Lavender is probably the most springtime-y ingredient you can find.
Its delicate purple buds are an important ingredient in everything from gin production, French Provencal cooking, and high-end perfume. The lavender flower has always been held in high regard – it even has a color named in its honor. Here’s some science, lore, and practical techniques that will help you harness the flavor of lavender in your own recipes.
The history of human’s relationship with lavender goes way back – lavender oil is used to anoint baby Jesus’s feet in the bible. You can find this herb growing wild across Africa, Southern Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean. It’s associated with tranquility, peace, and calmness. The scent is widely believed to reduce anxiety and help with sleep.
Stressed out? Try drinking a blend of lavender and chamomile tea before bed, or spritz your pillow with lavender oil.
What does lavender taste like?
Lavender has a delicious and interesting flavor. It’s a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, which means its cousins include rosemary, basil, oregano, savory, thyme, and marjoram – just to name a few. The part that we use in the kitchen and behind the bar is usually dried purple flower buds from the lavender plant.
The aroma of lavender can be described as piney, delicately floral, fresh, clean, and cool. The taste, depending on its concentration, can go anywhere from subtle, herbal tea to astringent, soapy potpourri. The combination of floral and herbal notes in this plant makes it unique, but too much can ruin an otherwise good thing. Use lavender with caution.
Use lavender leaves the same way you would use fresh rosemary – they make a great addition to an Old Fashioned, Penicillin, or Gin Martini.
It’s also important to note that there are over 40 different species of lavender. Because there are so many types out there, make sure you’re using food-grade, culinary lavender in your recipes. Lavender from other sources could have an overly perfumy flavor, or be treated with toxic chemicals. Always be very careful about where you get your edible flowers!
The most widely cultivated species of culinary lavender is Lavandula angustifolia, AKA English Lavender. This is the one you want to use in your cocktails. It’s also sometimes referred to as Official Lavender. The buds should be light purple.
How to grow lavender
To grow lavender, simply provide it with plenty of bright sunlight and only water it once it has completely dried out. These plants are native to arid regions and prefer dry, sandy soil and warm temperatures. Lavender will thrive indoors in a warm, sunny window, and in some growing zones, it can live outdoors as a perennial. Check with your local nursery for specific care advice in your climate.
How to use lavender in drinks
Use a teaspoon of dried lavender to infuse 1 cup of vodka, gin, or tequila overnight to add cool floral notes to the booze. Try lavender-infused vodka in a Moscow Mule. Lavender-infused gin is amazing in a Tom Collins, and the lavender-infused tequila adds springtime notes to Palomas and Margs.
Make lavender tea by steeping a teaspoon of dried lavender in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Strain out the buds, and add ½ cup of honey. Mix this lavender tea with whiskey for back-yard-garden-work vibes.
- 2 oz. whiskey
- 1 1/2 oz. lavender tea with honey
- 3/4 oz. lemon juice
- 1/2 oz. elderflower liquor
Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake. Strain over new rocks in a rocks glass. Garnish with a few dried lavender buds, chamomile flowers, and honeycomb if you have it!
Make a lavender syrup by steeping a strong lavender tea – 2 teaspoons per cup hot water – for ten minutes. Strain out the buds and add one cup of sugar. Use this non-alcoholic syrup to make mocktails and desserts. Use it to top prosecco, ginger ale, lemonade, or anything else that needs a little added value.
- 1 oz. gin
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- 1/2 oz. simple syrup
- 2 dashes lavender bitters
- 3 oz. Prosecco
Preparation: Combine the gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters in a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a champagne flute and top with prosecco. Garnish with lavender flowers and a lemon twist.
If you can’t decide what to do with your lavender, mixing lavender tea or syrup with gin and citrus is a great way to get a cocktail started. Lavender pairs excellently with honey, vanilla, citrus, cream, berries, and other herbs like mint and rosemary.
Lavender is one of those herbs your should have in your pantry at all times – it’ll liven up your cooking and maybe even calm your mind. It’s easy to grow, beautiful to look at, and lovely to taste. Are you stocked up?