Discover how to cleanse your body and calm your mind with lavender. Words: Sally O'Neil
Lavender is well known for its calming and relaxing properties, and thus its ability to alleviate insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression and restlessness. As an oil or balm, lavender can help to heal minor burns and bug bites due to its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Part of the mint family, lavender is a herb native to northern Africa and the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean. The word lavender originally stems from the Latin word lavare, which means ‘to wash’. Popular since Roman times, the flowers were once worth a farmer’s wages for a month.
Commercially, lavender is now widely used in fragrances and shampoos for its purification benefits, but what happens when we eat it? Culinary lavender is often seen as a decoration on cakes and in recipes for desserts and biscuits. Although eating lavender as part of these sweet treats might not be the healthiest way to get these benefits, lavender taken orally has been used to treat nervousness, depression and headaches, as well as digestive concerns including flatulence, loss of appetite and nausea.
Lavender’s floral and slightly sweet flavour makes it widely adaptable. The dried buds (flowers) can be added to dressings and condiments, and even to cheeses. They can also be blended into teas and combined with chocolate and, of course, into baked goods. Iced, herb-infused water containing lavender can be a great alternative to iced tea, perfect for a relaxing elixir on a warm day. Be warned, though, the strong flavour can be overpowering, so add it sparingly.
When choosing lavender for culinary use, look for organic to avoid ingesting chemical pesticides. The buds should be brightly coloured and tightly closed. Kept in a sealed container away from heat and moisture, lavender should retain its flavour and aroma for up to six months. The flowers and leaves can be used fresh, and both buds and stems can be used dried.
Benefits of lavender
1. Increased iron levels
One serving of lavender has two mg of iron, a considerable portion of the 18 mg (if you’re a woman aged 19 to 50) recommended consumption each day. Without adequate quantities of iron in your diet, you may be at risk to low energy levels, tiredness and anaemia.
2. Improved sleep
One clinical study looking at lavender’s effects on sleep quality found that capsules of lavender oil had a significant ability to alleviate anxiety and related sleep disturbances.
3. Relief from digestion
Steeping the flowers in hot water to make lavender tea may help relieve nervous intestinal disorders because it contains essential oils that have a soothing effect on the stomach. A study by the University of Parma and published in November 2004 in Life Sciences found that lavender oils protected against gastric ulcers and relieved indigestion in rats.
4. Relief from bloating
Bloating and poor digestion can result from an overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria – which can happen when you take antibiotics. The polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) in lavender can help reduce the ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut. For extra perks, sprinkle dried culinary lavender onto Greek yoghurt, which is also gut friendly.
5. Supercharge your spice rack
Give your meals a nutritional boost with lavender’s phytonutrients (good-for-you plant compounds) to any meal by using Herbes de Provence – a spice mix that traditionally includes lavender – and sprinkling it onto grilled meats, poultry and vegetables.
Sources and dosage
Culinary lavender can be purchased at many speciality spice and herb stores. Lavender tea is widely available in health food stores. You can also grow your own easily in your backyard, or have a pot on your windowsill. There is no recommended dosage of lavender, but remember to use it sparingly to avoid dishes tasting like soap!
Fresh lavender can be substituted in most savoury recipes that call for rosemary – just use twice as much lavender as rosemary.
Chop up fresh or dried lavender and combine with lemon juice and olive oil as a rub for pork or lamb. Marinate for several hours before grilling for a delicious, rich flavour.
Hang and dry bundles of fresh lavender from your garden in the kitchen as a natural air freshener, then use in recipes as needed.
Disclaimer: The safety of taking lavender during pregnancy or while breastfeeding is not certain. If you plan to use lavender treatment during pregnancy or breastfeeding, tell your doctor. If you’re considering the use of lavender in the treatment of a chronic condition, consult your primary care provider.