When we built our house I knew I wanted a lavender hedge along the front. There is something about lavender bushes all in a row that feels good. Think how we love those pictures of Provence with fields of lavender stretching in the distance towards ancient abbey buildings. Part of me was after that heart-lifting feeling, the other practical part fixed on lavender’s antibacterial properties as a justification. Because it is a very useful plant in herbal medicine and household remedies.
According to Margaret Roberts, my favourite South African herb guru, lavender helps ward off fleas, flies, fishmoths and cockroaches – there was a reason for our grandmothers using lavender bags tucked into drawers of clothes and linen. I’ve been tucking bunches of fresh lavender behind books on shelves and into drawers for years now, except I’m not patient enough to sew it into bags, so tend to end up with lots of dried lavender flowers sprinkled all over the bottom of drawers months later. But it smells nice, so I don’t mind.
One of my favourite ways to use lavender is as a relaxing tea, when I’m stressed or anxious. It has a lovely calming effect and I quite enjoy the rather perfumey taste. Try it for insomnia too. It’s also a good antispasmodic, so eases headaches, muscle aches and stiffness. Plus lavender has antiseptic properties, so a tea is useful for washing out scrapes and scratches, and for cleansing oily skin. And it’s good as a hair rinse for hair bothered by the oily scalp of adolescence!
To make lavender tea, simply pick quarter of a cup of flowers, pour over a cup of boiling water. Leave to steep for five minutes. Then remove the flowers (or leave them in if you prefer) and sip.
Our lavender hedge, ten years on, is getting very ragged and uneven with bare patches here and there. Youngest found it a perfect place to play with her horses and figures, creating gardens and landscapes in the shady secret gaps. A few months ago, when it was still winter, I announced that it was time to dig out the hedge out and start again with new little bushes. She was horrified, “But that is where I play.”
I let it rest for a week or two before bringing it up again. She then, in a very grown-up way, suggested,
“Can’t you leave it till next year. This is probably the last year I’ll be young enough to want to play in the lavender and if you plant new ones now they won’t be big enough to play in before I’m too old.”
How could I argue with that poignant plea. The lavender hedge remains. The fairy/horse landscapes haven’t been refreshed for a while now, but the space is still there for her last fling with childhood. Sigh.
|Wild forests in the making|
|for these guys to explore and roam free|
|ancient twisted trees and magic groves|
|and they make great places for kittens to stage ambushes from|
Here are two recipes that use lavender flowers for a subtle and elegant flavour, perfect for something different at Christmas, something that’s not spice, chocolate or rich dried fruit, to give your tastebuds a spot of light relief!
Note: There are lots of different varieties of lavender. The best to use for medicinal and cooking purposes are the varieties usually sold as English lavender Lavandula angustifolia or lavandula intermedia.