Lavender is endlessly versatile: it is used to scent things, has antiseptic qualities, aids relaxation and can be eaten too. For centuries people have valued it in all kinds of ways, and I too try to celebrate its different uses. I love to think that I'm keeping some traditions alive in my own little way in my home.
Elizabethans used lavender water to sweeten washing and put bundles in bedding and under pillows to repel bugs and lice. It was also used to disguise bad smells and ward off disease. Thankfully we no longer need to use it to ward off plagues and such-like, but I still put lavender bags in with our folded bedding to make it smell sweet, and also in my drawers and wardrobe.
In his Herball of 1597 Culpeper suggests you make a drink of lavender, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves 'which doth helpe the panting and passion of the heart, prevaileth against giddinesse, turning or swimming of the brain'. I find that description of an agitated heart and brain so vivid, and like to think that lavender played a part in helping to relax such anxiety in Elizabethans. It has long been associated with relaxation and calmness, and I always put a couple of drops of lavender oil on my pillow when I change the sheets.
Here's my lavender after it's been dried. I've managed to accumulate several bags of it over the last few years, and it does keep its scent well, if kept in a sealed container. The perfume is absolutely intoxicating, and I love to run them through my fingers to enjoy it. The lovely smell stays with me long after I've handled it.
Lavender has been with me throughout my life, ever-present from childhood and always associated with my mum. Here is a sweet little plastic pomander which mum gave me when I was a small child. As you can see, it's a 70s design, a kind of Chinese lantern. I still fill it with lavender and hang it with my clothes.
She still grows lavender now, picking and drying it, and making it into lavender bags. She always edges them with lace and embroiders them with pretty scenes and flowers. She made me this one a few years ago, and embroidered a pansy onto it. She also made me one for my wedding, heart-shaped and embroidered with our names and the date. It hangs in my wardrobe, delicately scenting my clothes.
A couple of years ago I decided to make some lavender bottles after seeing them for sale. They are fairly easy but a bit fiddly to make, and must be made while the stems are still fresh, so that they bend without breaking (I followed instructions from a magazine, but there are lots of tutorials on the internet). I really like choosing lavender-coloured ribbons to make them with: purples, blues, lilacs and greens.
I also make lavender bags, like my mum. This one is crocheted from Lucy's pattern at Attic 24 (you can find it here), and it hangs on our dining room door. I used woollen yarn which I bought a few years ago in a yarn shop in Edinburgh, and some which was spun locally. I love the soft colours of the wool, and its texture and warmth.
This is a simple little bag made from calico, lace and a piece of lavender-embroidered ribbon. I love lavender's association with fresh laundry and cotton sheets. The name comes from the Latin lavare
which means 'to wash', and I think its associations with freshness and cleanliness means that it goes brilliantly with these materials.
I often make simple hearts from pieces of cotton fabric and old pearly buttons. I like to use offcuts of fabric like this one which is an old Laura Ashley design, and I used to enjoy selling them on my craft stalls.
You can also use lavender in cooking, and for centuries it has been eaten in savoury dishes. The dried buds can be ground up with coarse sea salt to make a seasoning for things like roast potatoes. Nowadays, though, it tends to be eaten in sweet dishes and pairs well with chocolate. It can be added to caster sugar to make baked goods - here's some I made last year.
I also make lavender cake every summer from this recipe, and this year is no exception. It's a very moist cake and has that unmistakeable flavour. It can be an acquired taste, however. Someone I gave it to once remarked that they thought it would taste like soap and were relieved that it didn't!
Lavender shortbread is very good too, and this year I made it from this recipe. It was definitely the best batch ever, and I was really pleased with it. The flavour is quite delicate, and the biscuits are pretty with their topping of sprinkled caster sugar (although they're not great for the waistline!).
Lavender's blue, dilly dilly,
When I am king, dilly dilly,
You will be queen.