7 Tips for Packaging Herb Liqueurs

7 Tips for Packaging Herb Liqueurs

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170829_181123It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas … in my kitchen. As I harvest the goods, I’ve been making Christmas gifts for family and friends. Some of my favorites are liqueurs. They’re deceptively simple and make elegant presentations.

Crème di violette and lemon herb liqueurs are two of my favorite. This year, I am trying something new – a crème di lavender liqueur. I’m making an infusion using ½ cup lavender and 12 ounce of vodka. After three days, I’ll strain and spike with simple syrup until the sweetness is balanced. I’m still debating the addition of food coloring for presentation.

To make simple syrup, bring one cup water and one cup sugar to a boil and dissolve sugar. Then, turn off the burner. Cool before use. Keeps in refrigerator for a few weeks.

Packaging the final product is as important as producing it. Do I want vintage decanters to present larger quantities to close friends? Cruets with cork stoppers for liqueurs in smaller quantities? Or maybe Mason jars with chalk labels? Perhaps I should buy brand new bottles from Amazon?

20170831_070024The problem with my creativity is my ideas run rampant and I struggle to choose. I want packaging in harmony with product. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years … some of it practical, some artistic.

  1. Select glass bottles to avoid off tastes from plastic.
  2. Source smaller bottles – 5 to 8 ounces – to stretch product and tease friends with a sample or two.
  3. Choose colored bottles if the product is an odd color and you’re not using food coloring. For example, I packaged my crème di menthe in green.
  4. Seal with screw tops or swing tops (not corks) to prevent spillage. Or be careful with cork.
  5. Finish with a heat-shrink plastic capsule for elegant presentation. These come in many colors, but I choose black.
  6. Use white markers, not chalk, on chalkboard labels, so they won’t smear.
  7. Write product name and date on label at the very least.

While I’m ordering my first batch of “Woozy” bottles from Amazon and picking up chalkboard labels/hangtags at Joann.com, I will be watching the “dot” section at the entrance to my local Target. Throughout the year they’ve sold a number of bottles and labels that made lovely presentations.  And, if my budget feels more generous, I may check out the Bormioli Rocco Swing Bottles at Sur La Table.


Discover the Best Lavender for Cooking

Discover the Best Lavender for Cooking

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

In early July I was invited to a potluck picnic for Edible Cleveland magazine. Potlucks push my overachiever button and I wanted to impress my fellow writers. So, I challenged myself to making something apropos of the magazine — local, seasonal and organic. As the blogmaster for The Herb Society of America I thought it would be fun to reflect my passion for herbs.

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Lavender scones seemed like a great idea, but they just weren’t impressive enough. So, I picked up The Art of Cooking with Lavender by Nancy Baggett. There I found a recipe for lavender chicken salad.


(The boyfriend said he’d chose Wendy’s over lavender-spiked food, but he ate the chicken salad without notice.)

My next step was to gather significant ingredients … free-range, organic chicken from New Creation Farm in Chardon, Ohio, and lavender from Luvin’ Lavender in Madison, Ohio. That’s where I learned that not all lavender is created equal when it comes to the kitchen.

20170630_150338 (2)Luvin’ Lavender grows 19 varieties, with a seven best suited to culinary use. That’s because each variety has subtle (or even bold) taste differences. Some are sweeter or more floral; others have a stronger camphor component.

Having learned from the owner Laurie H, I turned to my friend Edgar Anderson of Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, Shop & Le Petit Bistro on Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin, with more questions on lavender in the kitchen. Anderson and his wife Martine operate a 21-acre farm with 14,000 plants – 10 varieties — on five acres of land. In addition to their Washington Island retail shop, they operate another retail shop in Fish Creek, WI and a bistro with a lavender-based menu.

“For cooking, it’s best to stay within the English varieties – Lavendula angustifolia,” he says.  The most commonly found L. angustifolias as retail are ‘Hidcote’, ‘Munstead’ and ‘Royal Velvet’.

“Within the English there are minute nuances. They’re usually very sweet in taste and smell. One might be more lemony or flowery, but all are easy to work with in the kitchen,” says Edgar. Fragrant Isle uses royal velvet in most of their edible products.

English lavender is usually harvested from June through July. Fragrant Isle harvests twice, once for buds and once for distilling into oil. Harvesting for dry buds – unopened flowers – is done by hand. Flower stems are cut and made into small bundles tied with rubberbands.

mediakit07The bundles hang in a barn for six weeks until they’re dry enough to separate purple flower buds from gray-green stems. While the farm mechanizes separation, home growers can gently shake or brush the crop into a bag or onto a cloth.

