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.

Sansho Pepper Experience Startles Me

Sansho Pepper Experience Startles Me

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170225_100136I seek herbs when I travel, to see how they’re part of a local culture. The Jean-Talon Market in Montreal was a jackpot.

My favorite store in the historic market was Epices de Cru, a colorful exotic vendor of herbs, tea and spices. The husband and wife owners travel the world to bring home the best ingredients from the “ordinary” to the unusual. Think: Cinnamon leaf or avocado leaf (use like bay leaf with a different accent.) I was so entranced I visited twice. The second time I spent an hour perusing shelves and deciding just what to carry to my Ohio home.

Feeling adventurous I asked for the most unusual product and was introduced to sansho pepper. I can’t decide if the person assisting liked me or hated me when I was allowed to sample the small “peppercorn” which comes from the berry of a deciduous shrub – prickly ash — cultivated in Asia.
sansho-pepperIt was like my first experience with wasabi. Intense nerve confusion. I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die. I lived. Obviously.

First, the tip of my tongue numbed. That electrified numbness spread. From cheek to cheek I sensed a citrus – lemon/lime, maybe – coolness. And, my mouth started to water. It wasn’t hot or spicy, but like something had a hold of the nerves in my mouth. It expanded beyond taste to a physical sensation. And, it lasted nearly 10 minutes.

Once I realized that anesthesia was the expected experience and the limit (I wasn’t succumbing to rare nerve poison), I was fascinated.  But, why would someone want to add this seasoning to their food?

Rumor has it that it cuts through fatty eel richness and minimizes heat perception in some dishes. I can see why.

I didn’t buy sansho because I wasn’t sure my friends were ready for the challenge. But, you can find it at Spice Trekkers.

The unusual herbs and spices are just part of the utility and charm of Epices de Cru. It’s also educational. I plan to compare rosemary from Provence and India as well as Oregano from Oaxaca, Yucatan and Turkey. I know origin has influence.

What is Sustainable Seed & Why We Care

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

SSC_Theo

 

Theo Bill, V.P., Sustainable Seed Co

 

Waiting for my big toe to heal from joint replacement, I spent a little (maybe, a lot) of time armchair gardening. That’s how I stumbled on the Sustainable Seed Company.

 

The family-owned company offers more than 1,875 varieties of organic and heirloom seeds, including 10 types of basil.I’m ordering the complete basil collection, but only a few of the 300 varieties of tomatoes.

I chose Sustainable Seed Company after quizzing Theo Bill, Vice President, about the meaning of “organic” seeds. It sounds responsible, but what does it really mean? In his words …

What is “organic” seed?
“Organic seed” technically means untreated or organic seeds that were planted, grown and harvested in an organically approved system.  That means no GMOs, no overt pesticide or herbicide usage, and adherence to other National Organic Program rules.  The “Spirit” of organic seed though is much broader – it covers the health of the soil, pollinators, water conservation, runoff issues, and more.


How is organic seed different?USDA organic

Organic seed is grown in an organic method, so it becomes accustomed to organic growing
conditions. Conventional seed, for example, is often grown using a great deal of herbicides and pesticides.  Organic plants don’t use the same kinds of chemicals and have to be hand-weeded or out-compete the weeds to thrive.  They receive more natural fertilizer (often manures or natural minerals instead of anhydrous ammonia or other conventional fertilizer).

Unfortunately, more intensive manual labor and higher input costs, result in higher production costs. That means organic seed often costs more.  However, you are buying a higher quality seed which is more weed-resistant and less reliant on herbicides and pesticides.

Why is organic seed better?
That depends on how you want to grow your plants, and what kind of inputs (including weeding) you’ll be using.

What are the most popular herb seeds sold by Sustainable Seed Co.?Sustainable seed rosemary
Lavender would be our most popular followed by basil and rosemary.

What herb grows best from seed? What herb is the toughest to start from seed?
The easiest would be cilantro. The most difficult is probably rosemary.

What tips would you give for growing herbs from seed?
For Mediterranean herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme, lavender, etc.) add clean sand to the soil mix for better drainage.

Thank you, Mr. Bill.


From Sustainable Seed Co. — Discovering “new” heirloom seeds is one of our passions, and we would love to hear from anyone who is growing heirloom seeds that have been passed down for generations. We hope to preserve this part of history and believe that, with the continuing encroachment from large producers of hybrid and GMO seeds, companies like ours, along with our customers, may be a crucial link to saving the future of food.

