Lavandula or more commonly known as Lavender is a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is native to the Old World and is found from Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, in southern Europe, across to northern and eastern Africa, the Mediterranean, southwest Asia to southeast India. Many members of the genus are cultivated extensively in temperate climates as ornamental plants for garden and landscape use, for use as culinary herbs, and also commercially for the extraction of essential oils. The most widely cultivated species, Lavandula angustifolia is often referred to as lavender, and there is a colour named for the shade of the flowers of this species.
In ancient times lavender was used for mummification and perfume by the Egyptian’s, Phoenicians, and peoples of Arabia. The Greeks and the Romans bathed in lavender scented water and it was from the Latin word “lavo” meaning “to wash” that the herb took its name. Lavender was first introduced to England by the Romans and has remained prevalent, especially in North Norfolk ever since. The Norfolk Lavender industry attracts thousands of visitors each year and accounts for a large proportion of tourist interest. It takes nearly a quarter of a tonne of lavender to produce just one pint of lavender oil and is widely used in alternative medicine as Lavender is reputedly one of the top three essential oils. It is the only essential oil that can be used directly on the skin and back in medieval London it was applied liberally to the entire body as it was believed lavender could be used as protection from the Plague.
Lavender can be used as a flavoursome herb in cooking, such as lavender cake, or as used by many Norfolk Chef’s, an alternative to rosemary or other more traditional herbs associated with food. English Lavender has the sweetest fragrance of all the lavenders and is the one most commonly used in cooking. The uses of lavender are limited only by your imagination. Lavender has a sweet, floral flavour, with lemon and citrus notes. The potency of the lavender flowers increases with drying and the most exciting fact for any Chef is the small jars of dried lavender flowers, which can be used to make a delicately scented shortbread, or scattered over green salads and roast beef.
Lavender is a herb that straddles the divide between sweet and savoury. But it is probably most familiar as one of the key ingredients in Herbes de Provence (which blends thyme, fennel, savoury, marjoram, rosemary and lavender), as well as in the beautiful sables or shortbread for which Provence is known. It is a flavour that may give you a sense of déjà vu – traces of its soft mellow tones are one of the secrets behind Coca–Cola, some cherryades and even blackcurrant cordial.
This recipe will serve four portions.
For the vinaigrette;
1 tablespoon of red cider vinegar
½ teaspoon of grain mustard
½ teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon of runny honey
5 drops ‘cold’ lavender essence (optional)
2 tablespoons of good quality extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons of groundnut oil
For the salad;
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1 heaped teaspoon of lavender flowers
1 tablespoon of good quality extra virgin olive
500g sirloin steak, 2-3cm thick, trimmed of all fat and sinew (beat with a rolling pin between two sheets of clingfilm if necessary) and cut into thin strips
A mixture of salad leaves to serve 4
2 ripe tomatoes, core removed, and chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
Borage and Viola flowers (if you can find them, but optional)
Ground black pepper and sea salt for seasoning
Whisk the vinegar, mustards, garlic, honey, lavender essence if using, salt and pepper in a bowl, then gradually whisk in the oils until you have a light, emulsified dressing.
Coarsely grind the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar, then add the lavender flowers and gently crush them into the spice; season.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying-pan over a high heat.
Add the strips of beef and stir-fry for one minute, then season and stir-fry for 30-60 seconds longer. Set aside for a few minutes.
Toss the leaves with a few tablespoons of the dressing to coat them in a bowl, then gently mix in the beef and juices, the tomato and onion, and scatter a few lavender flowers plus borage and viola if using.
1. Upson T, Andrews S. The Genus Lavandula
2. Concise Oxford Dictionary
3. J.-B. Reboul; Cuisinière Provençale (1910)
4. Mark Griffiths, Index of Garden Plants
5. Cytotoxicity of lavender oil and its major components to human skin cells” Prashar A, Locke IC, Evans CS
6. Annie Bell
7. Jonnie Bell – Photography
8. Telegraph Media Group Limited