Although Provence usually comes to mind at the mention of lavender fields, you do not need to travel so far to see them.
There are now several lavender farms in the UK and we recently visited one at Shoreham in Kent, writes Uckfield News Fabulous Food blogger Beverley Butler.
With the English temperatures reaching 30+ degrees centigrade we could easily have been forgiven for thinking we were in the South of France.
The scent coming from the corduroy striped fields was amazing. Gazebos were set up in the fields for those wishing to book a massage amongst the aromatic splendour and a converted barn selling lavender products and wreath demonstrations also proved a popular attraction.
Lavender has enormous medicinal benefits in the form of essential oil and has been used for centuries to ease numerous ailments.
It is renowned for having antiseptic, anaesthetic properties and for relieving anxiety and stress and we have been using lavender oil in our home for many years, to ease headaches, aid sleep, relieve stings and insect bites, and I have applied it direct to my skin many times to ease burns during my catering years!
I also make my own skin tonic with lavender oil and have produced hand creams and ointments to calm sun damaged skin. Using carrier oil, lavender is often used with a variety of other essential oils for massage to ease muscular tension and rheumatic pain.
Dried lavender can be used in bunches, bags and pot-pourri for its scent and as a moth and inspect repellent.
Choose culinary grade lavender for recipes
Lavender, of course, is a herb and culinary grade lavender should always be used in recipes.
Fresh individual flowers can be used as edible decoration on salads and cold deserts, and two teaspoons of lavender flowers added to 1kg caster sugar (left to infuse for a month) is wonderful sprinkled on fresh strawberries or used for baking.
Lavender grains can also be added to honey and I make strawberry jam in my bread machine with an added spoonful of dried lavender. Avoid the temptation to add too much as the flavour is very strong and if over used can leave a bitter taste and be rather like eating soap!
Bring colour to a long tall glass of Pimms, or a champagne flute to impress your guests or use to make a calming night time tea. Add a little lavender to peppermint, camomile, or even Earl Grey tea to add a distinct aroma and taste.
Why not try adding lavender leaves to dishes instead of rosemary?
Add a teaspoon of fresh lavender to boiled/sautéed potatoes and flavour barbecued food with lavender stem skewers.
Try popping a few leaves and flowers into savoury dishes, such as soups, stews and even meaty wine-reduced sauces.
Experiment with new flavours by crushing lavender and rosemary with a little sea salt.
Add olive oil and brush over lamb steaks or chicken breasts, or use as a marinade on a Sunday joint. Excellent sprinkled over chopped roasted vegetables, once in the oven the aroma will also fill the kitchen. When adding herbs to any recipe, whether it is bread making or Gressingham duck, include a little lavender for an addition fresh fragrance and taste.
Using a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar crush dried lavender with sugar to a fine dust. Add to cream and fill profiteroles or serve with cake and puddings, or add the ground lavender to butter icing. Remember – a little lavender goes a long way. Add to ice cream, either when making from scratch or add to shop bought tubs.
Add a little culinary dried lavender to scone recipes, or chocolate brownies, cupcakes or try lavender shortbread.
The possibilities are endless ….. And it looks, and smells, so wonderful growing in the garden.