(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 1, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
If you are lucky enough to live near a lavender farm, spend a day taking in the beauty of this awesome herb. Summer is the time of year to celebrate lavender in all its glory, and what it has to offer is endless. Demonstrations are offered at most of these affairs so that you can learn how to make lavender bottles or baskets as well as cook with lavender. Many farms hold classes year 'round so you can learn in depth how to make soap, bath salts, lotion, salve and even distill lavender oil and blend your own massage oil.
Making soap is a very rewarding experience. I bought a kit from Summers Past Farms and learned the process through trial and error! I could have taken a class but I like to experiment in the comfort of my home instead. Everything you need for your first batch is available at the farm or on their website. There are numerous books and web sites with recipes for making soap and you can experiment to find which recipe suits you best. My favorite blend is lavender and tangerine and I have found that goat milk soap is the most soothing soap that I have tried.
Lavender bottles and other lavender products at Summers Past Farms
I learned about cooking with lavender at The Herb Farm Festival a few years ago. Karen England, author of several cook booklets, provided us with some delicious thumbprint cookies filled with strawberry lavender jam. Lavender is best used in desserts and is often companioned with lemon. You can also add 2 T lavender to your favorite chocolate chip or shortbread cookie recipes! For culinary purposes use the English varieties (lavandula angustifola) and be sure that it was organically grown. I mainly grow Grosso and Provence lavender and they both work well for cooking. The following is a recipe to use lavender in a refreshing drink.
Pink Lavender Lemonade
2 1/2 C water
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C fresh or frozen strawberries
1/4 C finely chopped fresh lavender
2 1/4 C fresh lemon juice
In a medium saucepan, combine water sugar and strawberries. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes to extract the color from the strawberries. Remove pan from heat and stir in lavender. Cover and cool. Strain cooled mixture into a large pitcher, gently pressing the juice from the strawberries. Add an additional 2 1/2 cups of water and the lemon juice. Stir well and add more sugar to taste, if desired. Enjoy!
If you have the chance to attend a lavender festival, I highly recommend it. Take it from Autumn, one of the friendly pets at Summers Past Farms, you probably won't find a more relaxing way to enjoy a day! There are lavender farms from coast to coast; just do an internet search and you will be amazed at how many you will find. I've listed a few below to get you started.