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Love That Lavender

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Who doesn't adore lavender, that lovely eradicator of the blues, anger and insomnia? It is generally accepted that the word "lavender" stems from the Latin lavare, "to wash," because the Romans used the herb extensively in their baths..

Who doesn't adore lavender, that lovely eradicator of the blues, anger and insomnia?

It is generally accepted that the word "lavender" stems from the Latin lavare, "to wash," because the Romans used the herb extensively in their baths. But in early Latin, lavender was known as livendula, meaning "to turn blue," from the same root as our word "livid."

Lavender has long been used in love potions. Still today, the primary market for lavender essential oil is in perfumes and cosmetics. It is also used to scent love notes and clothing. Tucked in your chest of drawers, it makes an effective moth repellent. Ironically, despite its romantic associations, during the Renaissance it was believed that lavender worn with rosemary would preserve a woman's chastity.

There are about 30 species of lavender, plus countless hybrids and varieties far too numerous to list. But they include both tender and hardy perennials with a great diversity of shapes, heights and colours (including pinks and whites). When identifying various species and subspecies of lavender, it is best to refer to the Latin botanical name because the common names vary from country to country and even from one area to another within countries.

Lavender is a perennial that is native to the Mediterranean. Like most herbs, it prefers a sunny location in light, dry, rocky soil. It should be pruned lightly in the fall and fairly vigorously in the spring to remove any deadwood.

Lavender is a wonderful relaxant and antidepressant. In The Eve of Saint Agnes, John Keats wrote, "And still she slept an azure sleep,/In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender'd." Lavender essential oil gently rubbed into the temples or simmered in water in an aromatherapy lamp will ease you off to sleep and make your headache vanish, especially if it's stress-related. A lavender eye pillow at the end of a stressful day is far more effectual and healthful than a double martini. Lavender is virtually de rigueur in potpourri.

Lavender essential oil is antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial with a low level of toxicity, making it one of the few essential oils that can be applied undiluted directly to the skin. Added to the bath, it will alleviate muscular pain and tension. During the First World War, the oil was used as an antiseptic wound dresser. As with all essential oils, do not take lavender oil internally unless it is strongly diluted. The dried flowers infused as a tea will relieve indigestion, colic, gas and bloating. It is even helpful is some cases of asthma, especially when nervousness is a factor. Recent research shows promise that one of lavender's compounds, perillyl alcohol, may be useful in combating cancer of the breast, pancreas, colon and prostate.

In the kitchen, lavender blooms are used to flavour vinegars and soups, especially cold fruit soups in the summer (see recipe), as well as cookies, ice cream and sorbets. This markedly fragrant herb is used in many ways by creative chefs. However, do not use commercially dried lavender for cooking unless it is explicitly marked as food-grade quality. Some dried lavender is treated with toxic additives applied to retain the fragrance.

Lavender and Rose Geranium Potpourri

This potpourri will add relaxation and romance to any ambience:

4 cups (1 l) dried lavender flowers
2 cups (500 ml) dried
rose geranium leaves
2 cups (500 ml) dried rosemary
2 Tbsp (30 ml) orris root (fixative)
15 20 drops lavender essential oil

Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and place in a sealed jar. Age at least one month. Shake the jar frequently.

Lavender and Blueberry Soup

This recipe makes about four litres of fragrant soup.

16 cups (4 l) fresh or frozen organic blueberries
1 cup (250 ml) full-bodied red wine
3 cups (750 ml) spring or filtered water
1/2 1 cup (125 250 ml) raw honey (or to taste)
2 3 Tbsp (30 45 ml) food-grade dried
lavender blossoms
Juice and rind of three medium, organic lemons
2 cinnamon sticks (broken)
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp (2 ml) ground cloves
1 tsp (5 ml) sea salt

Bring all the ingredients to a slow boil in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan such as glass or stainless steel. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring thoroughly. Strain and cool completely before serving with a spoonful of cr? fraiche and a sprinkling of fresh blueberries and lavender florets on each bowl. This makes an excellent soup for a summer lunch, but it can also be served hot if preferred.

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