When a colleague visited New York City a few years back, a bus driver was thrilled to have Aussies on board in a very wintery January, during the slower post-new year tourist season. Asked how it was in Oz just then, my colleague said ‘Lovely, it’s pretty warm since it’s summer there’ – no word of a lie, with a straight face the bus driver replied ‘Oh, so you mean it’s July in Australia right now??’ 🤣
At this time of the year, we are right in the thick of harvesting herbs, and my great pleasure this week has been to raid the lavender bushes at the house of my sister Kathryn.This means that, over the next week or two, I have the opportunity to fill out my suite of recipes for lavender (which comes in under Ingredients I have known), but for now I thought I would start with a few hints on keeping it ready for future use.
First up, respect the bees – lavender will bring bees from miles around, and so I get on with it very early in the morning or after sundown when the bees are not active.
For best results, cut the lavender when the flowers are mature but before they open, but don’t get fussed about it – English lavender is full of fragrance for cooking, so better to enjoy the experience than to worry about whether you are doing this perfectly.
Second, check what’s growing – in particular, only English lavender is suitable for cooking,* and you should confirm with the grower that no sprays or pesticides etc have been used (good housekeeping tick for Kathryn and her husband Richard – very healthy garden while using none of those things).
Third, gather by using clean, sharp kitchen scissors and cutting a good hands-breadth below the flower heads. This makes drying and storing a snack – just tidy it up into bunches of a handful of stems and tie with kitchen string.
Tie it very tightly as the stems will shrink as the lavender dries. These can be hung up to dry, but I recommend covering with cellophane first to keep those gorgeous buds dust free. Cut a rectangle and roll the bunch in it to make a cone – I’ve done this a few times so have the knack of leaving one loop of the string ready as a hanger, but the point is to cover the flowers from dust, not make a work of art!
Last, that cellophane also acts as a backstop to catch buds that fall. Leave the top of the cone open until for a few days to let the lavender dry, then close up to catch any buds that fall.
When you want some for cooking, open the end and see what you’ve got – a gentle shake will loosen some more. This approach also works well for keeping other small leaf herbs – like oregano – which, when dried, will fall off the stem with a little encouragement.
For my first couple of things that I cooked this season, I actually had enough lavender just from the fallen buds gathered up from the cutting and wrapping stage.
*Once more with feeling – other species of lavender are not suitable for culinary purposes as they are much higher in camphor. To my nose, they are also less pleasant in potpourri as the camphor tends to overwhelm other scents such as rose petals. They do make a lovely garden display of course.