1/3 to 1/2 cup sea salt
One orange rind, zested
Mix all ingredients together, then store in a sealed jar, preferably out of the light. To use, sprinkle over fish before cooking.
Lavender Simple Syrup
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup dried lavender
Bring water to a boil, then add sugar and dried lavender. Boil about 7 minutes, then let steep. I know that simple syrup is traditionally a 1-to-1 ratio, but I can’t stand things that are overly sweet, so I make it much less concentrated. Store in the refrigerator.
I use this in making “cocktails,” which is what we call these concoctions whether they have alcohol or not. One of my favorites is to mix grapefruit juice, club soda, and lavender simple syrup. The lavender syrup is also wonderful on its own with club soda and a slice of lemon.