Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Which lavender can I use to cook with ?

 HidcoteMunstead and Rosea which flower late May, June and July

When I put together the flavours for Prepped I know that there would be one in particular that would attract the most attention - Lavender.  I used to write about cooking with lavender for several small magazines and looking at these photo's on this page from five years ago I recollect a famous TV chef literally lifting every recipe in an article I wrote without even changing the slightest detail cooking the all on his show.

I had about 50 phone calls from outraged viewers who knew me. There was nothing I could do (.. but  I remember..  and he'd better watch out .. because when I meet him I am going to give him what for!*)

Throughout the Middle Ages lavender Angustifolia was dried and used in religious communities as medicine. The first ever mention on lavender was by musician and herbalist Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179) where she mentions it as having  "strong odour and many virtues of the plant. "

There are also references to culinary lavender in some arablic articles at the same time, however in Hildegard's writings she refers to lavender flower wine which was considered to be a liver remedy.

Throughout history lavender has been used in culinary terms but also as a medicine. With a constant connection with royal gardens it was de riguer from the 1400's until 1600s were it was used in much the same way as we use rosemary.. to make jellies and eat with meat.  lavender is also a great insecticide and I often pop some in the dog basket to ward off any extra guests.

There are however so many different varieties of lavender that choosing the right one to use in you making or cooking is rather difficult.  Pick the right one and you have a delicious light minty sweet perfumed one.

 Choose the wrong one and its camphorous and revolting. Well I've had so many people contact me in the past 24 hours after putting up my lavender sugar recipe wanting to know which is the right variety that I have spent a happy morning looking into my photography archives and found some photo's that might make it clearer which varieties to use and which NOT to.. so here is your guide to which lavender to use and what to look for

To make a really good lavender sugar you should use Angustifolia.  There are many you can use but the most common you can find are Hidcote, Munstead and Rosea which flower late May, June and July You can see all three of these in my daughter's handful above.  The Rosea is pink , the Munstead lillic and at the back is the dark blue Hidcote.

As you can see here some of the buds are closed and tight. The best flavoured is made from these close buds as This keeps the essential oils in and that gives you a good flavour.

The best time of day to pick is as the oil is at it's most concentrated.  Between midday and 2pm is ideal. 
The right lavender to cook with Angustifolia 

It's best to avoid lavender intermedia completely. These are mostly the larger bushes you see and flower later in the season.. July and August, September but they do make super lavender bags!

There is considerable size difference between the two. Intermedia is much much larger than Angustifolia  ( good to cook with)  

You can see that the stems are much shorter than the intermedia above
The shape of intermedia flowers below is much longer and tends to be fatter at the bottom with a peak at the top - avoid these in cooking
Although beautiful French Lavender or lavender Stoechas below is not great in cooking. It has two flowering a year in mid spring and again in early autumn.  You can use the petals to cook with but it doesn't have a great taste and does not store so my advice it to avoid it!

There is also a really pretty lavender called Canariensis - a species widespread in the canary islands it is no good to cook with I am afraid - Pity really as it's very pretty !


  1. Vanessa, thank you so much for all this useful information. I'm going to search out angustifolia and plant a bush here in Brittany and another in Richmond. In the meantime I will make do with the Waitrose lavender sugar for my baking back home! Jude x

  2. Thank you so much for this post - very informative. Have just received a very large bag of French lavender from Provence so need to start getting creative myself!

  3. Vanessa.... your parcel has arrived. Wow wow WOW.

    I poured over it over breakfast; I don't really cook but it got me wanting to dash out and pick elderflowers and roses and put on a pinny straight away.

    I'm really looking forward to trying out some of the recipes.

    You've made it so clean fresh and simple.

    I confess I sent my mother one through Amazon, intending it for myself later (but this is the first time I've seen it). Mum is a real home stew and garden veggie salads type of cook who doesn't spend much time in the kitchen and definitely doesn't pour over cook books. The first thing she said was: 'Lu sorry you're not getting this cook book back; me and Beryl are well stuck into it, trying out all sorts of things'. What she really likes about it is that it uses what she calls 'real' ingredients that are easy for her to get hold of - she hates all the fancy stuff that she can never get hold of in her local village store.

  4. thank you so much for this post. I have some lavender in front of the house but never cooked with it for fear it's not edible. Phew, sounds like i have a winner lavender. hmm, what shall I bake with it? so many ideas, so little time

  5. Hi Vanessa. I think I have Munster and Hidcote in my garden. I have used them in cooking before with good results (lavender with lamb, shortbread). Next time I'll remember to plant the right type for cooking. Thanks for the info!


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