A Letter from Susan Wittig Albert
If you're a lover of lavender, you're not alone in your passion. The sharply clean, refreshing scent of its delicate flowers and silver-gray foliage was cherished in early times by the Egyptians (who used it to make mummies), the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Romans, and by gardeners everywhere.
Lavender grows best under its native conditions -- that is, where it can have bright sun and excellent drainage. If lavender doesn't like your moist, shady garden, try it in the hot dry, gravelly space between the curb and the sidewalk where everything else fries to a crisp. If you live north of the Mason-Dixon line, you'll need to plant a winter-hardy variety and toss a mulch blanket around it in winter. To harvest, pick the spikes just as the flowers are about to open, watching for snakes and fairies. (Sicilians used to believe that fairies took the form of snakes and wound themselves around the lavender plant.) Hang in a dark place to dry. Your closet is good, particularly because you can visit it often and sniff to your heart's delight. You can also use it in your bath, or to flavor cookies and cakes, make tangy vinegars, and brew fragrant teas.
Lavender's healing properties have been known and exploited for centuries. It has been used to soothe headaches, calm the nerves, relieve anxiety, quiet indigestion, induce sleep, relax sore muscles, and kill germs. Recent research shows that the plant contains a powerful antiseptic. Scientists have also confirmed that the scent of lavender lulls you to sleep by slowing the central nervous system. Other research suggests that the plant may have anti-cancer potential as well, triggering a self-destruct mechanism that helps cancer cells destroy themselves.
All this, and pretty, too!
A LAVENDER RECIPE
Lavender Cookies: 2 eggs 1/2 cup shortening 1 cup sugar 1 tsp. lavender flowers 1 1/2 cups flour 2 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together eggs, margarine, sugar, and lavender until well mixed. Sift flower, baking powder, and salt together. Add to creamed mixture and stir until blended. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes.