A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lavender, not just a nice shade of purple!

Lavender is a lovely scented herb, floral, and clean smelling.  The ancient Greeks and Romans highly favored it for a variety of uses.  Its name comes from the Latin word lavare, which means "to wash."  Uses include: dried flowers for arrangements, tea, baking, jellies, moth repellent, relief of stress and anxiety, and even relief of joint pain, to name a few. :-)

Last year, my mother's lavender plants came into full bloom and amazed us with their fragrance and beauty.  We decided this, too, should not go to waste and thus cut a large amount for drying and use later.  We made the decision a bit late in the bloom cycle and consequently did not get the best quality we could have.  However, in light of the reading I have done on the subject, this year we did not make the same mistake.  I have been mindful of when they are coming into their peak and we are making sure to cut all we want and more to catch it at the perfect time for flavor and fragrance.

We cut a garden hod full to work with.  Setting ourselves up on the porch,we sat and sorted the resulting stems by size.  We then gathered bundles of similarly sized stems and wrapped them carefully with rubber bands to hang them upside down for drying. It is important to use rubber bands since the stems will shrink as they dry and the bands will allow for that.  If tied with raffia or string, the stems will fall out as they lose moisture.  I have found the easiest way to hang them is using large paper clips.  I bend the smaller, inside loop of the paper clip out just a bit to slip through the rubber band on the bundle.  Then, I bend the large loop open to accommodate the bottom of a wooden hanger.  This allows me to hang my herbs (lavender, or whatever I need to dry), essentially anywhere it is convenient.  It is my understanding that many herbs do best if dried in a dark place to preserve their coloring, whereas they can bleach and lose color if dried where exposed to light.

I read a great deal about harvesting lavender last year, some before we cut, more after.  I learned where you cut the stem is important.  If you cut too far down the stem, you can kill that branch of the plant.  SO, it is important to cut the lavender just above the woody part.  I lifted each branch, wrapped my hand around the woody stem and used the pruners just an inch or two into the new growth.  Contrary to how it feels, the pruning, when done properly, will actually encourage new growth next year.

Once I had all this lavender cut and drying, I asked myself, "What am I going to do to preserve this?" as I often do.

Well, first, the bundles are just beautiful when tied with some fresh herbs and used in place of a bow on a gift.  I gave a water bath canner full of canning supplies and water bath canned products (peaches, salsa, orange pear butter, jam, pickles, etc.)  as a wedding gift.  I tied a bundle of lavender to some fresh cut rosemary and lemon verbena with some twine and slipped it through the handle of the canner for a lovely and useful "bow."  Those folks who receive baskets from me at Christmas can likely expect some lavender bundles to be used in the "wrapping."

Second, I will be stripping some blossoms to add to green tea this winter (or this week) to aid in calming and anxiety relief. (Not to mention they just taste lovely.)  I should mention that, as with any herb, caution should be taken not to ingest high quantities in a given period of time to avoid adverse reactions.

Third, I hope to have enough blossoms to make some sachets for freshening dresser drawers full of clothes and closets.  The light clean smell is one that does not over power but both freshens and deters moths that like to invade seldom opened clothing storage spaces.

Finally, I came upon something tasty at the farmers market that I simply must attempt to create at home: Lavender honey.  I don't mean honey made by bees who exclusively visit lavender, as in clover honey or black berry honey.  The honey I refer to is similar to the ultra pricey honey that often comes from Provence, France.  I had the opportunity to sample some at one of our local farm markets.  This particular market is located in the parking lot of a fantastic restaurant that serves food that is locally grown, often from the market vendors themselves.  In fact, the head chef owns a farm and much of what he prepares is seasonal and fresh from his personal farm.  Each week, one of the cooks takes ingredients from the market and creates a unique dish or two for patrons to sample.  This particular week, they had zucchini cakes (which I will likely discuss at a later date) and lavender honey over local cheese with some delicious crusty bread.  The local cheese was gone by the time we arrived, later in the market day, but the honey was outstanding.  It inspired me to come right home, check my local honey supply and learn to make it myself.  The chef made it with fresh blossoms because it was going to be eaten the same day.  However, if you have intent of storing it at all, it is best to infuse the honey and remove the blossoms.

I can't wait to put all the lavender to use and I will be sure to share what and how I did so!

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