On a Lavender Bender
Lavender, or Lavandula angustifolia, has long been one of my favorite flowering herbs (or herbal flowers, depending on how you want to look at it). Its fresh, clean fragrance always brings to mind sunny summer mornings, when the bees hover around the garden and the clean laundry flaps on the clothesline.
(There's apparently a reason for that: the Latin name comes from the verb for "to wash," and centuries ago, a person who laundered clothes for a living was called a "lavender," which seems obvious now that I see the two words together. But I digress.)
Since I've learned the pleasures of using edible flowers in cooking, lavender has become one of my favorite standbys. It adds depth to the bright flavors of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and it even gives a refreshing lightness to sauteed apples (a fall favorite) and butter cookies.
As much as I enjoy eating lavender, though, sometimes I prefer to drink it. Usually I'll have it in a homemade herbal tisane such as my Midsummer Blossom Tea or a Sweet Dreams brew, something that will induce a gentle state of relaxation (thus using the lavender in a more herbal or medicinal way).
But on rare occasions, I'll pull out a recipe I found years ago at a lovely little herb cottage nestled in the New Hampshire woods: lavender lemonade.
As I try to buy local foods as much as possible now, you may well guess that lemons are becoming a less frequent splurge for me. However, I do still appreciate the occasional glass of homemade lemonade in the summer, and this variation is especially worth the decadence.
First step: simmer water, sugar, lavender blossoms, and hibiscus petals (those lush rose-pink blossoms used in Celestial Seasonings' Red Zinger tea for its vibrant red color; I find them in bulk at the local co-op).
Once the mixture cools, strain it into a jar or pitcher and mix with lemon juice, a smidgen of maple syrup (my addition, as I don't like using so much refined sugar), and water.
I set the jar into the refrigerator for a few hours to let it continue to chill while I went about my plans for the day. I thought I might be able to hold out until dinner time to sample it, but around mid-afternoon, I heard it calling to me and decided to pour a glass.
It's like regular lemonade, with a hint of that clean lavender taste and a berry-like finish from the hibiscus. It's refreshing, it's good, and... I hate to say it, but that first glass is gone. (Didn't even last through the typing of this post!)
While I don't expect it will become an overnight sensation in restaurants, coffee houses, and other places where people stop in for a cold drink on a hot day, I think you might find it entirely appropriate once in a while for a special treat. I'm sure even the Queen would approve having it served at one of her garden parties.
I think I might be done playing with lavender this week. It's just compelling enough to inspire me again soon, though, especially since I have three little bouquets of it from the farmers' market.
You never know what new ideas might blossom!
I was first introduced to the idea of brewing lavender with lemonade over a summertime lunch at Pickity Place in New Hampshire. I picked up a packet of the lavender and hibiscus mix at the gift shop afterward, took it home, and followed the recipe included with the herbs. Easy enough! Now I've tweaked it just a little to include another local ingredient (maple syrup), and I like it even better. Double or triple the recipe as needed.
1 c water
1/4 c sugar
2 T lavender blossoms (dried)
1 tsp hibiscus blossoms (dried)
juice of 3 lemons
2 T maple syrup
water to top off
In saucepan, bring water, sugar, lavender, and hibiscus to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes to draw out the color of the hibiscus. Set aside to cool.
Strain mixture into a glass quart jar. Add lemon juice and maple syrup and stir to blend. Top off the quart with water (preferably filtered). Cover jar with lid and chill for a few hours before serving.
Makes 1 quart