Lovely Lavender

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Lavender has long been a much-loved blooming herb in the garden and should be planted more for its aromatic and culinary properties states University of Illinois Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup. Lavender has been used for perfumes and essential oils in aromatherapy, cooking and disinfectant, and can even deter some insects.

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean. Most prefer sunny, hot and dry conditions with well-drained soil. The spikes of lavender flowers range from white to pale pink to deep purple and bloom starting in June and into July. The gray foliage is also very fragrant. The warmer the temperatures, the more likely you are to get wafts from the garden, so plant them next to an open window.

The major issue in growing lavender is too much clay in the soil, which can cause roots to remain wet and rot. In addition, Lavender grown in heavy clay soil produces soft growth, which causes winter die back. English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, is the most commonly grown winter hardy lavender in Central Illinois.

Lightly prune out any dieback in April. After the floral display has ended, dead head flowers to encourage a new flush of flowers in August. Lavender benefits from winter mulching to increase the hardiness. However, the mulch should be removed in early spring to prevent over-saturation. Most lavender is bought as plants and can be difficult to grow from seeds.

The flowers are the most concentrated sources of the essential oils, but leaves can be harvested, too. Studies have shown smelling lavender essential oils may help lessen insomnia, anxiety and stress. University of Maryland Medical Center has done a nice job of compiling a list of medical research done on the medicinal properties of lavender.

Lavender can be used in cooking recipes like stews, meat dishes, and lemonade and seeped to make tea. Dried flowers can be made into sachets to deter insects. Jenna Smith, Nutrition and Wellness Educator for University of Illinois Extension, suggests making cookies with dried lavender flowers.

Lavender Cookies

½cup butter, softened

½ cup shortening

1¼ cups sugar

2 eggs

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons lavender flowers, dried

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cream together butter, shortening and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. Beat in almond and vanilla extracts. In a separate bowl, combine flour, lavender, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Grease baking sheet. Drop rounded teaspoons of dough, about 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Yield: about 36 cookies

Nutritional analysis per 1 cookie: 110 calories, 6 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 40 milligrams sodium, 13 grams total carbohydrate, 0 grams dietary fiber, 1 gram protein