August 5, 2013

The Many Uses of Lavender. ~ Brad Hines

After a lifetime of not thinking twice about the stuff, this summer I got really into lavender when I discovered, serendipitously, what a beautiful, aromatic, multifaceted flower it is.

It grows on my daily walking route, and I began to pick it for kicks since it smelled nice. I soon found out just how much it can be used for, including its calming aromatherapy aspect. The essence of lavender has much linking (inconclusive but good enough for me!) it to stress reduction, aiding sleep, and all around easing of anxiety and even depression.

This beautiful flower in the mint family—which has been actually been used for all sorts of uses for thousands of years—has almost as many uses as there are species of it to its name. But I will go over the most popular uses, some of which I have adopted and use regularly.

Dry it and fill sachets with it for yourself or to give as gifts:

This is the first craft I ever did with lavender, and I swear by it. These little pouches (photo shown below of one I made) are excellent to put in your drawers, on a windowsill to catch a breeze, under your pillow, and to give as gifts.

Lavender is a sleep-aid.

Notwithstanding the placebo effect, since I started keeping a sachet of lavender by my pillow, I have indeed had more restful sleep. Even if its connection with relaxation is still just fringe science at this point (likely to be true but not proven just yet), so what? At least it smells nice!

Lastly, the lavender sachets, if closed tightly, can even be tossed into your laundry in the drying cycle, and it’s amazing how fresh it makes it. Dare I be poetic and say it’s like a summer breeze in the south of France? Okay, let’s just leave it at I’ve done it, and it smelled really, really good.

Just search for “muslin bags” at any craft website, and fill them to the top with loose, dried lavender buds. A bit of lavender-colored ribbon is of course a nice touch. I sometimes personalize them with printing names on them. Others have suggested to me one could get a rubber stamp to imprint an image of their choice on the bag if they wanted to sell multiple ones, say on Etsy.

Repel moths and mice with it:

Those same sachets can be strategically put in places as an organic way to deter moths and mice. It is well documented that insects other than bees and mice hate lavender. And for you, it’s a heck of a lot prettier smelling than chemical-laden moth balls (unless naphthalene or P-dichlorobenzene is your thing!).

Cook with it:

You may have already cooked with lavender and not even known it. If you’ve used Herbs de Provence, American versions of it often have lavender in them (Ironically, the French were never big on using it for cooking, and it’s an American culinary take on the herb), but you can also cook with lavender in its own right.

First know, that while all lavender is edible, there are designated culinary ones better suited for culinary uses. British varieties are best suited for this. Also, be careful about eating lavender that has come from nurseries that may have been treated with the type of pesticides that aren’t meant for consumption.

Lavender has a sweet taste that lends itself well to savory foods, and particularly chocolate as well. A lot of people, for example, make chocolate lavender cupcakes. Lavender lemonade is a popular drink you can find many recipes for. One cool thing I came across is to sprinkle a few of the flowers in the bottom of a champagne glass.

Make tea with it:

Recently I made drinking lavender tea a part of my night time ritual. It’s both caffeine free, and, of course, beneficial for the relaxation properties. Like many herbal “teas,” lavender is not actually classified as a tea, but this doesn’t mean you can’t brew it into a tasty drink.

Given lavender’s potency, it’s best just to add a quarter teaspoon or so of the dried buds to hot water in a tea ball or a pouch. Lavender nicely compliments black or green tea nicely too, and can be mixed in. Buds can be dried out on your own, or purchased directly online. If buds aren’t available, you can also use lavender oil—although I haven’t tried this method.

A word of caution, I’m not a nutritionist, and I recommend you test out lavender tea in small doses as some people are allergic to it.

Make lavender essential oil:

Buying lavender essential oil is usually expensive, think $10 an ounce at a minimum. So it’s cheaper—and fun—to make it yourself. “Essential oil” simply means that through some type of distillation process, you separate out the scent producing oil from the flowers in its purest and most concentrated form. How to make the essential oil is beyond the scope of this article, as I have never done it, but know that there are many great tutorials online on YouTube, for example. It does involve a bit of investment in equipment.

So with lavender essential oil, however you acquire it, you can use it for everything from making soaps, aromatherapy, to tea or cooking, bath oils and more.

Make a calming soap body or facial soap with it.

I already use lavender soap I buy, but in the near future I will make it myself it for sure. Soap making is a hobby that seems like a blast, with a not-too-difficult learning curve. I plan to try it, and when I do, lavender soap is one of the first I will make. How do you do that? You use that essential lavender oil I spoke of. This too makes an awesome gift, as a “loaf” of soap can be dumped out of the pan and sliced up into neat little square bars.

Color dyes and other essential oils can be blended in, but you can never go wrong with the calm beautiful scent that is lavender.

Lastly, making your own soap ensures that nothing harsh goes in. For instance, say you don’t want colorants, or you want to make it 100 percent vegetable oil based soaps, which are safe for newborns.

So, those are some of things you can do, and know that there are countless more—like homemade lavender facial scrub, bath salt, hand lotion. Learning to grow it, dry it, and make it an essential oil is a great start.

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Ed: B. Bemel

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