Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Design/Food/Gardening: Lavender-A-Go-Go


Sometimes, (okay, maybe 'very often') inspiration appears in the strangest ways.
We live in the city, in one of the best 'little Italy' neighborhoods in the states, but still, the city. For the past several nights, I have smelled lavender from our front stoop. Our neighbors are not by any broad stretch of the word, 'gardeners', and, though I try to cultivate a green thumb, I have yet to plant any lavender at this house. The emanation of that smell is a mystery, but not one I mind. I have gone out there several times just to inhale that wonderful scent.
I love, love, LOVE lavender.
It reminds me of spending summers in Europe with my grandparents, and it reminds me of wandering in my mother's garden as a child, but there is also something so sweetly calming and indescribable about it that I get kind of misty eyed and dreamy after I huff a bunch of it. I'm not a big time girly girl, but this is a flower that I am gah-gah over.

For some great information on (successfully) growing this divine plant, visit these links:
Mountain Valley Growers
About.com

I love lavender so much that I fantasize about little hedges of it along stone walls on the land where we build our dream home. Then, being pretty much independently wealthy at this point of the fantasy, we are free to keep an apiary, sell small batches of artisan lavender honey, and
hopefully do our part to keep the honeybees from disappearing.
Here's some medical proof that lavender is fantastic:

From University or Maryland Medical Center
Medicinal Uses and Indications:
Human clinical studies have reported that lavender essential oil may be beneficial in a variety of conditions, including insomnia, alopecia (hair loss), anxiety, stress, postoperative pain, and as an antibacterial and antiviral agent. Lavender oil is also used together with other forms of integrative medicine, such as massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic manipulation.

In folklore, pillows were filled with lavender flowers to help the restless fall sleep. There is now scientific evidence to suggest that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improves sleep quality, promote relaxation, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders. Studies also suggest that massage with essential oils, particularly lavender, may result in improved sleep quality, more stable mood, increased mental capacity, and reduced anxiety. In one recent study, participants who received massage with lavender felt less anxious and more positive than participants who received massage alone. Lavender flowers have also been approved in Germany as a tea for insomnia, restlessness, and nervous stomach irritations.

In one study of 86 people with alopecia areata (a disease of unknown cause characterized by significant hair loss, generally in patches), those who massaged their scalps with lavender and other essential oils daily for 7 months experienced significant hair re-growth compared to those who massaged their scalps without the essential oils. It is not entirely clear from this study whether lavender (or a combination of lavender and other essential oils) was responsible for the beneficial effects.
Other uses
Aromatherapists also use lavender as a tonic in inhalation therapy to treat headaches, nervous disorders, and exhaustion. Herbalists treat skin ailments, such as fungal infections (like candidiasis), wounds, eczema, and acne, with lavender oil. It is also used externally in a healing bath for circulatory disorders and as a rub for rheumatic ailments (conditions affecting the muscles and joints). One study evaluating essential oils, including lavender, for treating children with eczema concluded that the oils added no benefit to therapeutic touch from the mother; in other words massage with and without essential oils was equally effective in improving the dry, scaly skin lesion. A recent study found that the use of lavender oil may improve postoperative pain control. Fifty patients undergoing breast biopsy surgery received either oxygen supplemented with lavender oil or oxygen alone. Patients in the lavender group reported a higher satisfaction rate with pain control than patients in the control group.




And How 'Bout Some Delicious Recipes?
When I was fifteen and visiting my grandparents in Holland, my grandmother and I sampled a delicious goat cheese and lavender spread (on fresh rusks, of course!) at the market in Amsterdam. Since then, I have been secretly intrigued with the eating of lavender -- something that Americans don't do much of. Here are a few approachable recipes (keep reading, there's alcohol!) to get you started.

Lavender Sorbet
3 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
9-10 stem heads of fresh lavender flowers
(or 2 tablespoons of dried lavender)
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon If using fresh lavender:
With thumb and forefinger, pull the flowers from the stems (discarding stems). If using dried lavender you won't need this step. Combine lavender flowers and sugar in a food processor and pulverize completely, about 1 minute. Bring the water to a boil, remove pan from heat and add the sugar/lavender mixture, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cover with a lid and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Strain out flowers through a sieve, pressing flowers to get out any remaining liquid. Add the lemon juice and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, then freeze in sorbet or ice cream mixer.
(From Fabulous Herb & Flower Sorbets Jim Long, 2002)




LAVENDER COOKIES
From GardenGuides.com
These cookies are probably better classified as shortbread.

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers
1 cup self-rising flour

Cream butter and sugar; add egg. Mix in lavender and flour. Place small heaps on greased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes or till golden brown in color.


Lavender Gin Sour
1 1/2 oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Lavender syrup
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
To make lavender syrup:
3 1/2 cups of granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of corn syrup dissolved in 2 cups of water
add a tablespoon of lemon juice
Add about 2 cups of lavender flowers
Bring to a boil, turn off heat and let it sit for about an hour.
Strain through a very fine sieve or cheesecloth and discard flowers.
I've also seen this drink made with muddled cucumber in addition to the lavender. I want
one. Now.



Grilled Lamb With Lavender Orange Marinade

From Cafe Nilson


Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs lamb breast (or lamb chops)

For marinade/rub:

  • 2 tsp dried lavender buds
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small shallots
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Ground or mash garlic, lavender and shallots (using a mortar and pestle works well) .
  2. In a bowl, mix mashed spices and orange juice. Stir.
  3. Season lamb riblets with salt and pepper. Use half of the marinade and rub all over the ribs. Let sit for at least one hour.
  4. Grill or broil in your broiler, five minutes on each side on high to sear and then about 2o minutes to cook medium.
  5. Pour Orange-Lavender Vinaigrette and serve with lavender risotto.
He serves this with a lavender risotto, which made my little faux-Italian heart go pitter-pat.
You can grab the risotto recipe here.



Some beautiful lavender and purple things:
from directtoys.com.nz:



cake stand and hippo from sprig.com:


I'm actually not a huge fan of purple (probably because my first 'big girl' room was painted a warm lavender -- I hated the color for years after that!), but it's growing on me. I think it would be nice to use as a pseudo neutral like sage green, or as an accent color in a grey/silver room. Could you live with a lavender room?







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