Loving and using lavender in cooking kept me busy as I wait for my scheduled transplant. During this even more intense quarantine, harvesting and drying lavender and other herbs has been a blessing. This got me outside and moving in our backyard and enjoying fresh air and sweet scents in our garden. Soon I would be cooking with and enjoying these herbs. Naturally, I would need to “harvest” recipes for herbs de Provence and lemon/lavender muffins and a delightful addition, lavender tea. Finally, I blended my herbs and baked and shared goodies with husband Jim and friends who gave them rave reviews. Next adventure– I also enjoyed experimenting with lavender tea. Take a look at my herbal journey.

Harvesting lavender and herbs

Collecting herbs
A small wicker basket containing herbs harvested in the cool of the day.

1. On a sunny, dry morning, at around ten o’ clock, I began harvesting herbs. The plants would be at their daily peak, and the midday heat and sunlight would not blast away their essential oils.

Preparing the lavender and herbs

Next, I must prepare the herbs that would join the lavender in a mixture called herbs de Provence, a French herbal blend.

2. I removed any discolored leaves

3. I stripped and set aside all other leaves from the bottom of each herb’s stem. This prevents mold as the stems are bound together.

Marjoram with leaves stripped from lower stem.
Strip leaves on lower part of herb stems.

Binding and drying the herbs

I bound the stems of marjoram with rubber bands placed on the lower section which is bare of leaves.

4. I laid the more delicate stems of thyme, the thick leaves of sage, and reserved leaves on a paper towel on a pie plate or cookie sheet.

5. Then I bound the stems of each herb variety with rubber bands. These would be hung upside down in individual brown paper bags that would keep the herbs dust free and would also contain any leaves that fell away from the stems.

6. Finally, I dried all the herbs in a cook, dark, airy guest bedroom or hung them in the hallway.

Paper bags protecting drying herbs. The paper bags would keep the herbs dust-free and contain any leaves that detached from the stems.
Paper bags protecting drying herbs.

Lavender and creating herbs de Provence

I found various recipes with widely varying ingredients for this traditional French mixture. Ultimately, I settled on the one that included the herbs I have on hand: rosemary, fennel seeds, tarragon, basil, thyme, marjoram, and lavender. Though I did not have all the herbs contained in this particular recipe, in the spirit of 2020 “Make Do,” I plunged ahead. Here’s the rest of this process.

1. Assemble herbs and strip leaves from their stems. Dispose of the stems.

Dried thyme and basi;
Dried herbs

2. Place the appropriate portion of each herb in a herb grinder or food processor. I also experimented with an old fashioned mortar and pestle. (Note: Given that Jim and I are empty-nesters, I cut the recipe in half. This quantity will do until next year’s harvest.)

Food processor and mortar and pestle crushing and blending herbs
I used a mortar and pestle and a food processor to crush and blend herbs.

3. Grind the rosemary and fennel seed.

4. Blend the remaining ingredients and place in jar. Compared to commercial blends, my homemade mixture is much more pungent. I am excited to include a smaller amount to soups, stews and gravies. In this case, a little dab will do us.

Homemade Herbs de Provence
My blend of herbs de Provence.

Lemon/lavender muffins

Lavender is one of many edible flowers that can be used as garnishes or included in recipes. I eagerly searched for an appealing recipe for lemon/lavender muffins. I settled on the one by AZPARZYCH that included the instruction to blend the lavender buds with sugar and to strain out the large bits of flower. Therefore, the resulting muffins had a delicate, subtle flavor. Finally, since we limit sugar in our diet, we settled on a subtle dusting of sugar, rather than dipping each muffin top in butter and then rolling it in sugar.

Lemon lavender muffins
These lemon lavender muffins were so delicious, but we vintage folks could only split one.

Lavender tea

I found numerous appealing recipes for lavender tea. However, I also noticed a caution for people who have pollen allergies. I have mild allergies, and while I enjoyed the subtle refreshing flavor, I thought I noticed a slight throat scratchiness. I erred on the side of caution. With the looming transplant, I am inclined to be more careful. I like it well enough to try a sip later on. I do advise experimenting with a smaller quantity and adjusting to your personal taste.

Lavender tea
Refreshing and subtle–perhaps not for people with pollen allergies.

Lavender history and lore

Lavender was an extremely valuable plant in ancient Greece and Rome. People willing to grow and reap it were able to command a high price, because it was believed that highly poisonous asps would make their nests under this shrub!

In the Middle Ages, lavender was a luxury item, stuffed in satin cushions for royalty.

Lavender’s clean scent and antiseptic properties made it ideal for cleaning musty sick rooms and scenting laundry rinse water.

The herb was used to dress battlefield wounds until World War I.

The pale purple flower was an ingredient in smelling salts.

In the Elizabethan era, a cap woven of lavender stalks was prescribed as a headache remedy

From The Complete Herb Book, by Maggie Stuckey.

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