Downderry culinary lavender status
Is culinary lavender different from other lavender?
No, it’s just the way it’s grown. At Downderry we don’t reach for the chemicals at the slightest hint of a bug or a lurgie, not that our lavenders have many. Instead we see what cultural conditions can be improved and whether we can help by using plant invigorators or biological controls that work with the plants and the environment. If we do need to use something more severe it’s as a last resort and always with an approved use for culinary herbs.
Can you use all lavenders for any culinary use?
To a point, yes. However, it’s advisable to adopt these three levels of use: decoration, light cooking and intensive cooking. To decorate desserts and salads with the individual flowers from any lavenders and with the ‘ears’ of frost-hardy lavenders provides a beautifully edible combination. In light cooking e.g. biscuits, shortbread and incorporation in sugar and desserts then it’s best to use the angustifolia cultivars. With this type of culinary use the whole calyx is used. That’s the bit the flower emerges from. It’s also where most of the oil in lavender is found, secreted in glands. When those glands are bruised by even gently pressing or by cooking, the glands are burst and release the oil, but it’s not much! A whole mature angustifolia lavender with hundreds of flower heads may produce half a teaspoon of oil. About 0.5-1.3% of the biomass of a single plant is oil. There are perhaps 50-100 calyces per head, so a few calyces in each biscuit or dessert just adds the hint of a summer’s day, not the punch of a whole summer season of flavour! Cultivars of this species of lavender have a soft, sweet, refreshing and floral scent and flavour principally because of the high linalool and linalyl acetate in the oil, typically 25-40% of the oil component for each, combined with the low camphor content of their oil, which is just 0-0.5% of the total volume of oil. Some of the leaves of the frost hardy lavenders can also be used in desserts, particularly ice cream.
The most astringent lavenders are the x intermedia and x chaytorae cultivars because there’s more oil in the plants, typically 1-4% and although the linalool and linalyl acetate content of the oil is almost as high as for the angustifolia, the oil’s about 8% camphor. These lavenders often also have a hefty dollop of 1,8-Cineole in the oil, maybe 7% of oil content. This is the chemical that gives a eucalyptus scent and flavour. It’s therefore advisable to cook these for longer, perhaps in a casserole or similar to mellow the flavour.
So what about recipes?
The internet is replete with recipes using lavender and with more experimental cooking and cosmopolitan tastes almost anything goes, but it’s advisable to follow the three levels of use above to fully appreciate and enjoy the floral flavour of this most versatile plant.