Leaves, stems and debris should not be part of the process . “You don’t want them because they will give a grassy scent to your cooking. We have vibrating sifting screens to remove debris. They go through three different screenings.” At home colanders and mesh sifters might be useful.

DSC_1908The culinary lavender oil is distilled from fresh lavender bundles.   The fresh lavender bundles are placed in their copper still, usually 40 pounds of fresh lavender bundles, and once the water reaches 212 degrees F, the lavender is “cooked” for 90 minutes.   Then the lavender flowers release their essential oil and hydrosol, which are captured in a glass container.   The essential oil, being lighter than water floats to the top.   Once the hydrosol is drained, the essential oil remains and is placed in a glass bottle.   Culinary essential oil is used for baking, as it is more potent than culinary lavender buds.

Once processed Fragrant Isle either uses the lavender in the bistro or packages it for sale. Home growers should put it in a sealed container – preferably glass — and store away from humidity.

AK1D2050-2Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop, is hosting its 3rd Annual “All Things Lavender” Festival Friday, July 21 – Sunday, July 23, 2017.  Festival highlights include daily seminars presented by Lavender Industry Experts, Experiences to explore one’s inner artist with painting classes, pampering with massages, Destiny Readings, Lavender U-Pick Field, Entertainment by Musical performers & Washington Island Scandinavian Folk Dancers and Food be it a taste of “lavender,” from sweet to savory, exquisite chocolates, Apple Lavender Cider, or Light Belgian style beer with bright lavender and honey tones.

Lavender Inspires Second Career for Wisconsin Retirees

mediakit02By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

When Martine and Edgar Anderson retired five years ago, they moved to remote Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin and started their second careers as lavender farmers.  On the north edge of the “lavender belt,” Washington Island is in growing zone 5B.

Martine was following a childhood inspiration; she grew up in the South of France where lavender farms were a part of life. The versatile, aromatic herb romanced her and never left.

The couple started strategically. Martine had been growing a few lavender plants that were doing very well in the growing zone. “Before we got to the scale of the business, we planted several varieties and realized that they could survive,” says Edgar. “But, before we started the farm, we did a lot of research with the University of Washington, talked to growers, talked to researchers and compared notes on soil samples, climate data.”

mediakit06“The soils here are sandy,” he notes. “Good drainage is a must-have for lavender because they don’t want wet feet. Lavender is prone to fungal disease.”

The growing parameters on the Wisconsin island measured up. So Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, Shop and Bistro is a 21-acre farm with 14,000 plants – 10 varieties — growing on five acres of land. Plans call to more than double cultivation in the next five years.

“We’ve been here four years and the plants are growing very well,” Edgar notes.

mediakit07With supply, they needed demand. And, that hasn’t been a problem either.  “The lavender industry in North America is small, compared to Europe and New Zealand. It took a big jump in the United States starting in the 1990s,” he says.  And, he sees a need for U.S. growers to meet mounting demand.

The top lavender producing country is Bulgaria with 150 tons in 2015, according to Ukraine Today and other sources. That’s followed by France, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, Australia and the Mediterranean region.

Martine laments that U.S. lavender oil and lavender-scented products often come from China, where quality control is lax and purity may be questionable. “That’s not what you want to buy. We use pure oils, undiluted oils,” she says.

Though all lavenders are edible, Fragrant Isle grows different varieties for aromatic and culinary uses. Martine notes the strong aromatics (some camphor-like scents) are off putting for culinary uses.

Both variety and harvest differ for the two. “For aromatic uses like oil, you want to let them grow longer, so the buds swell and the compounds mature enough so you can extract quality oils,” she says “The weather plays a big role in when to harvest. If it gets hot early in summer, it happens sooner.”

“If you’re harvesting lavender buds, you have to watch when the flowers are only 30 percent open.”

mediakit08-2In addition to the farm, Fragrant Isle has a café that serves lunch and has dinner hours on weekends. The 2,000-square-foot shop sells more than 150 products including body lotions, soap, body wash, linen spray, insect repellent, after shave and more. All use lavender from the farm.

“We are constantly looking for commercial ways to use lavender,” says Martine.