 

Preparing a Punny Planting Plan

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

old teapotI am a thrift shopping junkie. And, it’s part of my gardening life.

At a garage sale last spring, I grabbed 6-inch concrete angel from a paved driveway before the woman next to me could claim it. At the end of an estate sale in late fall, I gave up $40 for a curved cement bench that no one wanted. Both were deals. Both were accidental.

For 2016, I have a plan. In fact, I have plenty of punny planting plans.

I’m putting kitchen herbs in kitchenware.

Mint pouring from a vintage aluminum teakettle. Lavender standing in a shiny, tin flour sifter. Thyme draping from a tall metal coffee server. Parsley and oregano crowded into a weathered aluminum pasta pot garnished with a wooden spoon.

junk bookIt’s not a novel idea. Just check out Adam Caplin’s “Planted Junk” from 2001. It’s one of several available garden junk books inspiring my summer fantasies.

“Junk pots—often beautiful in themselves – can be planted to enhance the overall garden look,” writes Caplin.

Exactly. But, it requires forethought to do it well. That’s why I’m starting now. I need time to find the right size, shape, color AND price.

I’m challenging myself to find containers that cost less than $5, are rustically attractive and have outlived their kitchen use.

Why? Because junk shouldn’t cost too much. And, it’s a shame to trash perfectly good kitchenware … at least that’s what my Catholic guilt pings me.

With that in mind, I’m haunting Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, thrift shops and antique retailers. And, I can’t wait for garage sale season. That won’t happen until Spring in Northeast Ohio.


TIP: Check out http://www.shopgoodwill.com for kitchenware you can repurpose. My recent search for “tea kettle” was rich with possibilities.


Visualizing this twist on a kitchen garden gives this gardener something to do when not looking through seed catalogs. Stay tuned for my progress. And, please share your own.

 

 

 

Samull Grant Winner to Educate Through Medicinal Garden

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

https___s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_236x_74_29_aa_7429aac6b57ef03f16d5e73f53fd631d (1)Karen Diaz has a passion for herbalism that stems from her roots as the granddaughter of braceros and farmers from rural Jalisco, Mexico. (If you don’t know the word “bracero,” look it up. It’s a fascinating part of history.)

An educator, she is bringing that history into third to fifth grade classrooms at 6th Street Elementary School in Silver City, New Mexico.

“For generations my family has used herbs as a form of healing, medicine, and food,” say Diaz. “As I became involved in environmental justice and community organizing, I was drawn back to my roots of connecting to herbs as a tool for teaching and incorporating them into local food systems.”

6th Street Elementary is one of nine schools to receive HSA’s Donald Samull Classroom Herb Garden Grant.  The grant is funded by a bequest from the estate of Donald Samull, an elementary school teacher who used his love of herbs in the classroom with his students, grades three to six.

Diaz’s classroom was one of five that received $200 to establish an outdoor herb garden.  An additional four received monies for indoor herb gardens.

“I plan to establish an herbal medicinal garden with my students where we would also have lessons pertaining to how these herbs were traditionally used by cultures native to rural Grant County, which would include the Apache tribe and Mexican people,” says Diaz. “I also want to highlight ethnobotany, history, science, art, and math concepts in my lesson plans with my 3rd to 5th graders.”

2015-2016 Award recipients:

Indoor Herb Garden

  • Bailey Middle School Cornelius, NC
  • Evergreen Middle School Brooklyn, NY
  • Jere Whitston Elementary School Cookville, TN
  • Albert Hall School Waterville, ME

 

Outdoor Herb Garden

  • Douglas Elementary Tyler, TX
  • Dahlonegah Public School Stilwell, OK
  • 6th Street Elementary Silver City, NM
  • Simonton Elementary School Lawrenceville, GA
  • South Side Elementary Nuseum Magnet School Miami, FL

 

“I am amazed at the number of applications we receive each year for this grant,” says Katrinka Morgan, executive director of HSA. “Mr. Samull inspired when he taught and continues to inspire. We are honored to continue to share his love of herbs through this grant program.“

Herbs essential to magic

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

HeadOverHeels_smallHerbs have power. They change health and beauty. In the past such abilities were considered magic. And, those in the know were often considered witches, witch doctors, wizards and the like. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Today, we know the science behind herbal powers. And that may mean ancient herbalists were among the earliest scientists.

Regardless, on Halloween it’s entertaining to don an archetypal witch costume and pretend to cast spells on unsuspecting mortals. Year ‘round, nonetheless, real practitioners of Wiccan “religion” use herbs for good.