Diners at Le Petit Bistro experience culinary use they may want to repeat at home. “We use it in teas, in baking. We use it on fish, tenderloin, beef. We do sugar infused with lavender. We make jam,” says Martine. A recent menu item was Lemon Glazed Cake with Lavender Rhubarb Puree and Whipped Cream.

While Martine and Edgar are quick to share their knowledge, they’re making it more fun with a Lavender Festival on July 22, 23 and 24, 2016. Timed for the flowering season, they’ll offer lessons in lavender chocolate-making and lavender wand-making. Music is scheduled throughout the festival and visitors double their stress relief with massages in the field. More than 5,000 guests are expected to visit the three-day event. For details on getting to the island and more, check out their website.

Jewelry of Interest: Lavender Beads

Jewelry of Interest: Lavender Beads

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

il_340x270.39884561Jewelry artist Andrea Kiernan of Friday Harbor, Washington, uses hot glass to create lavender flower beads that look like the herb is frozen in time.

“The miniature-sculpted flower heads are, for me, a way of preserving the fleeting excitement of the fields in full bloom so that they can be enjoyed as adornments year round,” says Andrea.  “Each bead is modeled after a specific variety of lavender and is slowly kiln annealed for durability.”

Her pendant series includes vials designed to be filled with lavender essential oil.  “In my studio, I work to recreate the visual beauty of the lavender fields.  The wearer of these pendant vials can now experience another sensual dimension – somewhat like an ongoing aromatherapy treatment.  It’s the next best thing to a summer walk in the fields.”

Q. What gave you the idea for lavender beads?

I am inspired by the organic lavender farm –Pelindaba Lavender — where I have worked for the last 13 years.  We grow many different kinds of lavender, all shapes, colors and sizes on more than 15 acres – more than 25,000 lavender plants – annual blooming inspiration for my work.

lavender beads, mediumQ. How did you develop them?

I was trained as a traditional glass blower and studied glass blowing upstate New York near Corning, and in Italy.  It took me many years to develop the glass-sculpting techniques that I use to make each lavender bead. When I look back on my early work, they hardly even look like lavender.

Q. How did you perfect them?

Over the years I have acquired more hand tools for working with the glass, various torches and a broader knowledge of the botany of lavender.  My main glass bead and jewelry line includes ten colors — several shades of purple and blue as well as white, pale pink and green – colors of lavender that many people are unaware of.

The more I work with lavender, the more ideas I have for jewelry designs.  For example, from studying the long, cylindrical flowers of some of the Angustifolia (IS THIS RIGHT?) varieties, I created glass lavenders made of multiple smaller beads, wired together to mimic the way the flower spikes grow, in separated whorls along the stem.  

il_340x270.757355754_tvtvQ. What is your latest jewelry?

Bud stud ear jackets have been a popular new addition to my line. They are made of tiny, glass, lavender beads which represent the whorls of buds grown in sections around the main flower stem.  The bud-whorl bead is worn on the front of the earlobe with a set of silver leaves hanging behind the ear.  In recent years I have enjoyed creating custom pieces for brides and wedding parties, many of whom get married in the blooming lavender fields.

Q. Where can we buy them?

While I still make each and every lavender bead, floret by floret, my business has been expanding steadily.  You can find my beads and jewelry work at Pelindaba Lavender Farm stores.  For a complete list of lavender farms, galleries and festivals, please visit Lavenderbeads.com.  

Andrea works in her home studio on San Juan Island at the end of a long dirt road, in the Pacific Northwest’s rainforest-like woods where she lives with her husband and two young daughters.  They keep chickens and honeybees and a garden with a ridiculous number unusual lavender species.


Wintering Lavender in 2017

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America and Laurie Hejduk, owner of Luvin Lavender Farm, Madison, Ohio

20150923_110406If you live in the snow zone, it’s time think wintering your lavender in 2017.

That’s no typo. If you’re planning your 2016 garden – I am – you’re perusing plant and seed catalogs. Then, you’re determining  location. My garden sketches call for moving and removing some herbs while making room for new.

Locating lavender in 2016 will help it winter well in 2017.

Laurie Hejduk of Luvin Lavender Farm in Northeast Ohio says well-drained, sunny and protected are key for this Mediterranean herb. That means close to the house, a chimney, on the Southside, or somewhere that will provide a microclimate conducive to the needs of the plant.