Practicing witch Ellen Dugan may be considered one of the top Wiccan authors. She has written four books combining herbalism and spirituality or “green magick.”

In the Garden Witch’s Herbal (Llewellyn, 2015, $19.95), she defines green magick as “a practical, nature-based system of the Craft that focuses on reverence for the natural world, the individual’s environment and the plants and herbs that are indigenous to the practitioner’s own area.”

Who can argue with that?

She notes that, throughout the year, “certain botanicals … align with the energies of the season.” During Samhain or Halloween (or the night before All Soul’s Day in the Catholic religion), for example, rosemary symbolizes remembrance of loved ones who have passed. Sounds like a good herb for the season in Christian or pagan practices.

The Garden Witch’s Herbal is full of such associations. “A green practitioner is well known for their connection with their living and working environment, by their ethics and by their affinity to the powers of the natural world,” writes Dugan

Her book knits together quotable quotes into a collection of essays exploring green witchcraft in a way that makes the craft seem like it should be mainstream. Again …

“Creative [garden] design is what turns a collection of trees, herbs, perennials and flowers into a garden. The clarity and color schedules found in your magickal garden give focus to your goals and intentions. The complexity in your plant forms, such as texture and pattern will make for a sensual garden that begs to be touched, sniffed and enjoyed.

Dugan has me convinced that a little herbal magic may be what people and the environment need. Check her out online.

Among other things, the author of Herbal Magick (New Page Books, 2002, $14.99) – Gerina Dunwich — collects myths and superstitions. Particularly playful (helpful?) on All Hallow’s Eve, might be “Herbal Spells to Ward Off Evil Spirits.” The list is as follows

  • Burn a dried ginseng root
  • Carry fennel seeds in a mojo bag
  • Hang fennel over your doors and windows
  • Wear the root of a devil’s shoestring around your neck
  • Shake a hollowed-out gourd filled with dried beans
  • Plant holly around your home (I’m safe)
  • Wear or carry and orrisroot or peony root as a protective amulet
  • Hang some plantain or periwinkle above your front door and windows
  • Burn a sage smudge wand
  • Sprinkle an infusion of vervain around the perimeter of your property

While it’s not herb-based, witches make some of us think about the witch scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail or three witches chanting in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.


Dugan’s latest titles aren’t yet available at Headquarters, but a number of herbal witchcraft titles can be borrowed by request from The Herb Society’s library, via visit, email or phone. They will be mailed and must be returned after 30 days. Non-members can stop by the Herb Society to peruse books in the library.

McCormick takes organic herbs mainstream

By Laura Dobson, Master Gardener, Local Food Advocate and Guest Writer

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If I searched my mother’s herb-and-spice cabinet, I’d find dated McCormick tins, their red, white and blue labels giving them away. My mom probably uses what’s in those tins despite Kennedy-era expiration dates. In fact, last year’s Christmas dinner probably included some. Despite my concern with eating quality, local, organic food, I’ve stayed out of my mom’s kitchen supplies.

Not anymore …it’s time for her to replace the old seasonings. McCormick & Co. is making it easier to eat my way. The company recently announced that the majority of its herbs and spices will be organic and non-GMO by 2016. Not only can mom appeal to my food ethic … if I’m not growing an herb, I can now run to the corner store for, say, oregano. In the past I’d have traipsed 25 miles to the nearest Whole Foods or other organic store.

LauraAs a staunch supporter of GMO labeling (and signer of every petition to mandate it), I appreciate McCormick’s new labeling. Certainly many of their products are already non-GMO, but this new labeling standard will tell foodies what to expect. For example, vanilla extract has been among the non-GMO products; it is now labeled as such. Another little-known, but important, tidbit is that McCormick products are never irradiated; something lower-end products are likely to experience.

Food irradiation is to food what pasteurization is to dairy products: it can improve the safety and extend the shelf life of foods by reducing or eliminating microorganisms and insects. However, irradiation can damage the quality of the food and no one has yet proven that a long-term diet of irradiated foods is safe for humans. This makes me as happy as the organic and GMO-free announcement.

So, if you don’t grow it, should you replace your current herb stash? As a purist, I’d say it’s a healthy move. Why eat something that was sprayed with pesticides or genetically modified to resist Round-Up?! Maybe I can finally convince my mother that it’s time to put those tin cans on display as antiques and purchase fresh new jars for her herb cabinet.