20150923_110156“In the case of a few plants or in a small garden situation, covering with burlap or a sheet or buying a  winter cover from a garden center surely will help,” she says. “It is important to allow the plant to go dormant. It’s also important to remove the cover when temperatures consistently stabilize in spring.”

You may still fail. A little.

“Being so far north, we expect to lose some plants every year. We do what we can to minimize these losses,” she notes. “During the 2013-14 winter we lost about 20 percent of our crop because of extreme conditions. That year was difficult for lavender farmers nationwide, fruit crops and pretty much all farming operations.”

Farming can be fickle. “It’s very difficult to put anything into a firm timeline as each year presents unique challenges and weather conditions,” she says. “It’s always good to refer to the good old Farmer’s Almanac and to be aware of weather trends like El Niño.”

Well-located plants still require loving in the fall. “In November we finish shaping the plants and cutting back and monitoring the plants for signs of disease or deficiency,” explains Laurie. “Some good indicators of problems could include yellowing of the leaves, or weak stems or abnormal dieback. We, then, address any of these issues or create a plan for the upcoming season.”

20150923_105648“In December we are closely watching the weather and waiting for about a week of continuous below freezing temperatures. This is important to ensure that the plants have gone into dormancy before covering. 2015-2016 put us all the way into January.”

Of course, selecting the right variety helps.  “There are more hardy varieties than others. English (angustifolia) varieties tend to be hardier. Whereas French (intermedia) need to be treated a little more gingerly,” says Laurie. “This is actually the reason we have so many varieties on the farm. In addition to avoiding a monoculture, it is also research into what varieties will do well in Northeast Ohio and gives us a good idea what to offer and recommend to local gardeners.”

At that point, it’s time to take a break from farm work and prepare for spring. And, we’re back to the beginning. Time to get started.

Do you have tips for growing lavender? Enlighten us with comments below.

Handmade: Sachets from Vintage Hankies

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Craft sachets (18)In mid-August I was at a garage sale full of 1940s and 1950s household paraphernalia. Among the milky salt shakers, bakelite jewelry and vanity sets were two tins of vintage hankies. Impressed with the old prints and even more impressed with crochet borders and embroidered designs, I wanted the colorful lot. So, $20 later, they were mine.

Unfolding my treasurers I counted forty hankies … about 50 cents each. Not a bad price in the Northeast Ohio collectible market.

Now what? I was waiting for inspiration. I, too often, buy stuff because it’s pretty and/or a bargain. Just ask me about those vintage patchwork quilts that match nothing in my home décor. But, I digress…

I washed the hankies on delicate and ironed them crisp. Folded twice, they’re smallish squares. Craft sachets (4)

I tend be OCD sometimes, so I organized them by color, then embellishment.

Eureka! Sachets!

Lavender-filled squares to scent clothing drawers. Hops-filled sachets for inducing sleep. Eucalyptus sachets for winter colds. Rose-filled sachets, well … just because. Gifts for everyone.

I decided to keep them folded, machine sew two sides, stuff them and close them. Then, overthinking I contemplated threadCraft sachets (7) color. Fortunately, I returned to my senses and went with white because it’s universal.

Finally, it was show time. The sewing went quickly.

With the first batch I was on a lavender high. I could just roll around in those. I picked the prettiest, frilliest hankies because the flowers seem so delicate despite the intense aroma.

The hops, meanwhile, had been vacuum sealed into plastic so I used my fingers to loosen the tight wads. Not long and my fingers were a bit oily-sticky from the herbaceous brewing ingredient. And, yes, smelling a bit like a bitter hoppy beer. I guess I won’t give these sachets to my lager swigging friends.

While roses haven’t been known to induce sleep, they’d make feminine drawer sachets. I could even see vintage ladies Craft sachets (14)tucking the smallest into their ample bosoms to release perfume in the summer’s heat.

Eucalyptus was a last-minute addition when all that herb sniffing left me with a stuffy head. Why not make sachets to tuck inside the pillow when you have a cold.

Forty herb packages later and I’ve started my Christmas crafting. I just might go with an aromatherapy basket for friends and family this year. Next up? Soap.

Stay tuned.

P.S. Be selective about hops. Seek out the sweetest. Those used for bitter India Pale Ales are only for the hardcore herb or beer lover. At first whiff, they smell like day-old, spilled beer. If you can hold out for 2 seconds the scent mellows into something sleep inducing. If your budget is tight, don’t bother.

What’s on your holiday crafting gift list? What are you making for friends and family. Tell us in the comments below.